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Broken Sword 5: The Serpents' Curse (PC) artwork

Broken Sword 5: The Serpents' Curse (PC) review

"The Serpentís Curse is a successful rolling reboot."

Earlier today, I found myself chatting to a friend who just happens to repair electronic goods for a living, and has done so for many years. The topic of his job came up and I asked him how he might repair a broken fuse situated at the back of a console, through a maze of electrified wires. He wrinkled his brow and assured me over several minutes that no such hazard would ever present itself because no way could such an obstacle ever exist; there are strict safety laws to adhere to, and manufactures would never be dumb enough to let slip such a fatal design flaw. To humour me, he listed a number of simple work arounds involving insulating yourself against the current, but favoured the tried and tested method of switching off the machine in question, fixing the fuse, then turning it on again. When asked how I might fix the issue, I casually replied that I would glue a paperclip to the back of a cockroach with strawberry jam, and then throw rich tea biscuit crumbs at the broken circuit. This, you see, would prompt the cockroach to scuttle right on over there and jam the paperclip between the two prongs, completing the circuit, and repairing the console. After an awkward silence, I assured my friend that the cockroach would be fine after this hefty electric shock, and that he would slope back to his matchbox home, no more than slightly dazed, wherein I would return him to my pocket to later show to random strangers.

The above conversation actually happened. A guy Iíve known half my life now thinks I have a (bigger) drinking problem and will no longer meet me in pubs during our lunch breaks.

To the rest of you, welcome to the wonderful world of Adventure Game Logicô, brought to you today by the fine people behind Broken Sword 5 , specifically the long awaited second half to a long(er) awaited sequel diced up via Kickstarter promises and delivered in full a handful of months later than initially promised. Back in the murky depths of late, late last year, the first part of the game arrived to critical confusion as a story that was never meant to be divided in half was hacked in twain anyway to fulfil an obligation of some kind of 2013 release date. It was, Iím sorry to say about a developer I have no small amount of affection for, pretty shady stuff. Forcing the first half of the story into a standalone title didnít really work; it was more or less a case of building the foundations of a tale without offering any kind of satisfying conclusion. Though we have to make an effort to review the product and not the business model, the entire fiasco did leave a rotten taste in my mouth as I plunged through Part 1, knowing in the back of my mind I wasnít going to get any answers to the Gnostic mystery behind a cryptic painting, to the reason behind the rising body count or to the rubbish diet cliff-hanger ending that hinted at a new villain plucked out of nowhere in a desperate attempt to produce a diet cliff-hanger ending to bookend the chapter. But, I told myself, I could forgive all this nonsense if the final package lived up to the ethereal potential lurking behind the misfires. So, now Iíve finally been able to play the game as a whole, I can look Revolution in the eye and finally say remake In Cold Blood at once! I forgive you.

Actual critical review of game starts here.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpentís Curse is a bit of a weird contradiction wherein it wants to immerse itself in the roots of the original while, at the same time, offering a new perspective. The original Broken Sword breathed life into a dying genre back in 1996, displaying beautiful hand-drawn artwork, sweeping melodies and a level of voice acting that has yet to be eclipsed. But each progressive update felt mistakenly obliged to move with the times, dipping its toe further and further into 3D gaming and replacing the charm of its ancestors with depth perception and block puzzles. Serpentís Curse makes a much appreciated return to its 2D beginnings, sporting luxurious hand-dawn backdrops traversed by retro-fitted 3D sprites which kinda sorta work so long as you ignore the odd case of robotic animation.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpents' Curse (PC) image

So much harkens back to the series staples that worked so well. Top rate voice acting is supplied with reliable old Rolf Saxon stealing the show as interfering American lawyer George Stobbartt reengaging his habit of tumbling head first into century old conspiracy and blundering his way through them with whatever junk he can cram into his pockets. Barrington Pheloung returns to orchestrate the score for the first time since Broken Sword 2. For returning players, thereís a strong sense of nostalgia, of the series recapturing a form once thought lost amidst the brave new world of graphical obligations and baffling developer demands. The Serpentís Curse is very much a Revolution game. This is a good thing.

Itís an adventure steeped in historic richness, in clever writing not afraid to make fun of itself one second, then sober you up the next. Previous games have (mostly) revolved around the Templar faith, but thereís a prevalent feeling that Dan Brown has long ruined that for everyone else (and an unwritten assumption that he ripped off earlier Broken Sword plots to water down and pass off as his own that we would certainly not advance here in fear of lawyer rush even if it did totally happen) so events turn towards the teachings of the Gnostic faith. Series dual protagonist, George and French photo-journalist Nico, just happen to be at a gallery viewing when a little known painting steeped in religious significance is stolen, the owner is shot dead and a nearby priest proclaims everything the work of Satan himself.

