Wot I Think: Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse (Part 2)

By Richard Cobbett on April 30th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

So what you're saying is that ONE goat is okay?

Last December we saw the first part of the Kickstarted Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse. It was a pretty game, and made for a warm reunion with two beloved characters, but one with more than a little cause for concern. Now, the second part is finally out. Here’s Wot I Think.

This isn’t going to be pretty. The first episode of this new Broken Sword was like catching up with old friends after a long absence; a warm nostalgia that helped paper over many of the cracks and turn a largely bland – if pretty – adventure into something comfortable and fresh. This second part? That’s several hours later, when the wine and nibbles are all gone, and all the old stories have been told. You yawn, you check your watch, you say “We really have to do this again,” and then inwardly sigh as you see a glass being refilled and a new photo album. Except with some very silly puzzles, and a lack of narrative chops that would be stunning if it wasn’t too busy being depressing.

'George, look! That artefact that could bring doom unto the- Wait, what are you doing with that big rock?'
*SMASH!*
'And that concludes this adventure. Surprisingly early too! Nico, how about I buy you dinner and we spend the night riding each other like rollercoasters?'

The story so far. Our heroes George and Nico spent the first episode on a largely uneventful investigation into a painting called La Maledicció, said to have been cursed by the devil, but which was inevitably going to be a glorified treasure map because that’s what all mysterious artefacts turn out to be in the Broken Sword universe. It bounced from Paris to London with a measure of quirky charm but little drama, even when doing things like breaking into the home of a Russian gangster who has a name but is clearly meant to be Vladimir Putin, being fingered for murder, or dealing with an Interpol agent who was instantly obvious as a villain due to being a friendly and efficient official in a Broken Sword game. (And also having those magic Interpol powers that they only get in badly researched action movies and Lupin III. Semi-related: Aaargh! Writers! Stop doing this!)

It was a pretty game, as indeed is this second part, doing a great job at recapturing the vibe of the early Broken Sword games on its limited budget and providing good reminders of why the idea of going on adventures with George and Nico has always been so pleasurable. The puzzles weren’t anything to write home about, with the exception of one staggering clunker, but it was… okay. It was a problematic game though, struggling in particular with the fact that splitting the mundane bit of the modern mystery from the magic and mythology supposedly at the core of the story was not exactly in its favour. As goals go, saving an insurance company from having to pay out is not exactly a genre high, especially when any sane one would happily cut its losses over the one cheap painting lost and send George off to check on some actually valuable statue in Guam or something.

Back in December, I said “There is no sense of big picture threat, literal or figurative, no tension and no feeling of high stakes.” My hope was that would be fixed in this part. But no. Having finished the game, you can take that complaint and multiply it by ten. A real low was noticing I was 75% of the way through the story, and there had still to be one scene – one scene – where The Serpent’s Curse did anything to demonstrate the power or threat being dealt with here. There’s talk of dire consequences, yes, but a priest doing little more than (inaccurately) yelling “Devil! Devil!” and a crusty old man claiming grandiose things on behalf of his faith just don’t cut it. Nothing remotely supernatural happens until the last scene, with everything up to then simply assuming that we’ll just give the details a nod because that’s the kind of story we’re in. This isn’t so much a narrative shortcut as Broken Sword calling a taxi and asking to be woken up in time for the finale.

I mean, CHRIST, I hate that! I despise seeing people being controlled and subservient to authority. Those authoritarian JERKS with their POWER. You know the only thing I hate more? HYPOCRITES. Why, I'd like to SHOOT THEM ALL! Right after the smartarses who point out IRONY. Were you about to say something?

This isn’t the only problem, but it’s one of the big ones in a game with such a poor grip on drama that finally has its big moment, and then immediately backsteps on it to the point of deploying and then downgrading the literal power of God, presumably so that the next game can pretend the whole thing never happened when its next villain has to steal the goddess Ereshkigal’s girdle or whatever without an unfortunate theological clash. Much better to sweep everything under the rug, like both this game and all sensible people who played Broken Sword 4 do with Broken Sword 4. Shudder.

