Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Review: Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse - Episode 1 (PC)

The Broken Sword adventure game series was always riding somewhere in the middle of my "To Be Played" pile. As long-time fan of adventure games, leaping in now with The Serpent's Curse, the fifth game in the series (well, the first part of it anyway), there's this definite undertone that someone with experience of the previous titles is going to get more out of this game. I didn't feel lost, but there are definitely some characters from previous games that have returned.

What starts out as a "run of the mill" art theft, which includes the killing of the gallery owner, spirals into something deeper involving the Gnostics, a weird painting, hidden symbols, and the best kick to the head of Gabriel Knight III's horrible cat fur moustache puzzle ever. The adventure pairs George Stobbard (American insurance man) and Nico Collard (French reporter) to unravel the mystery surrounding the theft that kicks off the game.

Even though the game starts a little slowly, even with a murder, it let me remember how to properly play point and click adventure games. This is no Walking Dead or Sierra adventure game scenario, where death is found at every corner. Broken Sword 5 takes an approach similar to the old LucasArts adventure titles where exploration is encourage and a fail state is never reached. Punishment for exploration or clicking on various items to see what will happen isn't delivered, which is fine by me because some of the puzzles are real head-scratchers. You shouldn't ever reach a point where an FAQ needs to be consulted because generally if you've reached an area during the course of the story the player likely has all the items or knowledge to overcome whatever puzzle needs to be solved.

The art style offers a certain amount of charm on it's own and it offsets the slightly stuttering way the dialogue exchanges take place.

Conversations don't feel natural except for a handful of times because each line is seemingly divorced of context, like each line was read on it's own and at different time so they could be adequately chopped up and put back in a different order. After a while the pauses (however brief) just melt into the background and becomes part of the game. Adds to the charm of it, at least for me. The actor voicing George does a great job.

Find some wire and reconnect the horn!
There may be some complaints about the game being a linear affair, with nothing in the way of free-form exploration. Those complaints are absolutely accurate, but I hardly view it's linear approach as something to whine about. It lets the story run it's course without the chance of the player running off the rails trying to dig around through a branching story.

Occasionally the game takes a dive into the ridiculous, but that makes it all the more charming.
Episode 2 is just around the corner according to most reports and I'm looking forward to it, so much so that I've looked up the older games on Steam. I'd like to be in on some of the backstory of the major players before going much further. Like Broken Sword 5 ($25), those old games are dirt cheap and I love a good adventure game!

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Puzzles are just hard enough to offer a challenge
- Dives into humour occasionally
- Nothing quite beats a good point and click adventure game

The Bad:
- Really stilted dialogue transitions and some weird character animations are distracting

Score: 8.0 / 10