Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse has been made possible due to the generosity of franchise fans courtesy of a successful Kickstarter campaign. The only catch with this funding drive was that the game would be split into two episodes, with the intention to get the package into the hands of backers as quickly as possible. This delay between release dates, however, has allowed the developer to tweak and alter aspects from the inaugural instalment, resulting in an overall more polished experience this time around.
While the previous episode did many things right – especially the wonderfully hand-painted environments – we felt that it was a bit slow at uncovering its tale at times. This yarn involves protagonists George and Nico, who witness a murder and a theft at an art gallery, leading them on an intrepid adventure to catch the murderer, and recover the painting itself. Unsurprisingly, the second half picks up from the conclusion of its predecessor, and whisks our heroes away from the urban sprawls of Paris and London to the idyllic landscapes of sunny Span and beyond in order to explore the latest revelations regarding the stolen artwork and its dark mythology.
In fact, this second episode plots a surprising path following the introduction of its titular curse, exploring a more religious tone that gives the story a bit of acceleration. Although still privy to the occasional bout of atrociously poor humour, this instalment definitely takes the narrative in a more interesting direction; you’ll finally begin to feel the rush of the threads slotting together as the clues fall into place. Indeed, there’s much more going on here than a pompous Parisian necking coffee.
As a consequence, there’s a much bigger focus on the puzzle solving aspect of the franchise, rather than the investigative explorations or dire conversations that riddled the first part. This subtle change in balance brings more hefty challenges to the table, such as deciphering an old telegram, and really challenges your grey matter rather employing drab fetch quests to extend the runtime. With this focus on puzzle solving, it’s unsurprising that the map system has now been discarded, removing George’s handy ability to warp from location-to-location. This does result in the game being a little more linear, but reduces the necessity to engage in eye-rolling conversations.
Moreover, the bolstered difficulty of the puzzles helps to deliver that all-important satisfaction upon completion, but these can be a bit ambiguous at times. The point-and-click genre has always depended on ridiculous item combinations, but using a cockroach to fix a crocked piece of hardware – as you do at one point – feels like it’s taking things a little too far. Still, this does at least give you a reason to explore the game’s over-sized inventory to find the right tool for the job, and will save you from the aforementioned discourse so common in the previous outing.
In fact, the dialogue that is in this episode is much better, with good writing and strong voice actors – a particularly pleasant and welcome improvement. Much like we observed before, the visuals look excellent on the PlayStation Vita’s five-inch display to boot, with meticulously hand-painted backgrounds bursting with colour and detail. Unfortunately, the claustrophobic feel returns courtesy of the cluttered user interface, which can rip you out of the experience momentarily.
Although noticeably shorter than Episode 1 – clocking in at around five hours on this occasion – the more focused approach of this entry benefits it. When combined, the two episodes yield a pleasant return to a 20-year-old franchise, which has clearly been designed with fans and nostalgia in mind, rather than any real intention to evolve an ageing genre.
As a standalone experience, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Cure – Episode 2 does struggle with many of the same pitfalls as Episode 1, with its interface still a particular problem. However, it’s a more focused adventure, and lessens the emphasis on the conversation heavy sequences that proved so dire in the previous outing. As a complete package, this is an enjoyable affair that should succeed in keeping protagonists George and Nico in the limelight for a little while longer, and Kickstarter backers should feel satisfied that their hard-earned cash has been spent wisely resuscitating this series.