It might be okay if the underlying story was able to save this, or if the minute by minute adventuring was fun and frothy enough, but neither is true. The Serpent’s Curse isn’t so much about Gnosticism as the fact that its developers have been reading about Gnosticism, dumping historical backstory like some kind of Wikipedia gunge tank and then pulling out an interpretation so simplistic and, well, videogame that it makes the Indiana Jones movies look like masterful scholarly works.

Let’s step back. Put simply, the subject matter here is interesting, but one both too broad and limiting for its own good – its big secret having to be manufactured because there isn’t a convenient thing to bounce off in the same way that past MacGuffins like the Voynich Manuscript were able to provide, and its philosophical core far too complicated for a light-hearted globe-trek. Even at its best, it’s a bad fit for Broken Sword’s weaponised mythology, and does it a disservice by having to crunch it down to one old man who can’t speak for all Gnostics and the many beliefs that word encapsulates. There are reasons stories like this tend to stick with groups like the Templars and their easily digestible legends, or dive into ancient mythologies where a writer can make up any old nonsense.

Mister Stobbart, you have the confidence of a man who mistakenly believes himself to be in a Lucasarts adventure game. But you know what they are? Dead. Shall you join them?

Even so, the sheer scale of what the story thinks it is makes it all the more amazing that it’s so flat, not to mention more tonally confused than a man farting La Marseillaise through a kazoo. As with the first episode, it simply doesn’t feel like a coherent game so much as a whole series of bits, produced in isolation based on a general outline and glued together with little insight or self-awareness. And I’m pretty sure the inability to pronounce the word ‘ouroboros’, though I can’t be absolutely certain.

Now, yes, Broken Sword has always tempered its serious side with a playful one, and that’s fine – it’s a quirky series, that’s where much of the fun comes from. But that’s only when it actually works, and not an excuse for anything to go. In one scene for instance, George is looking down the barrel of a gun held by the game’s villain, and it’s a big dramatic moment. Literally in the next scene he’s facing the same situation from another, Vladimir Putin’s lawyer-safe doppleganger, and making quips about the guy sounding like a Bond villain. In another odd moment, the first real puzzle of the second episode is a cute callback to the first game’s infamous goat puzzle… and it works well. But then the last area rolls around and we get another one, which is not only a truly idiotic puzzle (in a game that already mistakenly riffed on Gabriel Knight 3’s moustache one without remembering to add anything that made it, y’know, a joke rather than simply stealing an infamous genre low) but a bit of fan-service too far. And that’s saying something for a game already so weighed down with references and returning characters that it may as well just have fully pandered to the Kickstarter base and had George and Nico finish the game shirtless. And then get married. In Union City. By Joey.

'Okay, you caught me, my faith and my life are all lies. We built all of this for an ARG to help advertise Mountain Dew.'
'Wait, really?'
'OF COURSE NOT! Get out of my house, and don't come back until you've written 'Christianity Is Not Just Catholicism' a hundred times on the back wall with your own sliced off cock. My daughter will show you where I keep the paint.'

None of this is simply picking away at bits; they’re all examples of just how poorly Broken Sword 5’s story is told throughout. It has absolutely no understanding of how to tell a good one, and that’s just shocking for the fifth instalment of anything – up to and including Links: The Challenge Of Golf.

The pacing, already hobbled by an episodic split clearly born of budget rather than the best way to tell the story, makes everything go on far too long for the sake of padding rather than complexity in narrative or puzzles, and the puzzles thrown in to pad it out further are often tenuous beyond belief. Fixing an electrical panel with a cockroach and a Rich Tea biscuit. Playing Ave Maria on construction equipment, in total violation of the new gaming rule that nobody is allowed to play that without Agent 47 coming in and garrotting someone. Escaping a locked room by means of the most needlessly slow combination lock ever. A bad comedy bit that expects you to interrogate multiple guards who are never, ever going to let George and Nico past, despite the fact that they’re only alive after approaching them because the villain has conveniently forgotten to issue a photo of the meddling kids sexy young adults currently actively working on foiling his evil plans.

