Kickstarter has become the place for old folks to spend their money recapturing gaming’s glory days. Well, I was around for those days and there were good things, but also bad. The goal should be to build upon the good, leaving the bad behind to make new, better things. But the internet has spoken and it wants a facsimile of the very first Broken Sword. So George and Nico are back point-and-clicking through a Parisian murder mystery. It’s functional, it’s pretty enough, and the storyline is fairly engaging, but Broken Sword 5: Serpent’s Curse feels derivative of its own legacy.
The success of an adventure game rides almost entirely on the quality of its narrative and Broken Sword 5 has a serviceably intriguing one. George Stobbart, newly employed as an art insurance assessor, is attending an exhibition in Paris insured by his company. His on-again, off-again photojournalist girlfriend Nico Collard is there to cover the story for her newspaper. A guy in a motorcycle helmet shows up, steals a painting, and shoots the gallery owner dead. It’s up to Nico and George to figure out whodunit and why.
The inciting incident is a less cool version of the first game’s, in which a clown blew up a café with an exploding accordion. It’s emblematic of how the entire game comes off like Broken Sword Jr. as you wander the back alleys of Paris uncovering evidence and questioning people. It’s true that all the other games in this series have been weaker than the first, but at least they were trying to do new things, like how Broken Sword 2 was set in South America and played out more like a thriller than a mystery.
It really feels like Revolution Software is trying to give the fans the first game all over again. You even meet many of the same characters, but I always found the draw of this series to be the globetrotting intrigue, not so much the people you meet during said globetrotting. George and Nico are their same old boring selves along with the rest of a well-acted (if hammy) cast. You’ll hear a wide variety of European and Russian accents, although some of them make no sense. Why are Nico and other Parisians speaking heavily-accented English to one another? Wait, why is Nico’s editor American?
The music sounds nearly ripped from the first game. It’s made up of string and horn instruments that pipe in to accentuate key moments. It’s pretty, but I wouldn’t be able to pick it out of a Broken Sword soundtrack line-up.
The graphics attempt to evoke the old games, too. They’re nice, but look too clean and sterile. The old drawings were done by hand and scanned in, while these were obviously entirely computer-created. Furthermore, characters are now pre-rendered 3D models, which makes their animations more stilted. Still, the bright colors and panoramic camera angles make for an overall attractive, though ultimately less impressive, presentation.
The controls are effectively the same as they were for the previous 2D titles in the series, which is perfectly fine as they were always intuitively simple: swipe around to find hotspots and tap to interact with them or to move. Using inventory objects is done by dragging and dropping. This is a modern game designed with touch screens in mind, as opposed to a port like the older titles before it, so it feels tighter and more responsive. However, selecting an item or person and then choosing whether to “interact” or “look” still requires tapping the hotspot, lifting your finger up, and then tapping the appropriate icon, as it was in Broken Sword 2. It’s a little clunky, and odd, as the first game allowed you to do this in one movement.
Welcome innovations are the removal of deaths and the addition of an intuitive hint system, but the game feels overly babying. It’s relentlessly linear; you only need to go to one place to accomplish one thing at any given time. Puzzles typically make more sense than they did in classic adventure games, but only because you’re railroaded into the solutions to the extremely contrived scenarios. Maybe I’m forgetting stuff in my old age, but were the prior Broken Swords so consistently dumb? At one point you have to distract a cop from guarding a door by wheeling out a urinating statue in a trolley and then playing sounds of the ocean on a stereo so that he’ll run off to the bathroom. Wha…?
Broken Sword 5: Serpent’s Curse – Episode 1 is such a retread of the original Broken Sword that, if it weren’t for the characters now carrying cell phones, you might mistake this for the follow-up to the first game. It’s essentially competent, though far too easy and linear. Clocking in at around five hours, this half of the story ends on a cliffhanger. It’s unclear if Episode 2 will require further payment, though it seems likely considering the low asking price of Episode 1. Another $6.99 seems fair to see this mystery through to the end. I’d just prefer it was the conclusion of something new, rather than a dip into 1996 nostalgia.
Is it Hardcore?
This is a relatively easy (half of an) adventure game that looks and sounds pretty enough. If you weren’t around for the golden age of point-and-click, this one isn’t likely to help you understand it as it’s a very average showing for the genre.