Modern Review: Broken Sword 5, Part One (PC)


Adventure games are dead. At least, that is what certain factions of the videogaming press would have you believe. However, one only needs to look at success of Revolution Software's Kickstarter campaign to get Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse off the ground for that argument to be called into question. The initial request of $400,000 was blown out of the water by the $771,000 received. Then, after the Kickstart successfully closed, Revolution continued to receive donations via PayPal in order to reach various stretch goals, bringing the total to an impressive $823,000. Not bad for a game whose genre is no longer a going concern.

Of course all the money in the world doesn't necessarily a good game make and Revolution has a lot to live up to. The Broken Sword series, one of the most famous and easily one of the finest of the point-and-click adventure genre, is known for its high quality. While later games may have stumbled a little with fiddly controls the overall quality of George Stobbart and Nicole "Nico" Collard's adventures has always been high, with deep, intriguing stories and puzzles that while devilish were not so esoteric as to stop players from progressing.

The Serpent's Curse opens at a stately home in pre-World War II Spain. Two men fight off some armed intruders while their families flee. However, the men are killed and an impressive, if ominous, painting is stolen. From here we are thrust to modern day Paris where the very same painting is on exhibition. Both George and Nico are at the gallery to witness the unveiling of the artwork; George is working for an insurance company who has insured the painting, and Nico is there to cover the opening for the newspaper she works for. Suddenly, a pizza delivery guy interrupts the proceedings and steals the painting, killing the gallery owner in the process. Now it's up to George and Nico to track down the killer and find out why this seemingly unassuming painting is worth killing for. The adventure begins...

This fifth title in the series leaves behind the three dimensions of Broken Sword Three and Four and returns to the 2D origins of the original game and its sequel, albeit with a modern flavour. The game is played in the traditional 2D plane with all the characters' actions - from walking to interacting with items - controlled by mouse clicks. The game's backdrops have been beautifully hand painted and evoke a wonderful sense of place and atmosphere. The character models have been rendered in 3D but live on the 2D plane, similar to what has been seen in various retro remakes and revivals over the last few years. The models do look very nice, however, I admit it took a little getting used to on the part of this reviewer. The easiest way to describe the look of character models in the game would be to say they are cel shaded, although that is not strictly true. The models have a somewhat Pixar look to them with little in the way of shadow or gradients being cast upon them. Perhaps it's my background in fine arts, but this stood out to me in a noticeable way. After a little while with the game though I didn't even notice and simply enjoyed the adventure.

The models do have more gameplay related issues than simply how they look, however. In some instances character movement is quite stiff; this is particularly noticeable when characters are running. During conversations with other characters, George and Nico will often need to show these characters bits of evidence and items they have found. However, when they do this, the hand supposedly holding the item is empty. This could simply be a holdover from the original games in which the developers did not have the memory or time to draw small, pixel versions of every item. Perhaps Revolution winking to fans, saying "ah, remember those days?" Honestly though, in this day and age, having a character present an NPC with an item only for their hands to be empty just looks silly. Another issue suffered in the game is at certain points reaction time from characters is much too long. For example, in once scene I 'asked' George to interrogate a witness to a murder. After clicking on the character to give George the instruction it took George a good three or four seconds to respond to my command. After walking over to the witness it was another three or four seconds before the conversation initiated. So, from giving the command to the conversation actually starting was roughly six to eight seconds. It might not sound like much, but it was enough for me to wonder if I'd input the command incorrectly or if the game had locked up. I would also recommend turning off the subtitles unless you are hearing impaired or have rubbish speakers. The subtitles in the game are quite intrusive and cover a larger area of the play field than I would personally like. While none of these issues are game breaking - indeed they are far from it - they are issues that should not be in a modern game and one can not help but feel that with a little tweaking and more play testing these issues could have been eliminated.

Apart from those issues above, Broken Sword 5, Part One is a wonderful game. Smartly, Revolution have included a tutorial for those who may have never played a point-and-click adventure game (and while that may sound strange, there are probably many under the age of 20 that haven't). The tutorial is short and sweet and even includes a little joke involving a goat for anyone who has played the original Broken Sword. Indeed, references to past games, little nods to fans and self-referential humour abound in The Serpent's Curse. From the save/load icons appearing as floppy disks to George commenting on how convenient it is he found the exact item he is looking for in the exact room he is in, to solve the exact puzzle he just mentioned he needed that item to solve; it is wonderful stuff. Even a few old friends make appearances.

As you would have noted by the game's title, Revolution have broken the game up into two parts. The reason for this is that Revolution promised a 2013 release but as development went on and the game became bigger - in part due to the various stretch goals reached- it became clear that a quality game of the size the developer wanted could not be made in that time. Thus, the decision was made to split the game in two, essentially giving players two full-length games. Whether Part One is indeed a "full length game" depends on how you define such things. Personally, I was quite happy with the amount of content. The Serpent's Curse took me six hours to finish. When you consider most modern triple A titles generally take somewhere between 8 to 10 hours, I feel 6 is quite acceptable for what is essentially half a game. If Part Two is as long as Part One, The Serpent's Curse will have a total play time of 12 hours.

Of course that all depends on how quickly you put the various clues together and solve the puzzles. Puzzles in Broken Sword 5 are not incredibly taxing but do at times require lateral thinking. While there is a help system in place you'll probably find you won't need it very often, if at all, but it's still great that it's included. As alluded to above, most of what you'll need to solve the game's various puzzles can be found in quite close proximity with only a few instances requiring travel to different areas to retrieve clues. While at first this may sound like it would make the game too easy, in fact it eliminates the backtracking that a lot of adventure games suffer from. While all the tools to solve a puzzle may be available, they are dispersed with items that don't have any relevance. In some cases items need to be combined with other items to achieve the desired goal. The puzzle design is, for the most part, quite clever and solutions require a bit of consideration and experimentation on the part of the player. There was only one instance where the solution to a problem seemed to come out of left field.

Broken Sword 5 is a true return to form for the point-and-click genre and a wonderful entry into the Broken Sword series. Anyone who has played a Broken Sword game in the past will feel right at home with The Serpent's Curse. The game's story begins slowly with small details that couldn't possibly lead to any major event. Of course, due to clever writing, they inevitably do and the player is thrust into a deep and engaging mystery. Being RetroCollect I'm sure that everyone here knows what to expect from a point-and-click adventure. From Broken Sword 5: THe Serpent's Curse, Part One you can expect a great argument as to why adventure games are far from dead.




Last Updated ( 13 January 2014 )  

Joe Douglas

A lover of comics, sci-fi, fantasy and dusty old video games, Joe is a Sega man through and through. Combining his love of collecting and blue hedgehogs, Joe runs the site SonicCollectors on which he attempts to build a database of Sonic merch. He is tolerated by one cat, two dogs and his girlfriend.

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(Link to this comment) chocklo 2014-01-13 16:24
Simply cannot wait to get home and get this on my Vita!! Cheers Retrocollect for the headsup! I love Broken Sword and didn't realise this was even out yet. :lol:

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