Let's see here... THE... TREASURE... IS... TO... BE... FOUND... UP YOUR... Oh, dammit. I hate these prankster priests...

Of course, there are some good puzzles too – a basic letter-substition cypher to decode, a map investigation and a more complex bit of codebreaking to find the location of the game’s last big secret all standing out. There are also some really entertaining bits of writing, particularly between Nico and George, whose continued inability to actually get together has resulted in a wonderfully strong friendship that feels both earned and capable of handling situations like this. Nico is reduced to much more of a tag-along character for this one though, even in a game where both characters’ reasons for being involved (beyond mild curiosity) largely dissolved by the end of the first episode.

(This is a plot hiccup that only gets more notable when the two try to dissuade a young woman whose father has been kidnapped by the villain that she should stay out of the way and let them handle it. Yes, never mind that you’re the one character who actually has a verified stake in this, citizen! Stay back, George might as well declare, for while you may have justice and righteousness and both a gun and the stones to use it on your side, I have… a basic grasp of Latin, a pack of safety matches, and my occasional girlfriend’s distracting legs! Team Broken Sword, away!)

'And my... uh... little Broken Sword?'
'Ze templars had a secret. You, George, no longer.'
'Ah. The dragon... isn't sleeping any more?'
'Non. But you should not be worried. It is only ze angel of... ze 'little' death, as we French say.'
'Look, I told you, THIS is the real Serpent's Curse. We can't control it...'
'Quite alright, George. It is nothing I have not seen before.'
'...'
'You can't think of anything for The Smoking Mirror, can you?'
'Much to my shame, non. As for yours... let me spare your further blushes. Here, borrow my handkerchief.'
'It's a little small, isn't it?'
'Zat, George, is what she said...'

To be clear, all of this bitching comes not from hate, but frustration. Broken Sword has always been a series in at least a five-way tug of war with itself over exactly what it is, with the globetrotting thriller elements fighting with the quirky characters and the comedy and the danger in a way that’s traditionally made for a really enjoyable fusion. Broken Sword: The Angel Of Death’s biggest crime was… well, it was having a puzzle where you get a manuscript out of a cabinet by pushing the whole thing into an industrial bone-chipper. But its second biggest crime was simply not knowing itself; losing the fun, losing the enthusiasm, and for much of it, losing the core relationship.

The Serpent’s Curse is a far better Broken Sword game than that one was, but its problems come from the exact same place – a lack of self-awareness about what a Broken Sword game is that leaves it feeling at best like a new developer trying to copy the magic, and at worst, like fan-fiction – especially during the eye-wateringly awful ending. It’s a bit of a thriller and a bit of a comedy and a bit of an mystery and a bit of an adventure holiday, but where the previous games took those bits and created an enjoyable fusion that went above and beyond all of them, The Serpent’s Curse is constantly trapped by its limitations. And in the case of the plot, trying to be too clever in a game that was never going to support the philosophical themes it so badly wants to explore.

Ah, our reliable protagonists. George, with his well-deserved phobia of goats. Nico, changing voices more often than I change my underpants. 5 times in 18 years. Laaaadies.

Would I like to see another Broken Sword game though? Absolutely. While this one was not the adventure I wanted, the idea of another trip around the world still appeals. The charm is still there, the strengths ready to be played to in a more suitable story with the pace and drama that can make its mystery sing. Sell me that game, that adventure, and nobody will be happier… not least because I live in the same town as Revolution at the moment, and kinda suspect I might need a disguise and really big pair of sunglasses the next few times I pass by York Minister…

Hmm. And I just remembered I have to go and buy some trainers this week…

I, ah, did mention the graphics were good, right? Cool. Just, ah, just checking.

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57 Comments »

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  1. Keyrock says:

    I personally liked the game a lot. I thought it was the best Broken Sword since the first one.

    /shrugs

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      Same here, I enjoyed both parts of it. The first Broken Sword remains the best one, but I think I actually enjoyed this one most.

    • Ross Angus says:

      Me too. I replayed the whole series in preparation and I liked 5 better than either of the 3D ones.

