Review: Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse (PlayStation 4)

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse: Official GBAtemp Review

PlayStation 4 1,517 view 2 likes 3 comments
Reviewed by Jakub Kowalski, posted Oct 10, 2015
As the resident Point & Click maniac and a long-term fan of the Broken Sword series I was happy to pick this game up. I've been meaning to play this game ever since its first episode came out and now that the complete retail version is released, the time has come to check if the sword, albeit broken, is still as sharp as I remember it.
Oct 10, 2015
  • Release Date (NA): September 4, 2015
  • Release Date (EU): September 4, 2015
  • Publisher: Revolution Software
  • Developer: Revolution Software
  • Genres: Point & Click Adventure
  • ESRB Rating: Teen
  • PEGI Rating: Sixteen years and older
  • Also For: Android, Computer, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse is a Point & Click adventure game by Revolution Software, available for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, PC, Android and iOS.
Jakub Kowalski

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Note: This game is available as both a full retail release and in episodes, the reviewed copy was the retail disc version of the PS4 version of the game.

It's time to Kickstart this adventure!

Point & Click adventure games have made quite the unexpected resurgence in recent years with excellent titles like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands, the recent Grim Fandango HD remaster, The Secret of Monkey Island remake or Sierra's brand-new King's Quest. This fact did not go unnoticed by the developers at Revolution Software who have decided to revive their most well-known franchise - Broken Sword. The series went through its share of trials and tribulations in the past - the initial 2D installments were highly praised and topped the charts back in the day, but unfortunately did not fare well after the transition into 3D and eventually fell into obscurity. Now, with Point & Click back in style and the support of thousands of fans via Kickstarter, Revolution was able to take the series back to its 2D roots and deliver yet another classic adventure to their fans. Is The Serpent's Curse as captivating as The Shadow of the Templars or The Smoking Mirror? Read on and find out!

"Paris (...) he city holds many memories for me, of music, of cafes, of love, and of death."

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Ah, Paris! We meet again!

Broken Sword 5 is quick to re-introduce players to what it's all about - the game begins in the familiar setting of Paris where we meet up with our two protagonists - you, the ever-resourceful George Stobbart, currently an art insurance assessor, and your illustrious sidekick, Nicole "Nico" Collard, a journalist for La Liberté. You bump into each other during an art exhibition you happen to insure. Unfortunately, your reunion is quickly spoiled and your plans for coffee cancelled - truly you have the worst of luck, somehow whenever you meet, you're just bound to get entangled in some bizarre affair.

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You don't say?

What seems like a normal pizza delivery quickly turns into an armed robbery, and an armed robbery gone sour at that! The aftermath? The gallery owner, Henri, is fatally shot and lays lifeless on the gallery floor while one of the paintings, "La Maledicció", is stolen right from under your nose! Nico simply can't resist her journalist spirit and takes chase after the robber, leaving you behind to tend to the crime scene. The investigation begins, and the more you discover about what just transpired, the more it just... doesn't seem right. For starters, "La Maledicció" wasn't exactly a famous or expensive painting - there were far more expensive and rare ones hanging right next to it, so this one was definitely not a piece anyone would kill for. Not only that - it would seem that someone went to great lengths to steal it as well, as the security measures installed in the gallery have apparently been tampered with. There's clearly more to this robbery than meets the eye, and it's your job to figure things out, and quick, before the police comes in and tampers with all the evidence you need! Remember - you're the one who insured this exhibition, so you're pressured not just by your sense of justice, but also your boss, who is definitely not pleased with this sudden turn of events - a turn that could potentially cost you your job. Can you solve the mystery of Henri's murder, find the stolen painting and enjoy a cup of coffee with your charming French friend in one fell swoop? Well, can you?

"Let's just say I'm working in the interests of truth and justice." "Ah, Thank God, I thought you were the police."

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The hand-drawn backdrops in this game both look phenomenal and really give it a classic feel

From the very beginning you can see that a lot of effort went into making this game look, feel and play like the classic Broken Sword games of the olden days. All of the environments are beautifully hand-drawn and the only rendered objects on-screen are the character models and some items which, although modest in polygons and stylized, suit the art style of their surroundings perfectly. If you have any fond memories of The Shadow of the Templars or The Smoking Mirror, this game will definitely rekindle them - it looks just like a Broken Sword game should. There's very little I could complain about in the graphics department beyond the quality of some of the 3D models which can be spotty with minor characters or the somewhat rigid way they move. If I had to nitpick, I missed the beautifully animated cutscenes which here are replaced with 3D models acting scenes out on static backgrounds, but having financial limitations of the creators in mind, I'm willing to close an eye on that - after all, this is a Kickstarter project and hopefully future installments, if there will be any, could fully return to the wonderful world of 2D animation... Ahh, a man can dream, right? While we're talking about the technical aspects of the game, let's address the elephant in the room - if you're worried about the controls of the console version, fear not - the game plays well, even without a mouse, which can be a hurdle in this genre. The version I played (PS4 disc-based copy) was an fine console conversion and was comfortably playable on a controller. The game allows you to use the analog stick or the PS4's touchpad to control the cursor which is a nice "touch" (horrible pun intended) if you want to get that mouse-like feel.

