Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse, Episode 1 – First Impressions

BS5SerpentsCurse

The finalised review can be read here!

A good while ago, I was elated to find out that Revolution Software was bringing back one of my favourite adventure game series, Broken Sword. I’ve reviewed the previous games both in this blog and also on YouTube in a Two-Part review. A little while ago, Revolution released the first half of the game as a downloadable, both on Steam and Good Old Games (my favourite site for old school PC games). Having played through the first half now, it’s time to give my first impressions of the game.

Firstly, the game goes really way-back retro in its design, imitating closely the gameplay style of Broken Sword 1 and 2 (rather than the god awful Angel of Death which I have to say is a relief). This is achieved through a mixture of cell-shaded 3D models and hand-drawn backgrounds, not unlike in Runaway: A Road Adventure. Without the lost art of hand-drawn animation, this is about as close as the creators could hope to imitate the cartoony look of the first two games, but I have to say the end-result looks excellent. The hand-drawn backgrounds look fantastic and the level of detail on the characters (though I suspect they are pre-rendered) is actually very impressive. George looks quite spiffy, although weirdly almost younger than in the prior games (it’s never been specified how old George is, but you’d think he had gotten a bit grizzled through years of conspiracy-busting, globe-trekking adventures).

The game lays the nostalgia layer on heavy and quick. The game returns to Paris, George and Nico are once again solving a mysterious murder and a sizable cast of familiar faces from the first two games make their re-appearance almost immediately. We have the hateful art-critic, now gallery owner, Laine making his return from his absinth trip in Smoking Mirror, the lovably inept Sergeant Mou, the man-hunting/widower/cougar extra-ordinaire Mrs. Piermont and even the fortune-telling flower-seller lady from the first game. What I love is that with the exception of Flour the Flower-seller and Mrs. Piermont, these characters are actually put to good use in the game’s events (and to her credit, Mrs. Piermont again helps George in solving puzzles). They didn’t really need to bring them all back, but there is definitely something endearing about seeing Mou again (especially considering how abruptly he disappears in the middle of the first game).

And of course, as soon as George Stobbart opens his mouth, we’re treated with the soothing narration of Rolf Saxon who’s voiced the character in all the games up till now. Saxon sounds just as good as ever and his comedic delivery hasn’t suffered at all. And most importantly, the narration is again in the past tense (this is one of the many things that the fourth game got wrong). It just immediately makes you feel like you’re in the thick of the action. I have to say that the voice-cast is actually top-notch, there even appear to be a few supporting voices returning from prior games – and the game luckily avoids accent displacement and annoying voice-types that have plagued some of the prior instalments of the series (namely Broken Sword 4). It’s sad that Nicole has, yet again, had her voice recast, but she sounds really good so I guess I don’t mind.

The game indeed honours traditions of the franchise in at least a few aspects. One of them are the game’s rather easy puzzles. This seems to be something the series has never managed to shake off, but it can’t really helped in the case of The Serpent’s Curse, since you’re always limited to a small number of locations which automatically limits the amount of possible solutions. It’s not that I particularly mind. I’ve always appreciated the Broken Sword games as the type of games where I don’t have to wreck my brain and go to GameFAQs frustrated looking for answers. Broken Sword 5 does, however, break away from the puzzles being too easy with item specific puzzles which require you to inspect items closely and piece the solution out of various items. While still not very challenging (and thankfully nowhere near as frustrating as that damned chess-piece puzzle in the first game) they at least require a bit of thought and patience which prevents them from being a total breeze. (The game has a hint-mode for those who are completely lost, but the game drops enough hints without it that I don’t think it’s possible to get stuck in the game.)

Barrington Pheloung’s score also brings back that classic Broken Sword feel. I do recognise that this is partially due to a noticeably high amount of recycled music, particularly from Broken Sword 1, except much higher quality. Never the less, there are enough new themes as well that I don’t feel cheated and it’s not that the first game’s score was in any way bad. I do notice that the sound technology is a little imprecise, in that background themes from a previous scene tend to linger a little while after you’ve left a certain area. The game has a few other annoying imperfections, such as characters walking through each other, some item-interaction animations not lining up quite right, and some characters’ and items’ hot-spot areas being very tiny which makes it easy to miss them. At least you can skip dialogue, but I notice there are long waiting periods going in and out of dialogue-scenes which is a little annoying.

However, this didn’t prevent me from enjoying the game immensely. As for the story, I can say it’s immediately much more interesting than the Angel of Death and depending on what direction Revolution takes the story in Episode 2, possibly even better than Smoking Mirror. The game trails a lot of the same steps as The Shadow of the Templars, but with a considerably smaller number of locations (in this case: Paris and London) – but I do find the historical angle of the story interesting although sadly, this instalment ends right as the story is about to get interesting. I just can’t wait for Episode 2 and what this game’s MacGuffin ends up amounting to. I also feel that the game does a good job concealing the villains this time. Perhaps even a little too well. I’m a little afraid that the final revelation of them will lack the impact similarly to the baddies in The Angel of Death, but hopefully we get a lot more clarity right from the get-go in Episode 2. I only wish that Revolution don’t rush the resolution, because Episode 1 makes for an acceptable first half of a game.

I’ve already bought the season pass and hope the other half will be just as good. But I can already say that for Broken Sword fans, getting first instalment is worth while. Other adventure game fans and more casual observers might want to wait for the whole thing to come out.

Tentative score: 80%

  • Gameplay: 4/5
  • Graphics: 5/5
  • Animation: 3,5/5
  • Music: 4/5
  • Sound: 4/5
  • Plot: 3/5
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