Point and click adventures have come back in a big way over the last few years, and much of the raised profile of the genre can be laid at the feet of The Walking Dead games by Telltale. However, the Broken Sword series has been around for a much longer time and is known for it’s lighthearted scripting, mystical storylines and mind-bending puzzles, rather than just an episodic story. Having been successfully backed on Kickstarter, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse Episode 2 has just been released and completes the story started with Episode 1 when it came out at the end of 2013. Can York based Revolution Software return to the fore of this genre using their charm and wits, or will it seem like a goat-chewed old hat?
Broken Sword 5 starts as the first game did, in Paris with returning hero George Stobbart and heroine Nico Collard. Professional bumbler George (in a Colombo type of way) and savvy journalist Nico are witnesses to an art theft and murder that seems too fishy to be a normal heist, and soon find themselves pulled into a deeper and darker mystery than they thought they’d find. If you’ve played the previous Broken Sword games then you’ll find the story familiar in terms of pacing, structure and character encounters, though it is a new tale and does not feature the Knights Templar that appear in most of the previous incarnations. This time, George and Nicole are tracking down an ancient artifact of the Gnostic Gospels that can call forth and control the Devil, something you really don’t want to mess with. If you’re new to Broken Sword then don’t worry, there’s no need to catch up with the other ones because this is a standalone adventure. Any nods to the previous games are self contained and not linked to your enjoyment in any way, and it’s nice to see them referenced. As is the fact that because the game was funded by fans and backers on Kickstarter, there’s a little Easter egg about stretch goals not too well hidden.
The gameplay is classic and very polished Broken Sword. There’s a static environment with characters that move and interact within the scene. You, as the player, control the key characters by moving your pointer and clicking an action based on whatever you’re hovering over at the time (you can tell where the gameplay name comes from now), and it’s what you expect from a game of this type. The scenes are well realised with backdrops being a hand drawn art style and the characters being 3D models reduced down to two dimensions which gives a faux 3D feel. It sounds a bit odd but think about the way Futurama is produced and presented and you’ve got the idea. The character animation itself is impressive, with fluid movement exhibited by all the on-screen players, and it’s clear that the development team have focussed on getting the most out of this aspect. Your involvement in a point and click adventure can be a little detached at times, especially when you’re watching conversations play out with no input, but giving you something great to look at helps keep you engaged.
Maintaining the immersion isn’t just a visual task, the audio plays a big part as well. One thing the Broken Sword games have always done well is the voice acting, both because of the actors chosen and the scripting. The nature of the story means there’s a lot to take in and the tone can be quite heavy and dark, the dialogue though manages to keep the right balance between getting the plot across and making sure you don’t get depressed. Innuendo and tongue-in-cheek gags are delivered deadpan and more often than not have you smirking or giggling, and this isn’t just from the two main characters. All the NPCs you encounter are thoughtfully created, and surprise you by not being one dimensional plot conveyors. Humour is one of the defining elements of this series, and it’s really good to know it’s not lost any of the ability to make fun of itself. You can’t ignore the soundtrack either, there’s a really nice score that punctuates events perfectly, and it’s one I didn’t get bored of, which is essential when you’re staring at the screen trying to figure out what to do next.
So, gorgeous looks and great acting, what about the main hook for a point and click adventure, the puzzles? Initially these start pretty simple: use obvious inventory items on the environment to achieve your objective. I worked my way through most of the first part of the game wondering when things were going to get taxing, then “BANG!”, I had to do something I’ve not done in years. I grabbed the pad I use to make review notes and started decoding the puzzle the screen was showing me. There’s something really satisfying about using physical items to solve a digital puzzle. It turned out this was the starting point for the mindbending, but still logical, teasers I was expecting to kick into gear earlier. Getting into the second half of the story the difficulty ramps up and you’re left scratching your head and resorting to randomly combining inventory items with people and objects to try and make headway when you can’t immediately figure out what you’re supposed to do. There are two in particular late on in the game which, unless you’ve got an IQ like our own Professor Kelvin Harris, you’re going to end up working them out for a long time. Doing this is never a chore though, there’s a sense of relief and accomplishment when you know you’ve pieced everything together. If you are ridiculously stuck, there’s a hint system in the main menu that will make sure you don’t stay stumped forever.
Is it what I expected from Broken Sword 5? I’ve been playing them since the release of the first on the PlayStation and always found them a nice change of pace from other games. I can’t help but like them mainly because my first gaming experience was The Secret of Monkey Island on the Amiga, so I’ve been playing this genre longer than any other. I like the mental challenge and unrushed approach that means you can play at your own speed. I am also very aware that the format is largely unchanged over the last 18 years and that there is little innovation in the actual way things are performed by the player, the changes are cosmetic only. I recommend Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse if you’re a fan, you’ll be playing one of the best executed games of it’s genre (and one of the first successful Kickstarter games too). I also recommend it if you’re looking to start playing point and click adventures. However, it’s comparative slow pace to other things out there might make some people give up early on, and whilst they will miss out, I can understand why it can be an acquired taste.
A PC review code for Steam was provided by the Revolution Software PR team. Broken Sword 5 is out now in it’s full form on PC, Mac, iOS, Android and PlayStation Vita.
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