Revolution has this wonderful habit of never turning to stereotypes and uniformity when they can inject oddball personality instead. The gallery crime scene is shortly taken over by a self-proclaimed genius crime investigator who ignores all the eye witness accounts to better examine blood splatters that donít exist and marvel over forensic evidence that isnít there. A nearby waiter quotes philosophy out of context and talks in rhetoric in an effort not to serve anyone coffee. A long-suffering police sergeant returns from the first handful of games to continue his one-man war against common sense before being constantly outdone by his weak bladder. George will snoop around the crime scene before blackmailing a portly, pretentious art critic with subjection and murder-prop pizza for a security code that will get him into the galleryís office and gain access to the CCTV camera. Where he can then perfectly see himself snooping around a crime scene in a highly suspicious manner, all caught on tape.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpents' Curse (PC) image

Perhaps it happens less so in this game, but the best moments of the series are moments like this when Georgeís charge headfirst methods of investigating simply serve to dig him further into a hole of his own making. In this case, his interest in the painting is justified as heís part of the firm who ensured it, but he soon sneaking around Russian mob houses in London, slapping on make up to try and resemble a dead guy in uptown Paris and being stuck in the middle of a sniper and an angry goat in rural Spain.

We should take a second to talk about the goat.

Broken Sword 1 contained a puzzle in an Irish ruin wherein the biggest obstacle to advance was a furious goat someone had tied to a post that, if you played the game back in 1996, you were never going to solve. Ever. Itís so infamous a puzzle that Ė and I can only half believe this myself Ė that this one stand-alone moment has its own Wikipedia page. Broken Sword 5 celebrates this (i.e. rewards a Kickstarter stretch goal) by having you pinned behind an apple tree while a nearby goat tethered to a tyre arbitrarily butts you out into the line of fire.

But, in this brave new age, youíre never going to have the cerebral roadblocks of old. The Serpentís Curse will, if you let it, play the game for you. It can highlight all the interactive hotspots, or provide a hint button that can do anything from gently nudge you in the right direction to condescendingly ruffling your hair and spelling it out in crayon. Iím never going to use these options (he says, with no way of proving it, to look like a big man in front of his dubious audience) but I can understand their existence; adventure games are going to frustrate you at times; itís hardwired into their DNA, and people are going to run off to a FAQ site or look up a Letís Play on Youtube should they get really stuck, so any effort to keep people in the game is of obvious benefit. Do these new titles puzzles, though, really need that much help? Thereís no getting away from the fact that #5 arenít as difficult as the first handful of games, but the second half of the game certainly starts scaling back up to previous levels of head scratching. Iíve kind of ruined Trevor the cockroachís odyssey for you, I suppose, but thatís a great example of the lateral thinking you need to employ. The solutions all exist in a special realm of plausibility. They could be the answer a normal person brings to a specific problem, if that guy has crammed everything not nailed down into his pockets and nothing else in the world existed but that. And he was strung out on something strong and highly illegal. And he had recently walked away from a horrific automobile accident where the airbag didnít deploy.

If that sounds like a ruddy good time, then go and buy Broken Sword 5. Hell, if I have any kind of unexplainable sway on you, go and buy it anyway. For years now, as a series, itís been pulling the nails back out of the adventure genreís coffin, even when it misfired with titles like #4. The Serpentís Curse is a successful rolling reboot in that it has taken on so much of what made the previous titles special, but is trying not to allow itself to be anchored to the past. Itís still a story-rich brain teaser, but now it has new layer of accessibility that the hardcore faithful are able to turn off and ignore. Even though itís the newest title, it doesnít have all those negative modern touches that ganged up to bully the last two releases; no awkward 3D controls, no dumbing down for obvious console ports, no clumsy block puzzles and no insulting 30 second ending. Itís as strong and charming and wonderfully offbeat as any of its predecessors, a comfortable familiarity born of something both unique and sentimental. Iím a fan Ė can you tell?

I wonít pretend I didnít fear the worst when half the game was dressed up as a ďplannedĒ episode and thrown unprepared into the marketplace, but the completed whole belayed those frets.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (April 29, 2014)

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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Germ posted April 30, 2014:

Love this review. It's filled with just enough anecdote and history to give ignorant readers (me) context to understand what it is that makes you like the game. Awesome stuff.
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EmP posted April 30, 2014:

Thank you. Late last year, I decided to play though the last four Broken Swords back-to-back, so it was all quite fresh in my mind. I will admit, I did start to panic a little when I saw I was at about 800 words and barely out of the intro ramble, so thanks for letting me know they at least had some context to them and bearing with me.

Thanks to Will while I'm here for the help with the goat images.

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