Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse Review
Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Android, Apple Mac, PC, Sony PS Vita, iPad, iPhone, Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and Linux
Point-and-click adventures used to be the hallmark of games that combined an interesting story and mind-bending puzzles with the Broken Sword series carrying the genre from the 90’s into the present. Besides the obvious question on whether Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse works well on modern consoles, there’s also the question of the validity of the genre as a whole in the modern gaming era.
Familiar characters in a familiar story
Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse once more follows lovable insurance assessor, George Stobbart, and his charming French friend and love interest Nico Collard into another adventure filled with murder, intrigue, and conspiracy. The story begins with George and Nico attending a gallery showing of a mysterious painting called “La Malediccio”. The event is soon interrupted by a robber disguised as a pizza delivery man who in his attempt to steal the painting gets confronted by the gallery owner, Henri. The thug shoots and kills Henri at that moment before fleeing the scene with Nico chasing after him. It’s there where the player assumes control of George who’s tasked with figuring out what happened. After an initial investigation, including the introduction of some pivotal minor characters such as the sleazy but loose-lipped art critic, Laine and Father Simeon, a priest who believes the stolen painting to be evil, Nico returns allowing the player to take control of her as well.
Like with previous games in the series, Broken Sword 5’s story begins as a simple crime that builds up into a much larger conspiracy. It’s a familiar type of narrative that comes with all the recognizable tropes from big-time gangsters to religious groups fighting for the fate of the world, the latter of which is far more interesting. While the game does introduce the religious storyline early on, it doesn’t quite hit its stride nor introduces its core story themes until later in the game making the pacing feel slow and the plot ring hollow. Fortunately, once the duo begins jet-setting around the world in search of the truth, the story picks up speed and its full steam ahead up until the end credits roll.
No close-ups, please
One of the game’s best aspects is its graphics. The characters are brought to life through colorful cell-shaded 3D models with smooth animations that deliver the action and tone effectively. Every character is well designed, each with his or her unique style that matches their personality and role in the story. Backgrounds and scenes are all beautifully hand drawn and the characters blend well with them. From the predominantly panoramic point of view, the game looks well-crafted but it’s when the camera comes in for a close-up that the cell-shaded models don’t look as good. During the game’s very few cutscenes, the characters feel blocky and stiff in their movement which almost took a bit away from the game’s ending.
The game’s music leaves a lot to be desired. While the background tracks set the tone of each scene and locale appropriately, there doesn’t seem to be anything distinctive or memorable about them.
Broken Sword 5 runs smoothly on the Switch in both handheld and docked mode with only rare instances of minor frame drops in the former. The main technical hiccup seems to be in the occasional delay in response time when instructing George and Nico to perform a task or action. PC players had experienced crashes from a known bug during one of the later chapters but that didn’t occur during our playthrough on the Switch.
Fast forward button, please
Broken Sword 5 is a point-and-click adventure with an emphasis on the word “click”. It’s designed primarily to be played with a mouse on a PC making it less ideal on a console with analog sticks. Moving the pointer around is performed via the left stick while camera movement is delegated to the right stick. It’s a reasonable yet unintuitive setup which makes the gameplay feel tedious and slow; particularly when several actions need to be performed in opposite ends of the screen. Playing on the Pro Controller in docked mode felt a bit smoother compared to the Joycons but not enough to make the game feel any less tedious.
The game’s puzzles are a mixed bag of clever, meaningless, and head-scratching. At their best, the puzzles will challenge the player’s observation and reasoning skills with some of the best showing up during the second half of the game. At their worst, they feel like jumbled head-scratchers that were put together without much thought. There were instances during which the environment wasn’t making it clear what needed to be done, such as a beam George needed to hang off blending into the rest of the background. There are also puzzles for which certain actions need to be repeated where the game could have made things less tedious by automatically performing them or by providing the option for the player to speed things up. We did ask ourselves on several occasions why unlocking a door needed the mousing over of the key every single time.
Cursors, for the most part, indicate what action the player can perform with the occasional lack of the movement icon at the edge of the screen leading to some confusion as to what should be done next.
Look to the future
Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse is a solid point-and-click experience that fans of both the series and the genre will surely appreciate. Despite the familiar story, there’s a sense of comfort that can be garnered by its derivative tropes and predictable plot. The game looks brightly colorful with characters and backgrounds working well together. The controls leave a lot to be desired which makes one wonder how nothing much has changed since the 90’s. With some better design and a few options for speeding up tedious parts, this and other games in the genre could work better on a console such as the Switch.