Genre: Mystery Adventure
Release Date: September 2006
Note: This game was also released as Secrets of the Ark: A Broken Sword Game. This review was originally titledBroken Sword: Angel of Death and refers to the game as Angel of Death in the review. At some point, the title was changed to Broken Sword: Secrets of the Ark. The review was originally published 26 Feb 2007.
Almost ten years ago when the first point-and-click Broken Sword adventure game, Shadow of the Templars (akaCircle of Blood) was released, it wowed gamers with its quirky humor, beautiful 2D cartoon-style artwork, a riveting storyline based on the treasure of the Knights Templar, and an endearing cast of characters led by a globetrotting, if somewhat nosy and naïve, hero in George Stobbart and his trusty photo-journalist sidekick Nicole (Nico) Collard. A sequel, The Smoking Mirror, was released just a year later and had George and Nico on the trail of the dark ancient Mayan god Tezcatlipoca. While somewhat disappointing due to its lack of depth and challenging gameplay, it still had fans of the series yearning for more.
Three years ago, the third game in the series, The Sleeping Dragon, went the 3D route and arrived amid a whirlpool of controversy, with developer Charles Cecil proclaiming ‘The point and click adventure game is dead, long live the adventure game!’. Fans of the series feared the worst – would George Stobbart have to pick up a pair of nanchucks and go postal on a bunch of malevolent hombres? Thankfully, the ‘action’ elements were fairly watered down, and the game was well received in the end. And now we have Angel of Death, the fourth Broken Sword game in what was originally intended to be a trilogy (in the truly inspired fashion of any successful franchise). Does this new game shine forth as a beacon of wholesome adventure goodness or bring shame upon the legacy of its predecessors? Read on to find out.
Angel of Death picks up the story a year after the events of the third game, with George down on his luck, no longer a patent attorney, and working at a cramped desk in a bail-bond agency to make ends meet. Nico is nowhere to be found either, presumably having had enough of George and his propensity for life-threatening excursions. Enter Anna Maria, a gorgeous, easy-on-the-eye blonde who wants to recruit George to decipher an ancient manuscript that might lead to an ancient treasure. The moment she enters his office, the game fires up on all cylinders and George finds himself frantically trying to escort Anna to safety from a bunch of thugs who followed her and are threatening to break down the door to his office to get to her. Once George manages to escape from the office with Anna in tow, he embarks on another globetrotting quest – first to retrieve the manuscript which was stolen from her hotel safe, and then finally to locate the treasure.
In its essence, Angel of Death is a 3D point-and-click adventure. The control scheme employs the familiar point-and-click interface, with the mouse pointer dynamically changing when over a ‘hotspot’ on the screen, allowing you to perform actions such as looking, manipulating objects or talking to a person. A left click selects the action to perform on a hotspot, while a right click shows all the possible actions that can be performed. The inventory is tucked away out of sight, and appears when you roll your mouse to the top end of the screen. A left click of the mouse moves George to anywhere on the screen. You also have the option of using the direct control scheme (a remnant from the previous installment in the series) and can move George around using the keyboard. While the default movement mode is ‘walk’, you will likely want to ‘run’, and this is possible either with the mouse wheel or by keeping the Control key on the keyboard pressed when you move.
The gorgeous 3D graphics in Angel of Death are by far the show stealer. The character models and environments have been updated since George’s last outing, and are much more detailed than in The Sleeping Dragon. The lighting and shadow effects too are absolutely top notch. The animation however is a mixed bag. I marveled at how George bent forward when walking down stairs or swaggered like only a hero would, as he walked. But then some inexcusable corner cutting made itself apparent – George stood several feet away from a table while trying to open a drawer, bent over slightly, curled his fingers, and voila, the drawer opened magically. I noticed George’s magnetic abilities later again, as far-away objects started magically jumping into the inventory with a mere gesture of his hands.
I really liked the character voiceovers in Angel of Death, which I thought were masterfully done. Rolfe Saxon lends his voice to George Stobbart for the fourth time, adding a much needed consistency and continuity that fans of the series will appreciate. Other voiceovers, including those having Scottish, Italian, Turkish or French accents are done very professionally and help make the characters feel more believable. The voiced-over dialogues certainly live up to the strong writing that has been a hallmark of this series. George’s monologues and conversations in general never get wearisome, and are interspersed with some amusing banter that made me chuckle on more than one occasion. The background music too is composed with the typical flair that is a characteristic of the Broken Sword games. It is subtle and enjoyable, chipping into a scene at just the right time and generally well suited to the backdrop.
Speaking of backdrops, one of the strengths of the Broken Sword series has been its colorful, meticulously detailed, diverse and well populated locations spanning all across the globe. In keeping with tradition, Angel of Death takes you through such locales as New York, Phoenix, Vatican City, Rome and Istanbul. But this time around the locales look quite dull and lifeless. There is not much freedom to explore most of the locations, and oftentimes there are very few people to interact with. I would have expected to meet more than just a bum and a priest on a visit to Rome! And in your hotel in Istanbul, a receptionist and a waiter will be your only companions.
