Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse
Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse is the fifth installment of the Broken Sword adventure game series, which began way back in 1997. Unlike the other titles in the franchise, The Serpent’s Curse required crowdfunding to be developed (like a lot of “old school” games these days), and it was released in two parts. This review is for the complete game.
The Broken Sword series follows the adventures of versatile American George Stobbart and French reporter Nico Collard. George’s source of employment changes in every game, and this time he’s working in insurance — just in time for the art gallery his company is protecting to get robbed and its owner killed. Soon enough, George and Nico learn that the painting stolen in the robbery is “evil,” and they get embroiled in an Indiana Jones style adventure filled with mobsters, art thieves, religious cults, and of course goats.
The Serpent’s Curse is played using a fairly standard adventure game interface. The game uses discrete “scenes,” where you left click to move your character around and interact with objects, and you right click to examine things. A suitcase button in the lower left-hand corner of the screen allows you to access your inventory, where you can combine, examine, or use the items that you’ve picked up. There is no key to show the hotspots for the current scene, but there is an integrated hint system that works a little like the UHS files of old, where you’re first given gentle hints for the current puzzle, and then the hints become more and more explicit, culminating with the answer.
Unfortunately, The Serpent’s Curse has all sorts of problems, and while none of them completely derail the game, they add up. Consider the storyline. George and Nico discover that the stolen painting is sort of a map, which somebody can use to do something evil, and between that and the murder and the international intrigue (the game jumps between France, Spain and Iraq), all signs point to a hard-edged thriller. But no, almost all of the characters George and Nico meet are complete buffoons, and so it’s tough to take anything that happens seriously. As an example, the detective assigned to the murder / robbery is so stupid that he can’t tell the difference between blood and pizza sauce. If you ever wondered (for some reason) how well a sitcom and thriller would mesh together, let me just tell you that the answer is “not very well.” The ending is also bizarrely bad, but this might be a case of different people finding different things funny.
Or consider the character you control. The game should be a collaboration between George and Nico, but for some reason Nico is short-shrifted. You control George for about 90% of the time, and when you do switch to Nico, you get to do “complex” actions like opening a door (without the need for a puzzle or even a key) and playing Ave Maria with a mop (in yet another sitcom moment). Nico gets to do something important during the endgame confrontation, but otherwise she’s just a pretty sidekick, and she could have been dropped from the game entirely. Disappointingly, George and Nico also don’t talk together much, so there is little in the way of banter between them, and the story as a whole gets sluggish and dull because of it.
The puzzles at least work decently. Most of them involve inventory management, where you have to pick up objects and then use them in the right place. But a few puzzles feature things like code-breaking, solving an anagram, wiring a machine properly, and figuring out the code to open a safe. There are also some sequences where you have to do things in the right order (usually to distract somebody), and so simple trial and error won’t see you through. As a result, a few of the puzzles in The Serpent’s Curse might take you a while to figure out, and you’ll probably need to make use of the integrated hint system a few times (or at least once for the bizarre hieroglyphics puzzle).
The Serpent’s Curse looks and sounds fine. Unlike the most recent Broken Sword games, which used 3D engines, this newest game is all in 2D. There isn’t anything wrong with this — and it’s probably easier and cheaper to deal with — but it makes the game look a little cartoony, which fits in too well with the cartoony antics of the people involved. For me, that’s at least one too many uses of the word “cartoony,” especially in a game that features major crimes and possibly the end of the world. Meanwhile, the voice actors read their lines well enough, especially the actors for George and Nico, but sadly nobody has anything interesting to say, and so the effort is wasted.
Overall, while I didn’t hate The Serpent’s Curse, I didn’t especially enjoy it, either. I knew something was wrong when I got to the ending and I was happy to be almost done with the game rather than being excited about how it would turn out. The Serpent’s Curse might be a little bit like the recent Veromica Mars movie, where if you’re a fan of the series then you might be happy enough just seeing what George and Nico are up to. But for everybody else, there isn’t much to get excited about, and there are probably better options out there for your gaming time and money.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Revolution Software
This review is based on a digital copy of Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse for the PC provided by Revolution Software.