The Serpent’s Curse takes Broken Sword back to its roots, with George and Nico reunited once more by a murder in Paris. That’s far from the only similarity to the games that came before, and it’s clear that a large effort has been made to fall back to what the fans wanted to see and what has made this such a fondly remembered series.
When George bumps into Nico at an art gallery which he is insuring, they quickly find themselves embroiled in a mystery that goes back decades, as a painting is stolen and the proprietor killed in the act. The painting itself is a piece of artwork stolen and subsequently lost during the Spanish Civil War, with a suitably murky religious background to uncover and more modern crime mystery to unravel at the same time.
The game’s visuals immediately grab your attention, having reverted back to the beautiful 2D artwork of old, as the 3D engine behind the third and fourth titles is thrown out of the window. Every location, most of which are dotted around Paris, is an absolute joy to see, with a rich art style that perfectly captures the atmosphere of the first few games.
The march of time and technology means that characters have been modelled and animated in 3D, rather than having each individual frame painstakingly drawn by hand. They feel true to their origins and generally blend in quite well with the surroundings, with illumination from light sources a nice effect.
However, there are moments where they look like the 3D models that they are and their animations regularly feel wooden and canned. There are also points where the timing of dialogue and interactions felt off kilter, leaving you waiting for a rather stilted scene to continue. It’s a slight shame, because the voice acting and script is as good as ever.
Many of the original voice actors reprise their roles, with the dialogue between Nico – sadly not the original actress – and George a highlight, alongside new larger-than-life characters from brusque waiters to incompetent detectives. It’s a particular delight when characters from previous entries in the series show up unexpectedly, many of whom will be fan favourites, and there’s plenty of humour to be found when they do.
The overall story keeps you rattling along nicely, with each scene and location offering up new puzzles and people to talk to. There’s a fluidity as you investigate the crime from both Nico’s and George’s perspectives, quite naturally switching from talking to and interrogating people, to solving puzzles and using items.
Very quickly you will find yourself with quite a bloated inventory, but thankfully the puzzles are generally straightforward and logical. Some will see you tracking back and forth between people and places, while on a handful of occasions you will have to use one of the many curious nicknacks that you’ve picked up quite some time ago, but it is fairly easy to figure out what you need. There’s an argument to be made that it’s too simple, but hopefully the second episode will offer up some trickier puzzles, with a difficulty curve that spans both halves of the game.
Though it will keep you occupied for a healthy length of time, the game cuts off at an unnatural cliffhanger moment, with one story arc bowing out as the other took centre stage. It was particularly unsatisfying and left me wanting the second episode right away. This will definitely be best played with both episodes together.
Playing the PS Vita release, I found it to be a quite literal translation of what is a very traditional point & click adventure. You won’t find yourself using the sticks or buttons on the console, as everything is done via the touch screen. It will be similar for phone and tablet releases.
This is a good move, preserving this particular style of gameplay by highlighting interactive items near to your finger and with a degree of obviousness to using the inventory. It’s also about as close to scanning a computer screen with a mouse cursor as you’ll get.
However, many scenes see a lot of objects placed close together – every painting in the art gallery, for example – and shrinking all of this down to the Vita’s 5″ screen can feel quite cramped. It can be tricky to select the right object, and this is something which will affect those future smartphone releases too, though I’m sure that tablets will fare noticeably better.
I also found that your inventory of junk balloons to quite a ridiculous degree late into this episode and this makes the frame rate on the Vita drop quite horrendously when you need to open it. That’s something which should hopefully be patched out by the second episode’s release, but took patience and perseverance to work with.
Aside from a handful of minor issues, the main problem is that this is just the first half of a full game. Everything leads to that second half, leaving this first episode with a distinctly unfinished feeling.
You would ideally wait until the second episode is released, but it’s still a simple joy to be playing a new Broken Sword game that recaptures a lot of what has kept the originals held in such high regard.