Broken Sword 5 – The Serpent’s Curse is a concoction of painstakingly hand-drawn art assets alongside an imaginative and intellectually stimulating narrative. The series altered my own perceptions of video games and made me realise that they can be classified as a legitimate piece of art. Charles Cecil’s masterpiece captured my imagination as I have always had a penchant for ancient history and enigmatic religious concepts. Later releases adopted a 3D approach which lacked the stylistic glamour and vigour of the first two games. Before the crowdfunding revolution, certain genres were destined to be left in the history books because major publishers perceived them as unfashionable and overly niche. The PC market is now awash with a number of innovative and brilliantly produced point-and-click games including Deponia, Machinarium and now Broken Sword 5. Initially, I was concerned that Revolution would have an impossible task in recreating the magic and allure of those earlier games which were made eons ago. However, their latest work is nothing short of astonishing due to its captivating story and dry, witty humour.
The plot begins in a quaint art gallery entitled, “Le Lézard Bleu” which contains La Maledicció. This is a gnostic painting which is neither technically proficient or valuable when compared to other works in the showroom. Despite this, you find yourself embroiled in a murder investigation as a masked stranger steals this piece of art and kills the shop owner, Henri, at point blank range. Henri has an inkling of the painting’s significance and attempts to retrieve it even though this endangers his life. You play as George Stobbart who works for a company which insures the stolen portrait and must retrieve it at all costs and find the perpetrators. From the offset there is an unease about the whole episode and George’s intuition tells him that there is a major conspiracy going on. Nico Collard who is a reporter for La Liberté returns and assists your investigation.
This collaboration is implemented in a seamless and exceptional manner as you alternate between these two characters during the gameplay. One moment you are in George’s shoes examining the crime scene for clues and then the next using Nico’s femme fatale ways to lure information out of unsuspecting characters. For example, Nico charms the defiant Sergeant Moue to leave his post guarding the crime scene. Being able to play as both characters is a wonderful idea which progresses the story through impeccable pacing and variety. It allows you to experience the narrative from various angles and have alternate character interactions. George and Nico also have a heartwarming and infectious rapport when they work together to solve complex predicaments.
Other characters like Nico return in Broken Sword 5 which honors the previous games and adds a sense of nostalgia. Individuals such as Hector Laine and Lady Piermont are paramount to the story and interact with you in a distinctive manner. Hector grows weary of your incessant questioning techniques and has a dismissive attitude towards you. In contrast to this, Lady Piermont who is a flirtatious extrovert goes out of her way to assist your every need. She is a fantasist and becomes consumed by her own cravings for adventure. Characters which already have a preconception about you create a sense of authenticity in the game’s character development.
There are a number of parallels between this latest entry and the first encounter. For instance, George becomes increasingly weary of having to tolerate the asinine and pompous inspector Navet. A similar situation occurred during Broken Sword – Shadow of the Templars when George became disparaged with the inept Inspector Rosso. Both of these figures hindered the investigation despite being supposedly qualified and highly respected. There’s a sense of irony that George, who is ordinary tourist, can do the work of an entire police force. The familiar structure maintains a sense of continuity which allows George’s personality to flourish.
The Broken Sword franchise has always reveled in its sarcastic and witty humour. George’s patience is tested to the limit as he interrogates witnesses and they respond in an apathetic way. Characters such as inspector Navet astound George with derisive and stereotypical comments about American people. During one occasion, Navet asks “Monsieur, you are American, no? and George responds, “Yes, California born and bread”. George is bewildered when the inspector retorts back with the inane comment, “ Of course. I think perhaps you are wanting to be like that Starsky and Butch, monsieur – non?” Situations like these are hilarious and give George the ammunition to tease those who underestimate his abilities.
Broken Sword 5’s plot is multilayered containing an obvious premise and a more complicated subtext. Clearly, the basic objective revolves around Henri’s harrowing and unscrupulous murder. If you look beyond this, and into the painting’s provenance, there are some religious undertones outlining its potential power and wider significance. There is a duality in the storytelling which keeps the narrative fresh and intriguing. These elements coexist beautifully and add to the overall pacing. As the player, your mind deviates from an expected task to a more mysterious and uncertain path.
There are a wide range of puzzles on offer which have been modernized for today’s audience. The Broken Sword ethos involves collecting and merging concrete items to solve riddles. You also need to investigate hidden documents, furniture and other objects of interest. Every so often, you may be required to interact with inconsequential items that contain a dark and hidden secret. These traditional puzzles are implemented superbly as they test your wits and critical thinking. While they aren’t punishingly difficult, it does take some time to determine the correct answer.
Unlike the original games, Broken Sword 5 features a number of brainteasers which can elude you as they resemble more difficult conundrums. For instance, you will encounter a young, feisty entrepreneur who politely asks for your help in repairing a neon sign. He requests that you come up with a suitable name for his small Bric-à-brac shop. The task involves rearranging a small selection of letters which I found perplexing and struggled for around 40 minutes. Unfortunately, my efforts were fruitless and I eventually caved in and used the hint system.
One major downfall of the point-and-click genre is that many players can be bewildered by a particular puzzle. Broken Sword 5 eradicates this problem completely as its hint system progressively assists you without divulging the correct answer. Clues are handed out in 4 steps which slowly guide you into the right direction. Before you select the first assist, a general statement outlines where your focus should be. Clues such as, “The skylight is open, I just need a way of getting up there – What should i do?” prevents you from aimlessly walking around in the wrong location. All games within this genre should adopt a similar mechanic as it reduces your frustration levels when tackling the one puzzle which muddles our cognitive thinking. Everyone’s thought process is different, so certain objectives vary in difficulty depending on the individual. The system is gradual and non-compulsory which is why it works so proficiently.
Technically, Broken Sword 5 performs adequately but there is a lack of clarity within the menus. Originally, using version 1.02 the game only ran in 1280×720 and scaled to my monitor. Bizarrely, the options menu contains two primary resolutions entitled, “Full Screen 1” and “Full Screen 2”. The first selection drops the resolution to 1280×720 and stretches your display causing black bars.
This mode is fairly unusable so I would highly recommend using “Full Screen 2” which fills the entire screen. Thankfully, these unforgivable issues have now been resolved with a hefty 3GB patch and eliminates the blocky images and borders. Version 1.03 is a vast improvement and includes 3 Full Screen options which all fill your monitor’s aspect ratio. However, the difference between these modes isn’t discussed or outlined in a cohesive manner. There is a windowed mode which works perfectly fine without the need for any modifications. Also included are subtitles, separate volume sliders and language options in English, German and French with more to come in the future. Additionally, you can alter the UI to look like the original game which is a pleasant throwback for Broken Sword enthusiasts. Overall, the port is fairly decent, but the lack of resolution options may cause you some distress.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Broken Sword 5 – the Serpent’s Curse is a majestic point-and-click game which brilliantly invigorates the senses and leaves you wanting for more. The story is breathtaking and makes you desperate to hear how things will progress. Coupled with the witty voice-acting and lush hand-drawn locations, you would be hard pushed to find a better game this year. It’s important to reiterate that the experience is presented in 2 chapters with the second installment coming in q1 of 2014 at no additional cost. Broken Sword 5 is a must buy, and belongs up there with the best point-and-click adventure games ever made.