    • quintesse says:

      I thought it was pretty much crap actually. I agree with most of what is said in this Wot I Think except that I thought the “good puzzles” he mentioned were particularly crap. I’m *not* wishing for a new installment to be honest. Let’s just keep the good memories from the first game and let this game die a peaceful death.

    • S Jay says:

      I liked the game, but there were some pretty terrible puzzles, like the Ave Maria one and the cockroach to fix a fuse.

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    amateurviking says:

    I was waiting on this to play through both together, bit of a shame it’s not turned out so well. Still, I’ll have a go and see what’s what.

    Wasn’t John involved in this in some way?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Not that I’m aware of. He did the hints for (IIRC) the Director’s Cut version of the first, and his cartoon rabbit Brian (from Brian’s Guide) appeared as a reference in the fourth.

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        amateurviking says:

        Ah yes I’m getting confused with this and Dreamfall Chapters, sorry!

      • John Walker says:

        The appearance of Brian in 4 was born of a, well, miscommunication? I was told it would be a hidden easter egg, and I figured, what the heck – I didn’t get anything in return for it, so thought it would be cute for the drawing to be hidden in there. When it was featured as prominent artwork as part of the core game, it wasn’t exactly an ideal situation.

        I was, however, involved with the Director’s Cut version of BS1 for the Nintendo DS. I script edited the new content, play-tested the new puzzles (and was ignored over the ghastly stone door puzzle, before anyone tries to blame me!), and wrote the hint system and the diary entries. I was paid for this as a contracted worker for my time, back when I was a hapless freelancer scraping a living. As such, I no longer write about Cecil’s games, as it would obviously look super-dodgy. (Even though if I did of late, it wouldn’t be positive, since, well, see above.) And I’ve had nothing else to do with the series since, so you can blame me for NOTHING!

  3. N'Al says:

    I’m not too far into BS5 yet, but I think the criticisms of BS4 – which I only just completed a week or so ago – are spot on. I thought the stories in BS1 through BS3 worked pretty well in that they seemed fairly coherent and internally consistent; BS4, by contrast, felt like three separate stories cobbled together:

    *SPOILERS*

    The bits about the manuscript and the ‘treasure’,
    the bits about monatomic gold, and
    the bits about the ark.

    It just didn’t gel very well, which is a shame since the previous games did manage to combine several story strands like these much better.

    Also, it didn’t help that you were wandering around a sausage factory for a big part of the game in BS4.

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    AngelTear says:

    being fingered for murder

    Now, if that actually happened, I’d be more inclined to commit murder…

    (Sorry)

    Thanks for the captions on the screenshots, they were pretty funny :D

  5. Scurra says:

    Well I thought it was terrific, and the perfect conclusion to the Broken Sword trilogy (since we all know that #3 and #4 didn’t happen.) And whilst I agree that the story was a little unsteady, it fitted the pattern of the other two perfectly, riffing off their ideas without feeling too similar. (Plus I actually found the theology of this one more interesting, even if the resolution was a bit stupid.) I do think that the whole thing was more than the sum of its parts though.

    However I thought it was even more fantastic having played Moebius through to the bitter end the previous week. And by those standards, this is a coherent narrative masterpiece, in which everything works in a properly defined way, voice acting that was terrific, jokes that actually worked, puzzles that were both logical and felt like logical fits to the story and an interface that rarely got in the way. Even in the places where the two games shared similarities, such as locations that ran over more than one screen, Broken Sword made Moebius look even more fourth-rate than it already was.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Broken Sword 3 is a solid game aside from the Sokoban puzzles, even struggling with the move to 3D graphics that didn’t help it age well. (As well as arguably more of a sequel than BS2 was, with its move back to the Neo-Templars rather than jumping off in a totally different direction)

  6. Berzee says:

    “Nothing remotely supernatural happens until the last scene, with everything up to then simply assuming that we’ll just give the details a nod because that’s the kind of story we’re in.”

