Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse Episode 1
First posted on 20 December 2013. Last updated on 23 May 2014.
The game is available at GOG.
Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse
The game is comprised of 2 episodes:
- Episode 1
- Episode 2
Pygmalion was a legendary figure in Ovid's poem Metamorphoses. He was a sculptor who fell in love with his own statue. The legend gave birth to the Pygmalion Complex, used as a metaphor to describe a creator who would fall in love with his or her creation. The story was even adopted by George Bernard Shaw in a stage play of the same name. For Revolution Software, veteran adventure game designer Charles Cecil also seemed to have apparently given in to the Pygmalion Complex, boldly bringing his acclaimed Broken Sword series back to life (much like Venus with Pygmalion's statue) after a long hiatus. Development of this new sequel actually began before the launch of a crowdfunding campaign in 2012 on Kickstarter that helped to fund the project. Production delays, however, eventually forced Cecil to release his new game in 2 parts. Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse Episode 1 is the first part of this new sequel, with the second part due soon afterward to conclude the series' fifth installment.
Evil and enigma come in many forms in the mythos of Broken Sword, and the newest terror that is sweeping the in-game streets of Paris (where the current game takes place) is La Maledicció—a seemingly worthless painting considered so evil that it leaves a trail of murder and intrigue in its wake. The opening scene of the gallery owner Henri being shot to dead by an unknown assassin who flees with the stolen painting leaves little room for doubt about this curse. American patent lawyer George Stobbart and his pulchritudinous on-again, off-again French journalist girlfriend Nicole Collard are also present at the scene of the crime, having met there moments earlier by chance. His reunion with Nicole and the impending troubles Nicole seems to always bring with her is duly and swiftly noted by George in yet another of his monologues spoken in his idiosyncratic devil-may-care manner. The rest of the game sees you in control of either George or Nicole unraveling a mystery that is more deeply sinister and corrupt than the seemingly senseless act of violence that it first appears to be. Indeed, this first episode does a thorough job in capturing my utmost interest. Even though the episode ends in a tantalizing cliffhanger, I do not feel bothered by it but am instead left salivating in anticipation for what the second episode may be.
In a style that is typical of the series, the game utilizes a minimal menu system—albeit now with a stylish abstract background. The opening cut scene perfectly showcases this resplendent graphical style and sets the visual tone for what is to follow. The earlier Broken Sword games have all been visually attractive, but this game surpasses them all via its exquisite and rich attention to detail. However, because the backgrounds are hand drawn but the characters are pre-rendered 3D models saved in 2D frames, the graphical juxtaposition is not entirely seamless and lacks the finesse of the original.
At least, the game's strong writing has stayed true to the series' winning formula. Believable in nature and intelligent at the core, the writing is persistent and never once loses its focus or strays off course. Alas, despite the obvious talent, the writing is fugal if compared to that of the earlier games of the series. This is perhaps forgivable since I realize that this first episode is really only half of a full game. Fortunately, the recurring humor is as fresh as evergreen, though I feel the innuendos may have been a few too many for my taste.
I have always enjoyed how the series excels in making its characters likeable, even though this fondness must be taken in a broad sense. The supposed villain Khan from Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars ends up being an understanding rather than a hateful character. The tourists Pearl and Duane Henderson, recurring characters first introduced in Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, are a likable and pleasant duo. Hector Laine, last seen in Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror, makes a comeback in this episode, larger than life than ever before. The English aristocrat Lady Clarissa Piermont, who has been nursing a broken heart since Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, also makes an appearance near the end of this episode. Among the new characters, even Inspector Navet, the buffoonish inspector with absurd and fantastical approaches to crime and has a fetish for gore, is likable and oddly charming. Yet, it is the waiter of the café next to the gallery who stands (quite literally) as quintessence of the series' flair for creating memorable characters. Not only does he speak in a circumlocutory tongue, he seems to be completely indifferent to the life around him (thus far in this episode anyway) and certainly has a creepy presence going about unlike any other characters in the series.
It is accepted as a genre trope that adventure games tend to makes puzzles unnecessarily complicated, overly silly, or plain stupidly easy. The puzzles in this first episode fits somewhere in between. Sadly, I have found many of the puzzles to be unnecessary, as if they are put in there just to increase the length of the game. For example, when George first arrives at Vera Security, he is unable to talk to the hysterical woman in charge until he rids of a cockroach crawling on the floor nearby. Dealing with the cockroach problem takes a good portion of time, especially when you have no idea what to do with a matchbox and some tea biscuits.
Fortunately, the game's new hints system is always ready at hand to help you out. It delivers exactly what it promises—giving you hints on what to do next. The more you click on the hints, the clearer and narrower the answers will be. The last hint will present you the solution in full. This hints system is bound to divide adventure game fans. I liken its existence to answers written on the back of a practice exam sheet. No matter how easy or difficult the questions are, the urge to turn over the page to take a peek at the answers is irresistible. Though the puzzles themselves are not particularly obscure or intricate in nature, they still operate on adventure game logic that is sometimes incomprehensible.
A game feature I do not fully get is the achievements system. Whenever you solve a major puzzle or complete an important task required by the game, that act is duly noted by the game with a celebratory sound and animation. Why is the game congratulating me on progress which I have to make no matter what? For example, at the beginning of the game, you take control of Nicole who must remove Sergeant Moue from his post guarding the door to the gallery. When this is done, the achievement you get is called "Breaking the Seal". It is fine that the task is a given a name; but how is this an achievement? After all, it is impossible to progress further into the game if this task is not done. Granted, the achievement makes sense if there are several ways to create the distraction to remove Sergeant Moue. However, such is not the case in the game.
As swift and evenly balanced as the writing is in this game the many pop culture references which the game cleverly makes are, too, just that. In fact, the number of pop culture references I have discovered when playing this episode is astounding. For example, the bust at the gallery bears a striking similarity to the Italian actress Monica Bellucci. The ring tone on Nicole's phone is the theme from Beneath a Steel Sky (a game also created by Cecil). When George and Bijou (Henri's wife) are dancing, many of the moves they perform are clear nods to the iconic dance sequence in Pulp Fiction. Upon arriving in London, a pig can be seen floating above the Battersea Power Station in the background that is reminiscent to the album cover in Pink Floyd's Animals. Last but not the least reference, and certainly the most thinly veiled, is the detective's name Richard Langham. Any fan who misses this nod to Robert Langdon needs to read up on Dan Brown's novels featuring this iconic character.
In conclusion, Broken Sword 5: the Serpent's Curse Episode 1 is truly a game made for the fans. The splendid production alone is worth the price of admission. Beyond the gorgeous graphics, the game also features intelligent writing, smart characters, and an interesting story. While the game may spot a few imperfections, there is little which some split and polish cannot fix to make it shine.