Developer: Revolution Software
Publisher: Revolution Software
It’s very rare that my fiancée is more excited for a game than me. Normally it’s me explaining to her why you should pre-order, why a console needs to be had on launch day, and why that musical chest I got free with The Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds is so friggin’ awesome!
But for one franchise in particular she becomes just like me. The geek within rises, and she gets super excited. Step forward Broken Sword. Now luckily for me we’ve been waiting a long time since the last Broken Sword game – longer than our entire relationship in fact, so this is the first time I’ve bore witness to this excitement. I thought she got excited for Zelda, but Broken Sword is in another ballpark. Apparently this is a big deal – she funded it through kickstarter no less - so I’d better do it justice, or so help me that “big day” next year might never come.
No pressure then right? So, eyes down and concentrate.
For those not in as unique a relationship as mine, Broken Sword first hit the gaming scene way back in 1996. It focused on two individuals – local girl Nico Collard and American George Stobbart – who team up to solve a Parisian bombing, with many twists and turns along the way. The original game was your standard 2D point and click adventure, with sequels sending our heroes further afield to more varied locations, and adopting different gameplay mechanics – and even embracing 3D – with mixed success.
But the fifth instalment – The Serpent’s Curse – takes the gameplay back to its roots, with a good old 2D adventure based around a shocking murder in Paris. The main difference between this game and the original is the decision to make this game episodic, with the first part currently available to buy now, and part two coming in late January. Other than that, 17 years of gaming innovation has served to remind us one thing about Point & Click adventures – if it aint broke, don’t fix it. This is very much Broken Sword as you knew it.
So our dynamic duo are back in the French capital, at an art exhibition, when out of the blue a mysterious robber bursts in, steals a painting, and shoots the owner who put up some resistance. As witnesses and all-round good eggs, it’s up to Nico & George to figure out what has happened, and before long it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems – least of all the painting itself which seems to hold more significance than mere artistry.
I won’t bore you with detailed explanations of the gameplay – as I said earlier, it’s your standard Point & Click fare. Items are collected, and objects in the environment that can be interacted with become apparent when you hover over them. It’s as intuitive as the genre gets, without making everything flash brightly and shout at you.
That intuitive nature stays true throughout the game, in that anyone can play it. You don’t need to be a Broken Sword veteran to understand the interface, nor will you need any prior knowledge of any stories, locations or characters to succeed in the game. Sure there are returning characters, and nods to previous adventures in the game for fans of the series to enjoy, but never do they detract from the experience or alienate those without the frame of reference. It manages to hit that sweet spot that will appease existing fans and newcomers alike.
The puzzles, like in any game of the genre, are what make the game tick. Make them too easy, and you strip the game of its challenge and its heart. Make it too difficult or random, and you risk player frustration and them leaving before it’s over. Broken Sword’s puzzles are never random – they always make sense – but they vary in how obvious they are greatly. Some tasks or item combinations will come to you instantly, whereas others will leave you scratching your head wondering what to do next. And that’s a good thing – a walk in the park this should not be. Keeping our proverbial brain cogs whirring is all part of a good adventure game and Broken Sword 5 does this well.
The variety of puzzles on offer is also worthy of praise. It’s not just “use key in lock” puzzles here, oh no. At various points throughout the adventure, you’ll need to rebrand a business, catch a live cockroach, translate some Russian, and make George a convincing-looking hippy. It means a lot of these puzzles, barely feel like puzzles at all, as they are so varied, they become enjoyable little moments in the game – a far cry from the frustration such puzzles can sometimes cause.
But as I said earlier that’s not to say that some puzzles won’t stump you into frustration. Luckily for you (and for me on some occasions I’m not afraid to admit) there is a hint system built into the game for every single puzzle. Should you think that you’ve tried everything, and don’t know what to do – the hints have your back. But like most good hint systems, Broken Sword 5 doesn’t give you the answer straight away unless you ask for it. Normally there will be a few steps to each puzzle, and you will be given a hint for each step. Where only one step is required, the hints will get more and more straightforward until you are literally told what to do. It means you can tailor the amount of help you get depending on your needs. It means those just wanting a gentle nudge in the right direction can get it, whereas those wanting a straight answer can also be accommodated.
