Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse
Back in 1996, a small English production team called Revolution released Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars, a game that even now boasts some of the best art, dialogue, puzzling and (perhaps most importantly) characters in the adventure game genre. The Serpent’s Curse, the fifth instalment in the series, is in many ways a conscious return to its roots, turning away from the 3D platforming of the ambitious third and forgettable fourth games, rooting the story once again in Paris, ancient manuscripts and religious conspiracies.
The game feels very much at home in the ramshackle and beautifully conceived Parisian backstreets, the dialogue zips confidently and the plot (an blend of art theft and Gnostic myth) is intriguing enough to keep a balance between the series’ characteristically off-beat, low-stress sleuthing and a sustained sense of urgency. There’s a reassuring feeling that the production team have a clear idea of what gained the original such a cult following, and much of the pleasure of The Serpent’s Curse comes from its obvious respect for its predecessors.
In some aspects, however, The Serpent’s Curse doesn’t quite stand up to the comparison it encourages the player to make. While the art design is rich and immersive, the story suffers from a disappointing thinness. The antagonists are poorly defined, and while a couple of returning characters emphasises the series’ continuity, the sheer number takes a little of the magic away. One or two are unflatteringly shoehorned into the plot, and have had much of their engaging particularity replaced by fairly broad comic strokes.
Not unrelatedly, after some promising early exchanges in which George and Nico effectively share agency in the plot, Nico is sidelined for the entirety of the second act. The chemistry between the game’s leads, particularly their Whedon-esque crimefighting patter, is the beating heart of the series, but here remains strangely subdued. Similarly, many of the female characters in the game are presented as shrill, neon-pink-wearing irrational obstacles, and I defy anyone to play through a scene in which you must impersonate a woman’s dead husband (who is in a coffin in the adjacent room) without feeling deeply creeped out. It’s a disappointing blind spot for a game that has created such complex and well-observed characters in the past.
The game also suffers from the age-old point-and-click problem of being stunningly picky about how you solve its puzzles. There were several occasions where I knew the solution, but not how to get my in-game avatar to execute it. In this regard the hint system is well-organised and quite necessary.
Despite these reservations, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse has some excellent voice acting, peerless artwork and some thoroughly enjoyable puzzles, that just about compensates for a story that occasionally feels rushed or unfocused. There is plenty to love about the game, and at £18.99 on Steam, its genuinely winning personality is well worth the price of admission.