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Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse review


Live and kicking

In August 23, 2012, Revolution announced The Serpent’s Curse on Kickstarter with a goal of $400,000. On September 22, they raised $771,560 from 14,032 backers, meeting all goals. Reference-filled, it feels like it exists for fans. Among the callbacks is Hector Laine, Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror’s rude wine guzzler whose drink you spiked with absinthe (he actually asks whether you have any more), and a reference to the infamous goat puzzle from The Shadow of the Templars.

Walk to the dead gallery owner nearby and you can pinch a bottle of
eau de toilette from his garish waistcoat. The pungent odour is just
what’s needed, and waving it under the critic, he staggers to his feet.
This example is the first of many typically Broken Sword puzzles:
logical, creative, and – in plying a policeman with coffee to make him
dart to the loo or opening a skylight with a bottle rocket made from
coke and mentos – a little bit silly. Gags and puzzles are just as
likely to soar over your head (deciphering the cyrillic alphabet) as
belt you across it (decorating George’s face with makeup), but that’s
part of the charm.

Other times you have to be inside the
developer’s head: I fix a cable car by systematically testing every item
in my inventory in the hopes of finally stumbling across some
convoluted solution, and the answer’s even more ridiculous than my
dumbest machinations. And my machinations are pretty dumb.

A
few too many dull combination locks, codebreakers, and bits where you
have to exhaust dialogue options because you don’t really know what
you’re looking for grind the pace to a halt. Thankfully there’s a hint
system. You first get a vague tip, then a slightly more specific one,
and if you still haven’t got it by then the game basically tells you the
answer. If you can resist abusing it, it’s a massive help and keeps the
tempo brisk.

Although the premise seems a bit Dan Brown, any
similarities are quickly dispelled – this is the Da Vinci Code by way
of classic ‘90s adventure games. With Rolf Saxon reprising his role as
George, The Serpent’s Curse feels like it’s been hermetically sealed.
The touching moment when he and Nico roll back the years and meet over
coffee in Paris is like catching up with old friends who haven’t changed
a bit.

It’s a welcome departure from the usual darker,
grittier sequel formula, but the tone sometimes lurches into
indifference as a result. George’s initial motivation is to simply
prevent his insurance employer from paying out, and his tendency to
crack jokes at gunpoint robs the moments of threat. At one point when a
friend is kidnapped, he strolls after him. There’s a lack of urgency
in keeping it light.

The writing, on the other hand, is full
of energy. Paris sections read like a love letter to the city, with its
comically rude waiters quoting literature, streets lined with intricate
stained glass windows, and observations of landmarks like the Sacré-Cœur
basilica, the capital’s highest point. A sun-baked Spain, blue-skied
London, and majestic Iraq are peerlessly designed and equally gorgeous.
All enlivened locations reach an almost hyper level of beauty, like if
you asked an artist to visit on hallucinogens then paint his dreams.

It
seems crazy to call The Serpent’s Curse on its recycling of backdrops,
then, but returning to areas does feel a bit cheap, especially when a
large part of Broken Sword’s appeal has always been the anticipation of
seeing where George and Nico end up next. It saps momentum, which is
damaging in a slow-burning experience such as this (different time and
weather effects alter some compositions at least). Worse are the cheap
looking character models themselves, whose ropey animations and lack of
shadows make them seem like they’ve walked off some awful CGI children’s
TV show. They clash hideously with an otherwise immaculate artstyle.

The
real serpent’s curse is length. It’s not as if quality dips – more that
fatigue slithers in about halfway through and settles there. Despite
the conspiracy darkening, pacing issues prevent the game successfully
building towards its crescendo. Personally, though, that’s always been
my experience with Broken Sword – enjoying the adventure so much that I
power through the lackadaisical last hour. Slightly
overstaying its welcome, The Serpent’s Curse is nevertheless the series’
best game in 18 years, an engrossing and gorgeous return to form that
bridges the gap between then and now.



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