    Doesn’t this basically describe the first Broken Sword as well? I don’t remember anything supernatural happening in that until the end, and even then it was mostly ineffective. =P

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Sure, but there are some key differences in context. Broken Sword is primarily George’s investigation into the bombing, which turns out to be tied to the Templar conspiracy – there’s a slow but gentle shift from the modern to the historical story that allows for it to stay relatively low key until the finale. On a basic narrative level, it doesn’t really matter WHAT the Neo Templars are up to as long as it’s in some way tied to the Templar story – it would be functionally the same if they just wanted their lost gold or whatever.

      Serpent’s Curse on the other hand, while on the surface a similar story (modern day crime leads to mythological mystery) immediately sets its focus on the threat posed by the painting – characters like Father Simeon actively trying to establish the idea that we’re playing with world-changing stakes from the start. When you do that, and want to push the supernatural part of the story over the mundane (which Serpent’s Curse does – Gehnen himself is just an excuse villain to press the buttons on the MacGuffins) you have to justify the threat. It doesn’t, so what you get is a very flat story. It’s the equivalent of a Bond film talking up a villain as a huge threat to world security, but only ever cutting to them sitting on a beach reading a magazine and drinking daiquiris. You have to *show*, not just tell.

      • Berzee says:

        Point taken! (I still found the end of the first game a bit of a let-down but as you point out, at least there wasn’t terribly much in-game hype for it =).

        Tangentially, who wouldn’t love to watch that Bond movie? (especially if the villain is still just in his beach chair when the credits roll)

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    Oozo says:

    You know what I would pay money for? An adventure game written by Richard Cobbett. Seriously, the alt text in your WITs alone is way more fun than I have had with a lot of supposed comedy games.

    Devs, give this guy a job and let him laugh with you, instead of giving him just another opportunity to laugh at you. …or maybe not.

    Thanks for making me smile an awful lot, though, is what I’m trying to say.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Heh. Well, snarky captions are way easier for sure :-)

      • The Random One says:

        I feel you missed a perfect opportunity here to say “You know what you could pay money for? My Patreon! It’s like an adventure, except it’s me having an adventure instead of you and you’re just reading about it, which is a lot like playing an adventure, isn’t it? Donate Invest Patronize today!”

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    Vandelay says:

    I can’t really deny a lot of what is written above, yet I still had a good time with it. Personally, I found the gnosticism and decrypting the clues aspect intriguing, but there were still a lot of issues with flow of the plot.

    I think more damning was a lot of poor flagging of what you to do with some of the puzzles. For example, the moment you mention above involving Ava Maria is unclear whether you have actually accomplished anything once you have played it. Attempting it again only causes Nico to have the reaction. I was left unsure whether I was required to perform the other elements of the puzzle in some sort of a sequence or whether I should just assume that the music part was complete and move on. There were a couple of other moments like this too.

    The ending, although narratively fairly climatic, was rather abrupt from the gameplay side, with a rather obvious little item to use on the scenery leading directly into a closing cutscene.

    Still I had a good time and went away content with it. I would definitely still recommend it to anyone that has been waiting for both parts to be released as a fine way to while away 10 or so hours.

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    innokenti says:

    Captions a joy as ever!

    I did enjoy the second part much more than the first. To me it felt like it had a sense of pace and progression and I wanted to keep the story and puzzles moving. Indeed, they drew you along and I felt most of it progressed naturally. Yes, the story and stakes are a big problem, but I had sort of got over that not being a good fit by the end of the first episode.

    Not the best of the bunch, but extremely enjoyable, and a good mix of old and new.

  10. Greggh says:

    This isn’t going to be pretty

    I knew that, I was spoiled by your tweets Mr. Cobbett, you should have compiled them into this review – just blockquoted ‘em all IMHO XD

  11. Michael Fogg says:

    >>>a basic letter-substition cypher to decode

    Didn’t you miss a syble there?

  12. His Divine Shadow says:

    I think I can agree on pretty much everything in the review. The contrast between its incredibly serious subject matter (gnosticism) and how simplistic and unnuanced the overall story became was simply jarring. It really was a videogame story in the worst possible Roger Ebert way.

