After a long seven-year gap, the Broken Sword series is back hoping to emulate the success of its early years when the point-and-click classic was praised for its beautiful art direction, gripping conspiracy-driven narrative and thought-provoking gameplay.
Thanks to a Kickstarter-funded project, which raised over $800,000 from fans of the floppy-haired, smooth talking George Stobbart, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse returns to its 2D roots for a graphical adventure that sticks rigidly to its dialogue-driven formula; namely, inventory combination puzzles, location scouring and heavy NPC interaction.
Murder, theft and conspiracy are once again at the forefront of this fifth episode as the train-travelling, investigative duo George and Nico head around the globe investigating the theft of a piece of art from a Parisian gallery, which leads to the death of its owner. In typical Broken Sword tradition, the crime soon evolves into something more sinister when you learn that the stolen picture is supposedly cursed by the devil.
Considering the exciting direction such a revelation could take, the storyline ambles along like an episode of Last of the Summer Wine and takes a long time to really get going. Things start to get more interesting once you move into the latter part of the game and the conspiracy starts to unfold, but the excitement soon dwindles with a cliff-hanger of an ending leaving fans left waiting for the next episode, which has yet to be announced. Nevertheless, despite the slow start, I’m still intrigued as to what will happen and how the narrative will progress.
Gameplay involves switching between George and Nico to scour crime scenes and speak with NPCs in order to unravel the mystery and pick up clues. It’s typical point-and-click fare with hot spot interaction allowing you to pick up objects which can then be combined with inventory items or with other objects or people in the environment. Most of the puzzles are logical and shouldn’t leave players stuck for too long, while a handy hint system is available if you’re feeling bogged down by the slow pace of the game.
And that’s really the big issue: Broken Sword dawdles along like a tortoise with a broken leg without ever picking up the pace or providing any real moments of engagement or excitement. Drawn-out dialogue gets in the way of a smooth-flowing story progression as you trudge through dozens of conversations that are padded out with unnecessary banter purely for comedic effect. Though there are some genuinely funny moments from the cast of characters’ numerous quips and puns, it can be painful waiting for them to reveal a nugget of information that adds to the story in a meaningful way or gives you a clue on what to do next.
In between these conversations, players will spend most of their time scouring locations and picking up objects to add to their ever-swelling inventory. The Vita touchscreen lends itself perfectly to the point-and-click genre, so clicking on the screen to move to an area, prodding hotspots, or dragging items across the screen is immediately intuitive. Having played a chunk of Broken Sword 5 on PC too, however, I’d recommend the latter to get the full effect of the game’s gorgeous graphics.
Indeed, the highlight of Broken Sword 5 is undoubtedly the artwork thanks to some beautifully rendered and detailed locations that stay true to the original graphics, with the highlights coming from the colourful scenes based in Paris and London. Animation isn’t as impressive, with both characters moving across the screen at snail’s pace, which can be frustrating when you just want to get from one end of a road to another and have to wait for them to walk to that location with the grace of a robot.
The music is excellent, with some colourful orchestral numbers that fit the game’s bright visuals perfectly, while the voice acting from most of the characters is superb, particular from George Stobbart who is played by the original actor. The highlight of the voice acting comes from the exchanges between George and Nico who do a good job at recapturing that close connection they had in previous games.
While it’s always nice to remember the ‘good old days’ and games like Broken Sword, Revolution Software’s attempt to capture some of Broken Sword’s past success feels a little out of place on PlayStation Vita, particularly when we’ve seen such an evolution in this genre by Telltale Games and The Walking Dead series. Nevertheless, fans will know what to expect and will probably still get a kick out of traversing some gorgeous locations while enjoying the humour that we’ve come to expect from Stobbart & Co. However, I can’t imagine that many will be gripped by its plodding tale.