Monday, December 16, 2013

Broken Sword 5: The Double Fine Curse

I backed it. Of course I backed it. After Monkey Island, Broken Sword is my most favourite point and click series. I was probably more excited that Charles Cecil had set the Kickstarter for The Serpent's Curse going than I was with Double Fine Adventure (Which was a more a 'holy fuck' than 'YES YES YES!').

I'm no idiot though. I understand that Tim Schafer's success is what spurred other creators of long out of fashion game mechanics to head to crowd funding and Cecil is certainly one of them. Yet despite the timing, we have Broken Sword before we have Broken Age. Unfortunately, Cecil and Revolution took one more lesson from Schafer that I really wish they hadn't.

With less than a month to release, Revolution announced that The Serpent's Curse was going to be released in two parts, just like Double Fine had so controversially decided to do with their own Kickstarted adventure. Here it was “We don't want to miss our promised ship date” instead of “Oh fuck we're running out of money.” and since it's only a months difference I'm tempted to believe them.

So it's a shame that it's probably Broken Sword 5.1's biggest problem. The entire series revolves around modern murders and intrigue sparked off by ancient mysticism and beliefs, yet in this instalment those myths are almost an after thought. Sure a Gnostic painting is stolen which kicks the whole thing off, but by the end of the part we have nearly all of the questions answered in a very modern way and barely any Gnostic secrets unlocked except for the mad ravings of a crazy Priest. It feels decidedly un-Broken Sword. Too much is double crossings, adultery and Russian Mafia. Where was the equivalent to crawling around the Parisian sewers looking for a long lost Templar mausoleum?

Part 1 does end on a cliffhanger and the Gnostic stuff does look like it's about to kick off, so Part 2 should be decent. Which really goes to prove that the game should be one glorious whole. I don't think anyone would have complained if Cecil and Rebellion had delayed one month for the entire thing. In fact I think it would have made less fuss in the long run. But Double Fine did it for their Kickstarter, so Revolution might as well. Right?

And with that complaint out of the way I can say that it's pretty much my only complaint about the whole game. There's a couple of instances that made me furrow my brow – George's initial reaction to being discovered with a dead body is just bad writing, and Nico stuffing a mop into her pocket was a clever joke at adventure games' expense, but incredibly out of place in this series. But ninety percent of this game is fantastic. Except for those two moments this is expertly written. There's one scene where George starts to impersonate a dead man which comes across in bad taste, but the next scene of him being incredibly shameful of it more than makes up it.

The puzzles are nicely straightforward and never stupidly oblique. Though I had a few moments where I got frustrated because I knew the solution but the game wouldn't let me do it until I'd looked at something specific. There was also a point where you have to flick through a book and the next page icon is in the middle of the left hand side. The bizarrest placing I've ever seen.

Like both 2D versions before it, Serpent's Curse is also incredible to look at. The backdrops are amazing, though never quite rivalling the original. The characters work too. I admit I'd have preferred to have sprites for our antagonists, but on a Kickstarter budget that just isn't going to happen, so I'm not going to mope about it. Thankfully the 3D generated ones we have fit seamlessly into world.

Once Part 2 is here, The Serpent's Curse is shaping up to stand alongside The Shadow of the Templars and The Smoking Mirror as shining examples of just how good point and click adventures can be.

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