Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse - Episode 1 Review
Posted by Ben Tarrant
Not broken, just bent
Kickstarter has been the proud parent to many creations over the past few years, the latest of which is the fifth instalment in the legendary point-and-click adventure franchise, Broken Sword. Split into two parts for some bewildering reason – with the second episode due out in the first quarter of this year – Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse – Episode 1 [Phew – Ed] plots a return to the traditional 2D environments found in the series’ older outings. However, having raised over $771,000 in crowd-funding, has the investment been used to good effect?
The adventure begins after a quick tutorial in a Parisian art gallery, where we’re introduced to the game’s protagonists. Fans will be delighted to see the return of George Stobbart and Nico Collard, who witness the abrupt murder of the museum’s owner and the theft of a priceless painting, encouraging their return to the world of private detective work.
Of course, this is where the point-and-click action comes into play. You’re tasked with investigating every nook and cranny of the title’s environments in order to try and solve the case – and you should take that literally, as nearly everything in the world is clickable. On the one hand, this delivers a wealth of things for you to do in the small areas that are accessible, but on the other it results in the adventure moving along at sluggish pace, and it makes you feel like you’re the one that should be carrying a notepad, not George.
Worse still, the title can feel terribly linear. For example, important dialogue sequences will only trigger when you’ve performed a specific string of actions in the exact right order, leaving you to mercilessly abuse the hint system for guidance on where to make Mr. Stobbart saunter next. As a result, you'll get a lot of playtime out of the experience, but this is more due to its difficulty rather than the length of the episode itself.
Fortunately, the incredible hand-painted artwork that populates the backgrounds will help to put you at ease, though they do often leave the clunky 3D character models looking a little out of place. You’ll forgive these mishaps entirely, however, when you realise that you can incessantly offer cold pizza to non-playable characters with tickling results.
And it’s these trivial dialogue trees that represent the game’s real charm. Whether you’re looking intently at a digestive biscuit or a serious clue in the main murder case, George and Nico almost always have something interesting to say. Better yet, the brilliant script is enhanced by the excellent voice acting, which accentuates the long-standing chemistry between the two lead investigators.
Also available on the PC and soon smartphones, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the game glosses over the Vita’s analogue sticks and buttons, in favour of a touchscreen focused affair. Sadly, it’s just the front surface that’s used here, making you feel like you’ve brought a bazooka to a sword fight, as very few of the system’s unique tools are put to use. Moreover, because pretty much everything can be interacted with, this leads to multiple items being grouped together, which can leave the interface feeling cluttered even on the handheld’s enormous OLED screen.
Perhaps most confusing, though, is the decision to split the title into two instalments, which results in the story feeling disjointed and unfulfilling. The first episode comes to an abrupt close, and it feels like it was rushed to a crescendo in order to make way for the next act, where, in honesty, it would have been far more effective to simply release this as a single entity. For a release that’s built around the use of logic, it all feels rather illogical.
There’s clearly been a lot of love invested into Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse – Episode 1, and it will take franchise fans on a trip down memory lane as a result. Sadly, the disjointed structure and slow pace will leave you with a sense of deflation and sore fingers as you shuffle towards the point-and-click escapade’s abrupt end. Those that enjoy the genre will find a lot to like about the vibrant graphics and witty dialogue, but everyone else may be better off waiting to see if Episode 2 brings this Parisian investigation to a more satisfying conclusion.