Humour has always been a big part of the Broken Sword franchise, whether it be through the puzzles themselves, character dialogue, narration or funny set pieces – the games have always had that comical aspect to them which makes them endearing, and Broken Sword 5 is no different. I physically laughed out loud a couple of times, and on most other occasions a wry grin swept across my face. This is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and whilst it will never win any comedy awards, its harmless fun is endearing throughout.
Now I mocked the lack of innovation in gameplay earlier, but another big change you notice in Broken Sword 5 is the visuals. Understandably this game is prettier than any that has gone before, but what the 2D decision has afforded the developers is to create something truly artistic. Not only are the environments and backdrops beautifully created, but the detail in the character models is also noteworthy. The way each character moves around the environments, in pseudo-3D space is seamless, with characters not looking awkward when taking a seat or doing various other actions. It makes the whole thing feel much more believable – the fact that you don’t notice anything odd or distracting throughout the game is the biggest compliment I can give the visuals. It’s proof that 2D done well is not only still possible, but also relevant.
The story is probably the hardest thing to judge, having just played the first part of the game. The setting is classic Broken Sword fare – deeply rooted in religion, being real enough to make you sit up and take note, akin to a Dan Brown novel. However currently having only played through half of the story, the locations visited thus far do feel rather limited. You visit various Paris locations and then hop over the channel to London a couple of times, and then we’re done. I hope in the second half more location variety is added to further enhance the plot variety, as it is sorely needed.
One thing I will say in the plot’s favour though is that it does an excellent job of maximising the fact that it is in two parts. The end of the first half reaches a pretty big climax, achieving exactly what it should – leaving you completely on a knife edge. You’ve had a couple of big reveals yet with so many unanswered questions, you can’t wait to play the second half.
The one thing that did disappoint – apart from the limited locations – was how the story’s narration meant that the puzzles had to be done in a linear fashion. Only towards then end did you accrue a lot of items to give you plenty of choice for how to solve the puzzles, and even then the majority of them had to be done in order to allow the story to make sense. Not a terrible thing by any means, but for me point and click adventuring is at its best when you’ve got a packed inventory and different puzzles can be done in any order. It makes playing more varied, and whilst not all such games can have the freedom of, say, Day of the Tentacle, even the later Zork games of the 90s managed to combine a story with flexible puzzling.
I guess the counter argument is that with such linearity you can weave a good storyline, the problem being, I’ve only seen half of it so far. I hope that the second half packs a real punch to make the rigidity of the puzzles worth it, or that there is a more flexible and varied approach to the puzzling itself. That way it’ll feel like a hit, rather than the disjoint it feels now.
Length-wise, part one of The Serpent’s Curse will take you around 7 hours to play through – not a bad length for half a game, and an enjoyable half it is too. Not perfect by any stretch, but certainly competent enough to make me want the second half. It seems that a return to the original’s roots really has paid off for Revolution Software, and this first half sets the scene nicely for the final instalment in January. The only caveat to purchasing is that your experience will be greatly affected by just how good part two is, which we won’t know for a while. The developers have made a great start, but unfortunately the lack of half the game, still makes Broken Sword 5 feel a bit like a punt. Sure, it’s a safer punt than some, as the gameplay is good and the visuals are gorgeous, but a punt it remains nonetheless.
- Beautiful visuals
- High standard and variety of puzzles
- Charming humour and characters
- Well utilised hint system
- Narrative drives puzzle linearity
- Limited locations visited so far
The Short Version: Part one of Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse sets a decent standard for the franchise. In a return to its roots it shows that a beautifully imagined 2D world can still be engaging and relevant. Its puzzles are varied without being over-strenuous, but the game’s narrative makes them feel somewhat linear, which could put some gamers off. Overall though it’s a worthwhile purchase, assuming the second half can maintain the same standard or even surpass it.