The fifth Broken Sword is complete at last, but is it sharp or dull?
Standard disclaimer: you should be aware that I backed Broken Sword 5 when the Kickstarter campaign ran. I don't think this matters at all as I would've bought the game anyway, but I believe in full honesty when it comes to reviewing so there you go. Getting on the review, it's been a few months since Revolution's questionable decision to follow in Double Fine's footsteps and release Broken Sword 5 in two parts. Fortunately their second episode is now available to all, and while I'll be discussing the pros and cons of that decision later I can say at least say that put together The Serpent's Curse is a fine fifth chapter in the venerable Broken Sword series.
In the first chapter of George Stobbart and Nico Collard's fifth adventure, the theft of a mysterious artwork called 'La Malediccio' put them up against gangsters, dangerous priests, lothario critics, art forgers, the Gnostic religious order, and a man called Langham who turned out to be behind it all. With the painting in their position George and Nico leave for Spain in search of the secret behind 'La Malediccio' so they can continue the quest for the Tabula Veritatis (the Tablet of Truth) and find out why everyone wants it so bad. And yes, there are goats.
Clash of the Titans
If you haven't played the first chapter of Broken Sword 5 do not start here, in fact you might not even be able to since I had to reload my last save at the end of Chapter 1 to play Chapter 2. I was going to wait until the end of the review for the complaint, but I'm going to say right now that splitting the game into two parts was the wrong choice. Broken Age just got away with it by having an incredible cliffhanger, but Broken Sword 5: Episode 1 felt like half a game that I wasn't allowed to play the rest of. Now that the second part's been added it feels even more pointless - I don't feel like I'm reviewing the next standalone episode with its own self-contained story, I just feel like I've been forced to wait before I could finish a game I played in December. There's no "previously on", no dividers between the two "episodes", Broken Sword 5 is now just one game. In some ways this is a good thing, but why couldn't Revolution have waited four months then released the full product? They're not getting any extra money for it, and I'm sure I could've waited! Sigh, anyway, rant over, let's get back to reviewing half a game.
After the very grounded art-theft-and-gangsters shenanigans of the first part Chapter 2 goes far more Indiana Jones, skirting with the supernatural and "powers you cannot possibly comprehend" but never going outright crazy until the end. There's even a power-mad German with a lot of machine-gun-wielding minions. Ignoring the fact that the game makes no effort to remind us who everyone is or what is going on the story generally is well told with numerous amusing or interesting characters. George and Nico in particular remain eminently likeable. However I do have to say that the ending is incredibly rushed, with barely any thought given to the final puzzle and the resolution just appears without much effort. As a result it leaves the plot feeling less satisfying than it should've been. Also a minor plot-hole: at one point George and Nico climb a dark mountainous staircase to a windowless pitch-black room, and they forget about the massive row of lit candles in the room they'd just been in, including the one George placed next to the opening to that staircase.
Broken Sword gets all mystical on yo' ass
If we're talking satisfaction though we have to talk about puzzles. Now, the majority of Broken Sword 5's puzzles are well designed and entertaining, offering both challenge and satisfaction in equal measures in a way that Broken Age just didn't. I can't think of any puzzles in the first episode that I disliked, and I enjoyed myself all the way through. That's mostly true of Episode 2, with my favourites including a cool telegram-deciphering moment, a nice map puzzle, and - yes! - goats, but there are also a few major exceptions. Now, I'm not a whiner, I don't mind a difficult brain-teaser in an adventure, but several of Episode 2's puzzles shoot straight past "challenging" and into "over-complicated" and "ridiculous".
[Some puzzle solution spoilers in the next two paragraphs so skip it if you don't want any.] One early statue puzzle for example involves you having to remember a long poem, an illustration, a photograph, which broken identical statue matches the photograph (two of them are just a pair of legs!), and going outside to use a sundial (used generally to tell time, not compass points) to tell which way North is and adapting that so the statues do not match the photograph. Another requires you to reach a broken fuse covered in live electrical cables, which of course you use a paperclip covered in strawberry jam on a cockroach to fix. Translating the Tabula Veritatis was a complete pain too, with all these made up nonsense symbols that you have to work out AND turn in to a shorter word AND use a map that you can't look at AND make relevant to your translation. I mean how was I supposed to know that "Begin City Region Look" translates as "South"? And finally, can everyone in the world read sheet music except me? Because one puzzle requires it.
Without a lot of not-fun trial-and-error I can't see how I would ever do these puzzles if I didn't use the hint system, which goes through several stages Professor Layton-style ranging from simple nudge to just telling you the answer straight. The music puzzle in particular was just so spectacularly unfair I couldn't believe it. I thought "there must be some sheet music somewhere to help me work out these notes" but nope. In the game's defence, the hint system is fantastic and prevented me from Alt-Tabbing out to grab a walkthrough. Seriously though, strawberry jam on a paperclip attached to a cockroach... this is exactly the type of nonsense I praised The Blackwell Epiphany for ditching entirely. And I liked Trevor the cockroach.
Think of four random items, anything at all in the world. They probably could be used to make a more sensible solution to this puzzle than the real one
I can't find fault with the lovely graphics at least. While not as well-animated as Broken Age or as painterly as Night of the Rabbit the "realistic cartoon" style Revolution has gone for suits it well. There are some nice cinematic camera pans and zooms, the animation is generally good, and the backgrounds are well-drawn and attractive. The voice acting remains of a pretty high standard (yay for Rolf Saxon as George, although I do like the new actress playing Nico) and the music sets the mood nicely. So in terms of look and atmosphere Broken Sword 5 is excellent.
BROKEN SWORD 5 – THE SERPENT'S CURSE: EPISODE TWO VERDICT
Apart from those silly puzzles, a rushed ending and the absolute conviction that Revolution made a colossal mistake in splitting the game into two (and did it poorly anyway), Broken Sword 5 is still a good game and a worthwhile new chapter in the classic series. It could’ve been better (simply by being one game released at one single time for a start) but I enjoyed my fifth time around with George and Nico. While I definitely preferred the first half the second still fits in as “good” and I’m happy to give it a “good” score. Overall Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse is probably around a 7.5, and that’s despite not featuring any snakes or curses at all. There are goats and pet cockroaches at least, and that’s good enough for me.
TOP GAME MOMENT
George Stobbart coming face to face with his nemesis once again. And then Nico just coming along and tickling it behind the horns.