The Broken Sword series, from famed English game developer, Revolution, has always been a popular source of logic driven, point and click adventures, with each project helmed by the infinitely likeable and intelligent Charles Cecil. He’s always had a penchant for crafting a mystery based around an intriguing concept, whether it be the Templars of the original release, or this latest effort which sees the intrepid, job hopping George Stobbart investigate a theft and murder at an art gallery, before realising that this act was but a mere step in a plot of truly biblical proportions. Needless to say, Stobbart, his go-getting newspaper reporter friend, Nico Collard, and indeed the player are going to have their work cut out if they’re going to somehow save the world from the encroaching forces of evil!
Of course, as a point and click game, it never feels as though there’s an awful lot at stake here, the story is played out at a snail’s pace, never once hurrying or harassing the player into progressing, but rather allowing it to be hummed and hawed over as and when the player sees fit to do so. This, I imagine, will come as some relief to long time players of the series who can rest assured that this is still the series that the know and love, where the hero, George, gets thrown - almost immediately - into a conspiracy that defies its humble beginnings. Gone are the pretensions of finding mainstream appeal here, leaving a focused and enjoyable point and click adventure that Revolution’s long-serving followers will not simply appreciate, but rather adore.
Aside from its opening sequence, The Serpent’s Curse takes a little while to get going, initially taxing players with simply scouring the crime scene for the odd clue before the police arrive and seal the building. In fact, in the first part of the game, there are very few locations, with the game typically sending the player back and forth between them as new information comes to light, illuminating the lies spun by the game’s supporting cast. When it was released as two separate acts, this initial section came under some criticism for its lack of action or variety, and to a certain extent, this appears to be a fair appraisal, but when combined with its concluding section, Part One does the job that it was created for with aplomb, gently introducing the player to the mechanics, characters and locations of this latest adventure. Besides, utilising a certain policeman’s bladder problem as a solution to two unique puzzles was just splendid game design that cannot be found anywhere else.
The Serpent’s Curse has a tendency to trap the player in a location until all of its secrets have been uncovered (a staple genre trait), which does mean that progress through it is also rendered a fairly innocuous affair, particularly as there is a hint system that can, if used enough, instruct the player implicitly on what they ought to be doing. Of course, long-time fans may want to turn this off, so it certainly isn’t an offensive inclusion, but rather a means of making the whole experience more accessible to all without compromising on the overall vision or quality, and that surely, cannot be a bad thing.
Of course, puzzles can be drawn out as some items are rather difficult to spot amongst the scenery, but once these are attained, their uses are relatively straightforward, though I must admit that a certain solution involving a cockroach, a biscuit, a paperclip and some jam had me slightly perplexed. The beauty of the game though, is that unlike a great many other offerings in its genre, Broken Sword is one of logic, so whilst such puzzle solutions may not appear to be especially obvious, they are at least sensible.
I have to admit that, when I first saw the promotional materials for the game, I found myself feeling a tad disappointed with the art style, yet after having played the game, I found myself enthralled by its visuals. The character models are all cel shaded, allowing them to blend in seamlessly with the absolutely gorgeous, painterly background images, which actually host a surprising amount of depth to them. From the beautiful city of Paris as it stretches out beyond the horizon when viewed through the windows of the art gallery, to the grubbier, industrial looking London, highlighted by the floating pig hovering over Battersea, there’s a great deal of both beauty and detail in the images on display. Its nod to Pink Floyd perhaps a trifle unnecessary, but certainly a more than welcome addition to this particular reviewer!
As one might expect, the script too has been excellently written, with some truly witty exchanges utilised to really endear the characters to the player, this was perhaps a necessity given the relatively mundane pacing of the opening, but still, nothing can be taken away from the team at Revolution, they have created a truly brilliant work of fiction here that would likely be equally comfortable if depicted as a book or a film. And speaking of which, as the game moves into its second half with the epic tale of religious intrigue beginning to ramp up, Cecil gives the rather ham-handed Dan Brown another lesson by weaving a genuinely captivating story that will likely keep players on the edge of their seat until its final denouement.
As it speeds towards this conclusion, the difficulty of the puzzles also shoots up accordingly, with some really taxing code breaking and riddle solving that will likely send most players reaching immediately for the hint system, but then it likely quelled the initial disappointment that those had with Part One. Broken Sword V: The Serpent’s Curse when viewed as a whole really is meant for those who have stuck with both it, and the genre over the years, there are returning characters, in-jokes and an obvious desire to stick to a style of game that is both clunky and old fashioned, there isn’t even a way to get the characters to move at anything beyond a brisk walking pace. Similarly, in numerous situations the game simply tasks the player with working their way through several, lengthy conversation options in order to proceed, which can prove to be rather tiresome for the less patient gamer like myself.
However, there can really be no denying that The Serpent’s Curse is a genuine return to form for both Revolution and the Broken Sword series, though obviously not devoid of any faults, it still shows that the point and click genre, however antiquated in its mechanics, still has plenty to offer us. For long-time fans, it is the proof – should they require it – that their loyalty was not unfounded, whilst for newcomers, it might just prove to be the break from the tiresome, overblown AAA driven industry that they need to reignite their smouldering passion for gaming. Whatever the reason though, Broken Sword V: The Serpent’s Curse is an outstanding effort from a very talented developer, and that surely, is all the motivation that anyone needs to buy it.