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Do you mean it's time to rub everything on everything else?

As far as gameplay is concerned, Revolution Software went full-on classic with this one as well, opting for simple, "old school" Point & Click mechanics rather than some modernized variation of the style akin to what you could find in Telltale games or other modern Point & Clicks - it's all about using your cursor and inventory to rub things against other things for effect, occasionally asking other characters for an opinion regarding the rubbing - simple. Broken Sword 5 doesn't force feed you innovation, it gives you a mystery and simple means to solve it - you talk to NPC's, you manage your inventory, you combine items and you use them on your environment in order to solve puzzles that gradually increase in difficulty as you sink deeper and deeper into the game - that's all. The creators wanted to distance themselves from the mistakes of the past and return to the formula that "just worked" many years back, and they've certainly succeeded with The Serpent's Curse - it plays just like a classic, retro adventure - whether that's your cup of tea or not depends entirely on your taste.

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Uhm... George? There's a coffin. Right there. George...?

I certainly enjoyed the simplicity of Broken Sword 5. The game doesn't overcomplicate things with panning cameras, sudden QTE's or action scenes, branching paths depending on your moral choices and other "modern" hubbub - in doing so it tells a cohesive story without too many distractions along the way. Sure, my judgement might be a little bit jaded due to how much I enjoyed the good 'ol games, but nevertheless I found this "back to basics" sort of gameplay oddly "refreshing". If I had to nitpick, I'd say that some of the early puzzles are actually a little too simplistic, and that's partially because the game takes time easing you into its train of puzzle logic and partially because it has an awful tendency to "ground you" like a misbehaving pre-teen until you "do your chores" in a given area - the illusion of free roam created by the map is just that, an illusion. You usually know where to go at all times and going anywhere else simply doesn't give any results, so there's little reason to explore.

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...then you'd be panicking a lot, since it happens pretty often in this game, both physically and metaphorically.

I'm not sure why the map was even included in the game seeing that the "correct" path is pre-determined anyway. The game is completely linear and while some actions might cause Easter Eggs to pop up, your freedom of movement only exists in order to allow you to move certain items from Location A to Location B, and most times you're not even given that privilege. On the other hand, this linearity works wonders against a problem every adventure fan encountered in the past - having to "rub everything against everything". The puzzles, simplistic as they may be, mostly have logical solutions rather than "esoteric" ones which were so common in retro Point & Clicks - the plot moves rapidly and your progress probably won't be stifled by a puzzle that makes no sense whatsoever - worry not, you won't get stuck... too often.

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...blasted animal!

Along with classic looks and classic gameplay comes the classic humour of the series. Broken Sword has always been a series that sat on the crossroads of crime fiction and situational comedy and The Serpent's Curse is no different - there's an abundance of tonal shifts between the serious and the funny, the mysterious and the hilarious, and all those transitions feel natural and pleasant. You won't find yourself gripping at the edge of your seat with excitement, but you will definitely enjoy a well-crafted lattice of thrill and relief.

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I'm on it, madam! What do you want me to do? Catch a terrifying thief? Solve a complex riddle? Go around the globe looking for ancient artifacts?
Oh... you want me to catch a cockroach? ...give me a minute, I need to create an unnecessarily elaborate trap! What?! I'm not touching that thing with my bare hands, who knows where it's been!

Keep in mind that the variety of humour served in this restaurant is "cheesy", so be prepared - much like many other aspects of the game it's an acquired taste. Although it never quite reaches the level of The Shadow of the Templars or The Broken Mirror, it's still well-written and although some voice actors could've tried a little harder when playing their roles, most notably Nicole, you're dealing with the very same witty Stobbart you know and love.

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I'm sorry sir, could you open the door? Sir? Dang it, I knew I should've said I'm a courier...

Broken Sword 5 is, for the most part, fan service - even with my nostalgia glasses on and in full effect I can see it plain as day. Is that a bad thing? No, not really, seeing that it's a Kickstarter project strongly influenced by the fans. It's a product sprinkled with tasty bits of nostalgia, from recurring characters George and Nico crossed paths with in previous games like the delightfully incompetent Sergeant Moue to many nods at the previous games - perhaps even too many, but nevertheless pleasant. It's a sentimental rollercoaster ride designed for the fans, which begs the question - does it alienate newcomers? I personally don't think so. While the game does contain references to its predecessors, its plot doesn't require any knowledge of the series to be enjoyable - if you don't know whether to start your adventure with The Serpent's Curse or to familiarize yourself with the series first, fear not - this moment is as good as any if you want to jump right into the world of Broken Sword. All things considered, the biggest flaw of the game is its length - the average playthrough will take you around 7 hours and since the title is linear, it offers little in terms of replayability. Sure, there are Easter Eggs here and there, there's Trophies and Achievements to be had, but as long as you keep your eyes peeled, your first playthrough might be a completionist one. Mine wasn't and I'll be coming back for a Trophy Run for sure, however I wish the game was a little longer... then again, why wouldn't I? It was a fun ride and I love Broken Sword, dang it - I'd complain if it was 30 hours too!

