Back when I looked at the first episode of Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse, I was reasonably impressed. I called it things like “beautiful”, “intriguing”, and “authentic”, and generally approved of it. Then I erred on the side of caution, awarding it a 6 on the basis that so much of it hinged on how well the second part resolved everything.
Well, now I’ve played and finished the concluding part. While I’m not exactly hating myself for playing it safe when reviewing the first episode, I can certainly say that I’m pretty much entirely satisfied with the way Broken Sword 5 has turned out.
So, in an attempt to catch everyone up without delving too much into specific spoilers: when last we left George and Nico, they were on top of a burning building, and yet another villain appeared to have been revealed. Fortunately, they had a few clues as to their next destination, so – following a short stint with the fire department – they’re off to track down the mysterious Tabula Veritatis before hostile forces can get a hold of it and probably bring about the end of the world, or something.
Where episode one focused more on a murder investigation and a stolen painting, episode two delves deep into the mysticism. You’ve got paintings to decode, secret hideaways to find, ancient mysteries to solve, and – inevitably – mystical plots to thwart.
Speaking of thwarting, my only major gripe is with the villain. Now, Broken Sword doesn’t usually have the strongest villains (Khan aside, but he only sort-of counts) so this is actually in-keeping with past games, but… eh. The villain here commits the usual mistakes of letting George and Nico live for no apparent reason, and his motivations aren’t given much time. He really needed a bit more exploration; it would’ve been useful and would’ve made a degree of sense to show him, perhaps, as someone well-intentioned who actually doesn’t want to kill our protagonists. But he doesn’t get that. For the most part, he’s just Evil Guy.
The road to the thwarting, though, is wonderful, particularly if you like logic puzzles and/or Indiana Jones. The episode opens with an old Spanish manor full of secrets to find, and things stay within that vein throughout, even going so far as to include an excellent spot of code-breaking that relies more on lateral thinking than brute force decrypting. There are still a number of more mundane, physical puzzles – like fixing a sabotaged cable car – but if you’ve been waiting for Broken Sword to get back to stuff like the first game’s manuscript-decoding and mausoleum-exploring, then you’ll be pleased.
This also helps mitigate a lot of the issues I had with the first episode. By now George has a pocket full of bizarre oddities, so there’s a lot less of the “receiving the object required at exactly the moment you need it” stuff, and the focus on finding secrets tend to mean that – if you do get an item you need at the right time – it actually makes logical sense. The animations bothered me a lot less this time, which either means that I’m now used to them or that there’s been a little bit of work done on them between the episodic releases. There’s still no hotspot highlighting or double-click-to-instantly-move, but the latter only irritated in one section of this episode, and the former was barely an issue. I still don’t like these things not being included, but honestly, their absence is never really a big issue.
The puzzles here are stronger, too; most of the aforementioned physical puzzles require at least a little thought, and some of the more occult ones are genuine stumpers. Also: that bloody goat is back, although unlike in Shadow of the Templars, puzzles involving him aren’t mind-rending abominations. (Incidentally: I was deeply amused to learn that “The Goat Puzzle” actually has an entry on Wikipedia. “The Wretched Goat”? I think most of us used stronger language than that…)
And all the stuff that the first episode did well is done equally well here. The backgrounds and environments are lush and picturesque, the voice acting is as strong as ever, and the side characters are all as full of personality as usual. The story wraps up nicely and – villain aside – largely makes sense. In short, barring one crash bug that I could only fix by reloading a save from the previous area, this concluding part to Broken Sword 5 is excellent.
Taken as a whole, in fact, Broken Sword 5 is excellent. It’s a wonderful throwback to the first couple of games – a beautifully drawn, side-on, classic point-and-click adventure with familiar characters, familiar sounds, familiar sights, and a familiar feel. There’s great writing, solid puzzling, and a mix between modern crimes and ancient mystical powers. It is, in short, a Broken Sword game. You should probably already know whether that’s something you’ll like or not, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a Very Good Thing.
I can’t help but feel it’s a shame that Broken Sword 5 was broken up into two, in fact. As a whole, it’s a marvellous adventure. Divided up, it’s a little uneven, and the gap between episodes didn’t help much with trying to remember the hard details of what happened last time around. I suspect that this was done out of necessity rather than by design – there’s no noticeable gap between the episodes when played as a whole; you just go from one location to another as if there was no episode break in between – but…
Oh, well: now that both episodes are out and Broken Sword 5 is a complete adventure, that barely matters. If you held off on picking this up because you wanted to wait for the full thing, I’d say you made the right choice, as you’ll likely enjoy this more as a singular game than you would’ve done broken up into two. Nonetheless, if you bought into it earlier and played the first episode, your wait hasn’t been for nothing. This is a wonderful conclusion to the story, and it hits all the right notes.