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Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse Ep. 1 (PC) artwork

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse Ep. 1 (PC) review

"Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse has all the parts on display to be the game adventure fans have hankered for, and it has every chance of being that game upon completion. Maybe? Probably. Yeah."

I should be happy. I should be happy, right? For years I've clamoured for a new Broken Sword release that shies away from awkward 3D controls and endless block puzzles, and, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, I now have one. Broken Sword 5 is set against beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds, uncomplicated in its 2D pixel hunting, and starring the voice of constantly brilliant Rolf Saxon. The script is typically Revolution Software; sharp, clever and satirical, and the puzzles logical and challenging. I've played it, I've beat it, and it was everything I've wanted to see brought back. Yet I don't find myself blown away. Why am I not blown away?

I suppose it has a lot to do with the nature of its release. Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse does have that Kickstarter project feel that things have been rushed to meet deadlines long set in stone to usher in donations. I'm not knocking that so much as I am acknowledging that this is a new part of video gaming's foundation; it is what it is. As such, long suffering protagonist George Stobbart is thrust straight back onto our screens with his fifth new career in as many games, and just happens to be on scene at an art robbery gone wrong. This game, he's an insurance peddler, so has to investigate the robbery to see if there's any way to invalidate an insurance claim -- but wait, who might that be in the the very same art lounge? Why, it's other series staple, Nico Collard! What are the odds of that.

The launch of this adventure is awkward and rushed; it's silly to pretend otherwise, but it's very easy to forget this once the investigation gets under way. Revolution have this wonderful habit of always inserting colourful characters to interact with, so as well as a trickle of returning characters, like the brow-beaten Sargent Moue, and pretentious, portly art critic Hector Laine comes new faces. A nearby waiter quotes Sartre out of context as a reason not to serve people drinks; a shocked priest on the scene seems to shift the blame for every happenstance squarely on the devil himself; a new hot-shot inspector dismisses such passée evidence as witness accounts in his search for bodily fluids and splash patterns.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse Ep. 1 asset

Bumbling along the game, winging it with the junk you find and can cram in your pockets continues to be the solid spine of the series. An argument can be made on the relative ease of the puzzles juxtaposed with a multi-stepped hint system which can point blank tell you what do next could be made, but the series has to move with the times. Impatient players facing a dead end these days only have to log on to any of the seven hundred walk-through sites out there to find their way forward, so keeping the players in the game while offering them a helping hand is the logical next step. You can, of course, ignore this or just turn off help such as the hints or hot-spot indicators that nix any need for pixel hunting. You can, to some extent, tailor the game to your needs. I chose to lop any helping hands off at the wrists so I could then brag about it like a big man if I ever was to write a video game review on my experience. You're impressed, aren't you? I can tell.

It's when you're solving these inventive puzzles and exchanging quips with the quirky cast that the game really motors along. Traditionally, much has been made of how George stumbles through quests rather than strides through them, and this remains true. The simple fact is that George isn't as clever as he likes to think he is, and a lot of the best jokes throughout the years have been squarely aimed at him.

Previously, his quests have centred around the Knights Templar, but Dan Brown has subsequently shat all over that subject matter some seven years after Shadows of the Templar was released. As such, underlying lore switches to the Gnostic faith with the stolen painting either leading to mysterious lost artefacts pertaining to the faith, or being a slightly rubbish bit of art.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse Ep. 1 asset

Really, it's here that the Kickstarter nature of the title really returns to jam the knife in. Promising a 2013 release, Broken Sword 5 has been split into two halves, with the second due early 2014 to fulfil promises made to financial backers. Throughout their releases, Broken Sword has built their foundations on raising the mundane aspects within the mythological, of taunting players with the eventual reveal of forgotten gods or century-old conspiracies, but first you need to trick that painter, or steal that sewer key. The first episode is all about building and demolishing an obligatory layer of cynicism towards the supposed myths surrounding the painting, trying to uncover suspected insurgence scams and the roots of the robbery itself. Macabre death curses on the piece are mumbled in the background, slowly dialling in intensity as the dead bodies pile up. But, in the meanwhile, George has neon lights to fix, and cockroaches to trap. He has drunken widows to trick, and an ancient van's horn to repair. The plot slowly builds to skirt the edges of a mythical reveal and then... it all ends on an unsatisfying cliff hanger while the second half is finished up.

When the next instalment hits, I have no doubt the completed Broken Sword 5 will be a fantastic game, because I have no reason to doubt the team behind the franchise. Charles Cecil makes brilliant adventure games and, no longer bound by third party publishers insisting on 3D game engines to dilute his visions, The Serpent's Curse feels like the closest Revolution have got to Shadow of the Templars in so many wonderful ways. Original composer. Barrington Pheloung, returns to orchestrate subtle, sweeping scores, and the much maligned decisions to use 3D models retrofitted into 2D pseudo-sprites actually works a lot better than it realistically has any right to. The game is smart, insightful, clever and funny. Challenging, but accessible (perhaps only until that damned goat makes his return as part of a Kickstarter milestone easily reached), the first episode is still only about building tone. It's all set-up and no punchline.

So, no, I'm not overly happy, but I am optimistic in Revolution's final vision. They've shown in the past that without the constant interjections of third-party publishers out of touch with what they're trying to achieve, they effortlessly weave gold. Moreso, I want the game to be good, and I want it to be a success because a world were these brilliantly creative games no longer exist makes the entire industry a slightly darker place.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse Ep. 1 asset

Am I being unfairly harsh? I have to ask myself that question as Kickstarted episodic games come further into the mainstream, causing a brand new set of unique issues for developers to work with. Should Revolution have broken promises and waited for the game's full completion before release? I have difficulty answering that question, and I'm wary of punishing for developmental obstacles rather than primordially for the title itself, which has all the potential in the world. I enjoyed my time with Broken Sword 5, I'm relieved, as a fan, to see the quality remain as high as its predecessors. But it feels incomplete, primarily because it is incomplete. Purposefully so.

I'm struggling here to designate an arbitrary score to end this review. I really wish I didn't have to. Do I reward the title for the potential it shows, or punish it for the business model it decided to employ?

I suppose I'll end on a high; Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse has all the parts on display to be the game adventure fans have hankered for, and it has every chance of being that game upon completion. Maybe? Probably. Yeah.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (December 15, 2013)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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