Final thoughts?

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Conspiracy? I do like me some conspiracy! Is it the reptilians? I knew it! Thanks, Obama!

I enjoyed my time with The Serpents Curse, but the real question is, will you? I think so, and in those few closing thoughts I'll try to sum things up for you. The title sticks to the basics of the genre, it definitely shows that it was developed on a tight Kickstarter budget, it can be rough around the edges at times, but it's effective in what it was meant to do - Broken Sword 5 plays on your retro heartstrings without sacrificing fidelity or losing identity. Aside from the occasional animation glitch it looks, sounds and performs just like a Broken Sword game should, and that's a big deal - on one hand yes, it is fan service galore every step of the way, on the other, it's fan service that was lovingly crafted, so I can't impune the game for it.


Revolution Software's original Kickstarter pitch gives you a little taste of what's in store for you in The Serpent's Curse and lets you meet some of the staff behind it.

Admittedly, the mystery you're dealing with takes time to unravel - throughout what used to be "Episode 1" it seems to be a very down-to-earth story revolving around a robbery, which was a source of much early criticism, but as the game draws to its half-way point where "Episode 2" begins, it quickly picks up speed and from that point onwards it's off-the-rails adventure galore, full speed ahead! If you were expecting a conspiracy with some false leads to spice things up, a conspiracy you shall receive, although I won't get into details so as to not spoil the experience. What I can reveal one thing - this time the theme is gnosticism! Excited? You should be!

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Isn't that the best combination?

Broken Sword 5 is not without its flaws, but I found it truly endearing - it brought back many pleasant memories and if you've ever played any of the previous games, you will probably feel the same way. If you didn't, worry not - It's competently made, it's doesn't require you to have any previous experience with the series and it's sold at a relatively low price point, so I can't find much to complain about. It's a low-budget title that manages to tick all the right boxes, it's enjoyable throughout, it has moments when it truly shines and it's definitely worth a purchase to all the Point & Click fans out there. Revolution Software revived a truly beloved series, and although The Serpent's Curse can be clunky at times, I can't say that they didn't do it in style - it's adventuring at its finest, so prepare your brain cells for some sweet, sweet... rubbing items against other items, old school style!

Verdict
Pros
+ Beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds are really charming to look at
+ Most of the puzzles have relatively obvious answers - you won't find yourself rubbing all your items against everything else... too often
+ The game plays well, both on the big screen and via Remote Play
+ In addition to using the analog stick, you can also use the PS4 controller's touchpad to move the cursor, which is a nice touch
+ The game is very affordable!
Cons
- Occasionally characters will glitch and "teleport", for instance when George is busy climbing or using an item in the background and you tell him to talk to Nico
- Although I appreciate the fact that the puzzles usually have sensible solutions, all in all they're a little bit simple and don't pose as much of a challenge as the puzzles in previous Broken Sword games
- The game is quite short, and offers little replay value due to its linearity
8 Presentation
The game is strongly reminiscent of the beginnings of the series - all of the backgrounds are beautifully hand-drawn and the only 3D elements present are character models and a couple of items. The Serpent's Curse looks exactly like I expected it to look like from the promotional material, which is great. My only complaint concerns the modest 3D models and their rigid, somewhat "wooden" animation - I feel that more attention should've been put into making them move in a more life-like fashion, however I understand that the studio was working with a limited budget and I can forgive the shortcomings in this department, especially since the stylization is spot-on and all the elements blend together perfectly.
9 Gameplay
The gameplay is exactly what I expected - classic Point & Click. Broken Sword 5 is nothing like The Walking Dead or the new King's Quest, it's not "modernized" in any way - you get a cursor, an inventory and a license to rub things against other things for effect, and it works well.
5 Lasting Appeal
As much fun as Broken Sword is, it's a linear Point & Click adventure, and due to the nature of the genre it offers little replay value beyond trophy collecting. Fortunately it does offer a couple of Easter Eggs, so with that in mind, you'll probably get at least two solid playthroughs from it, which justifies the already low price point.
7
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
I had a great time playing Broken Sword 5. Is it as good as my personal favourites, the first two games in the series? No, it is not, but it's still an excellent Point & Click adventure that I would personally recommend. It's quite a different experience to the more recent releases in the genre that adheres to a more classic format, which both works in its favour and against it, depending on how you look at it. It's definitely a solid title, especially considering the fact that it was funded via Kickstarter, and with the low price point in mind, I'd definitely consider giving it a go - you won't regret it.
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