For the most part, the pacing of the story is just right. There will be times when you can almost feel the urgency, as you hunt for clues to try and escape from prison before your execution, or when you try to get Anna to safety, as she hides in the fire escape, urging you to hurry up and rescue her before the goons find her. Thankfully, these situations are just meant to get your adrenaline flowing, and it doesn’t matter how long you take to figure out what to do next. But lest I give you any semblance of false hope, let me reveal that there actually are some dastardly timed puzzles that end up being quite annoying.
The puzzles in Angel of Death are for the most part varied and quite challenging. There are the usual inventory based ones that require you to pick up items, combine them and use them at the appropriate locations on the screen. Then there are some that require you to manipulate the environment, such as *drumroll* crate shifting puzzles, that are practically a trademark of the series. At a point in the game, when George enters a room full of crates, I could just imagine fans of the series letting out a collective 'Oh #%$@!'. Thankfully, you won't have to shift all of them – in fact crate puzzles are only used sparingly in Angel of Death.
One recurring puzzle throughout the game will involve a mini-game on your PDA, which if solved correctly will allow you to hack through various networks and gain access to useful data. While the mini-game started out as being fun for the first few times, it quickly became fiendishly hard towards the end of the game. Some of the other harder puzzles will require you to perform an action at the right time or in the right sequence. This can be frustrating, especially since a lot of these type of puzzles aren’t all that well clued in. The game can be quite unforgiving at times, and you will often find yourself stranded without a clue about what to do next. In this, Angel of Death reminded me of the old school adventure games of yore that, come to think of it, aggravated me in my younger days as well.
There are also some stealth sequences, such as when George must sneak past watchful monks or dodge security laser beams as they blink on and off, to reach the other end of a museum. If you aren’t careful, you can even die. And you probably will, for there are several situations where you will have no recourse but trial and error, before you chance upon the right way to proceed. The game is quite forgiving however in this area, and if you happen to die, it will place you right back to a time just before you made your faux pas. This is a game that requires a lot of patience and lateral thinking, be it searching for hard-to-find clues to progress or solving some of the infuriatingly difficult puzzles. Even experienced adventure gamers will be faced with moments when they’ll be itching to consult a walkthrough.
As the story progresses, George will realize that things are not what they seem. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the game that will keep you guessing. One twist in particular, midway through the game, will completely change the nature of the quest, turning the game head over heels. Several old friends from the earlier games in the series will make an appearance to help you in your quest, which will please fans of the series no end. And you will also get to play as other characters besides George, but I won’t spoil the surprises in store for you. While I have to admit that the overall storyline didn’t feel all that original, the way that it gradually unfolded kept me anxiously scrounging for any tidbits of information I could find to make sense of what was going on.
There were a few things about Angel of Death that annoyed me. The controls for instance were a bit hard to work with at times. I used the mouse for moving around, but had to use the keyboard to run, since my mouse wheel would not do the job. Clicking on a particular spot on the screen also did not guarantee that my character would walk there. Multiple clicks around the intended destination would eventually solve the problem, but it was frustrating nonetheless. And you will probably need a hefty system with a pretty good graphics card if you intend to enjoy Angel of Death with all its special effects turned on. Otherwise be prepared to play on the low graphics detail mode, and tolerate some woefully low frame rates.
There were other points where the game stuttered, for instance times when clicking on the occasional hotspot produced no response whatsoever. The hotspots themselves oftentimes tended to be easy to miss, because they were only a few pixels wide. I also encountered at least one bug (near a garbage dump at the meat packing factory) that prevented me from progressing further in the game, and required me to reload a previous saved game. But the game was quite stable otherwise, and it wasn’t too hard to work around the bug. A final, minor grievance I had was with the inability to skip dialogues. If you accidentally started a conversation with someone on a topic you had already covered earlier, you’d have to sit through the back and forth banter all over again.
Angel of Death is not a perfect game. It suffers from patchy controls, dull and unremarkable locales and an ending that is a bit of a let down. But it also has some gorgeous 3D graphics, top notch voiceovers, music and dialogue, and an ultimately engrossing storyline which is well paced and will keep your interest piqued. Overall, I found it a pretty enjoyable experience. Fans of the series should definitely not miss out. If you’ve never played a Broken Sword game before, I’d recommend playing one of the earlier ones and then giving Angel of Death a spin.
Final Grade: A-
If you liked this game, read The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry
DirectX 9.0c (included)
Pentium 4 1.4GHz
256 MB RAM
2.6 GB free hard drive space
2x DVD-ROM Drive
128 MB Shader model 1.1 compatible video card*
Windows compatible sound card*
DirectX 9.0c (included)
Pentium 4 1.4GHz or better
512 MB RAM
2.6 GB free hard drive space
2x DVD-ROM Drive or better
128 MB Shader model 1.1 compatible video card or better*
Windows compatible sound card*
*indicates that device must be compatible with DirectX 9.0c.