Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse: Episode 2 Review
Sony PS VitaAlso available on PC and Sony PS Vita
Some light spoilers for storyline elements in Episode 1 will be discussed below – you have been warned!
Cast your minds back towards the end of last year and you may remember playing the first half of Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse. A somewhat successful return to the franchise by Revolution Software, Episode 1 nevertheless demonstrated some issues, both in terms of its performance on the Vita and the difficulty level of the puzzles on offer. With this second episode Revolution have the opportunity to show that their return to the world of George and Nico was worth the Kickstarter investment by fans, that such a genre juggernaut still has relevance to offer to the modern adventure gaming fan. No pressure then.
Unfortunately for all, the road to redemption doesn’t get off without a hitch. After leaving our heroes on the top of a burning London warehouse at the end of Episode 1 our return at the start of Episode 2 sees them approaching a dilapidated Spanish chateau with no explanation as to what happened in between. Fine, the fire scene in Episode 1 closed with the wail of approaching sirens, but it’s fair to say that expectations were raised and appetites whetted with the presumption of jumping right into some fire-fighting/survival related puzzles. Instead there’s not even a tacit acknowledgement of the now unsatisfactory close of the previous episode – boo!
This disconnection between the fire and chateau scenes is symptomatic of the inherent problems in the episodic split in Broken Sword 5 as a whole. Driven by a desire to get part of the product out to Kickstarter backers as soon as possible, the decision to break the game into two parts has damaged impressions of the entire game, leaving those who jumped into the product early with less of a quality experience than those who waited until both parts were available. If anything needs to be taken away by Revolution by the Broken Sword 5 release (or, indeed, any developer that considers this in the future) it’s that unless you’ve planned an episodic game from the off, forcing a split late in development is never going to work out well. Take a look at The Banner Saga chaps, another episodic Kickstarted product – it might end mid-tale with plenty to come, but at least it’s an entire product.
Anyway, enough of the moaning and griping about how the game was ripped into two just to keep some braying backers happy – from the off the benefit of additional development time is clear to see in this second episode. First of all the vocal track no longer seems muddy, the voices instead coming through as clear as you could hope for. Which is excellent really as the dialogue underpins the whole product - lengthy Gnostic explanations are delivered with confident aplomb, Rolf Saxon’s performance continues to be exemplary and the continuation of Rich Tea biscuit jokes are just a few of the positive qualities to look out for.
Thankfully the technical issues that popped up throughout our playthrough of Episode 1 on the Vita have also all been resolved. Throughout there were no slowdowns or graphical glitches and, thankfully, no repeat of the awful inventory bug seen last time round - although it must be said that inventory tinkering played far less of a role here than it did in Episode 1. It’s as smooth an experience as you could hope for in a slide and tap touch interface adventure, and again makes you beg the question of why Revolution didn’t just wait until the glitches seen in Episode 1 had been resolved and release the game in one big bang.
Also of a higher quality are the puzzles on offer; additional variation over those seen in the previous episode along with the requirement for some multi-layered thinking ensure that fans will be working the old grey matter as they progress through Episode 2. Items you’ve hauled around for hours in the previous episode will reveal their true purpose, and new goat-related puzzles will bring a smile to the older franchise fans. The puzzles that really shine however are those that aren’t linked to items at all – an utterly fantastic translation puzzle is included, and if it doesn’t make it onto your personal ‘Best Puzzles in Broken Sword EVER!!!’ list then the only explanation is that there is something wrong with you. Yes, you. Even a misplaced Loom-esque musical knowledge requirement can’t diminish the fun found in a bells and smells-centered series of puzzles, although it might have you reaching for a walkthrough faster than the neon sign puzzle did in Episode 1.
After having played through Episode 1 and wondered whether Revolution had pitched the game incorrectly after having it funded up-front by presumably hardcore fans (of the genre, if not necessarily the franchise) Episode 2 of The Serpent’s Curse is very much a return to the form we expected. From zipping around exotic locations to dodging goats it has nearly everything – having longer than five minutes controlling Nico in actual gameplay would have rounded off this episode nicely. Broken Sword 5 is difficult to judge when considered alone, the combined game proves itself better than the sum of its individual parts, and playing the game in an episodic manner makes it feel like someone took a hatchet to a perfectly fine game and then split it apart – and then had the impudence to not even make sure the join was neat. If you’ve been sitting on the fence with this one then you’re safe to jump in – it’s classic Broken Sword through and through, and who’s heartless enough for that not to count as an endorsement? Just do yourself a favour and play the episodes back to back.