Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, one of many high profile adventure games to follow Tim Schafer’s trail blazing on the crowd funding website, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse is now out. Or at least half of it is. As with Double Fine’s heavily scrutinised Broken Age, the ambitious vision of Revolution’s founder Charles Cecil seems to have outstripped the time and funding allocated to the game, leading to the difficult decision to split it into two parts, with the second due to make an appearance in January.
Part one opens with wry protagonist George Stobbart once more in Paris during springtime, and once more witness to a violent murder in a snappy opening that seems to deliberately pay homage to the opening of Shadow of the Templars. At the gallery exhibition his company is insuring – and just as he is about to rekindle his relationship with sassy journalist Nico Collard – a gunman in a motorcycle helmet steals a painting, shooting the gallery owner in the process. The painting is La Malediccio, a work rich in Gnostic symbolism, a sect of Christianity persecuted by the church as heretics because they see Lucifer in a positive light.
George sets out to investigate the theft and clear his name in the process, as the buffoonish detective Navet is convinced he is the killer. Meanwhile Nico is determined to get her story on the front page and when an old Spaniard turns up out of the blue claiming to be the son of the painting’s rightful owner that begins to look like a certainty. Gameplay switches between George and Nico and their individual motivations feed nicely into an already fascinating story that is written with characteristic wit by Charles Cecil. Here is a man who knows how to weave fiction out of historical conspiracies and to populate his world with colourful characters that sit just on the right side of eccentric. The game is nostalgically packed with welcome cameos from the series’ past including Sergeant Moue, the sleazy art critic Laine, and the larger than life Lady Piermont, who rather disturbingly has gotten a gig as a nude model.
It’s remarkable how quickly Serpent’s Curse settles into the groove of the classic Broken Sword formula, so much so that there will be times that you’ll forget you’re playing an entirely new game. You’ll soon be revisiting the old pleasures of being rebuked by Nico for carrying around pockets full of junk and delivering laconic observations on all and sundry. Early on George adopts a cockroach used in one of the puzzles, names him Trevor, and from then on you’re given the option to present him to the game’s eccentric cast of characters to fish for humorous reactions, an element that seems typical of the series’ charms.
The game’s aesthetic is one of beautifully painted settings, not dissimilar to the remakes of Broken Sword one and two, but with 3D character models rendered as 2D sprites. This somewhat divisive hybrid approach was practical for the production of game, but also gives the characters a really bold presence and smooth animations. The result is a game that feels very traditional, but with a welcome modern twist. It’s refreshing to see this stylistic homecoming after Revolution were compelled to make the previous two games in 3D.
Part one sets up a cracking mystery that spans Paris and London and ends with a strong cliffhanger and a good old fashioned double-cross. Clues uncovered point to Catalonia in Spain as a key location in the next part, but knowing this series George and Nico could end up anywhere. In contrast the game has ended up nostalgically right back where it started, and that’s just fine in my books.