    That said, I don’t think it actually _fails_ as a Broken Sword game. As it happens, and didn’t play the first games back when they were fresh (I only played Gabriel Knights, assuming they were the same thing), and only played the remastered editions of 1 and 2 now, and I can’t say they were drastically, if at all, better. Well perhaps the first one was, a bit, since it felt more balanced and didn’t try too hard.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Oh, sure. The issues here have been part of the series from the start. Key differences though are that those games are closing on two decades old, and time/narrative techniques have very much moved on, and even disregarding that, their stories presented much less of a clash. It doesn’t so much fail as a Broken Sword game as embody the series’ longstanding problems – notably the aforementioned being tugged in so many different directions – in a way that isn’t able to repeat their usual trick of fusing the bits together to make the whole something more than the sum of its often finicky parts.

      • His Divine Shadow says:

        Yeah, it did feel like it got stuck in 1990s. I’m not sure if it was the team’s inability to do it differently, or them being scared of the fans’ outrage if they stray from the formula too much. After all, they did promise an old-school Broken Sword experience (did they? I think they did) and had to deliver.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          Being old school really isn’t the problem. It’s things like pacing, the choice of story and so on, which are largely disconnected to the interface and viewport. Sure, you’re not going to get big exciting chase sequences and whatever in this style, but you can absolutely have drama and dynamic moments.

          • Scurra says:

            Yeah, because hanging off a cable car doesn’t have any drama in it. (Actually, I thought that one sequence made the entire exercise worthwhile on so many levels. Indeed, you could arguably stop there and not bother with the “endgame” since the story is pretty much done at that point in terms of its message.)

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            Hanging off a cable car CAN have drama. It tends to lose it when the characters are so blasé about the entire thing that the explanation is “Eh, we caught it” and the bulk of it isn’t a long conversation about determinism vs. free will. In much the same way that staring down a gun tends to have more drama when it doesn’t kick off with a “Gesundheit” joke.

          • His Divine Shadow says:

            I guess what I was trying to say is that I ..well.. didn’t enjoy early BS games as much as I hoped I would either, so it’s not entirely unsurprising that BS5 left me feeling equally lukewarm. I agree with you about the series’ inherent conflict between attempted serious and childishly flippant (I think it started even with Beneath a Steel Sky), but I think it’s just fundamentally unfixable and is detrimental to the whole experience. The only way to fix it is to choose one way or another.

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            I think it’s fixable. The key though is that the basic vibe needs to be one of holiday adventure that deepens into a more serious drama, which uses its mythological/history elements for theme and spice rather than getting too bogged down in it. (By which I mean, details can breathe a sense of weight and realism in there, but I don’t think that outright making shit up is usually going to be in this series’ favour unless dealing with a secret so nebulous that anything can go in – the Voynich Manuscript in BS3 for instance was a fine anything-goes MacGuffin.)

            Beyond that, the drama really needs to come from how the modern story makes use of and resonates with them rather than getting too bogged down in the details, which are almost always going to be either a treasure map to a weapon or a weapon, and on a smaller scale than BS5’s because when you get to this level of world-changing MacGuffin, all suspension of disbelief is going to be replaced with “Oh, bullshit!”

            That might sound limited, but it allows for a ton of possibilities, not least some really cool ways to play around with the series’ general tropes. (I joke about the idea of just smashing the artefacts in an alt tag, but that’s actually a direction I’d really like to explore if I was designing one – if these things exist and have such destructive potential, why *wouldn’t* smart people in the know react to them by reaching for a bag of thermite?)

            Really, the pieces are all still here. It’s just a case of dragging Broken Sword back from being the series that’s trying to be cleverer than it is, and getting back to Broken Sword the smart, quirky adventure holiday.

            As said, I’d love to see that happen.

          • His Divine Shadow says:

            The graphics were good though, not sure why so many people seemed to have an issue with them.

  13. Halk says:

    Richard,

    while I of course respect your opinion, I think that you simply have a different taste in games than most point and click fans. So I don’t think that anyone interested in the game should be scared away from playing it because of your review.

    I could write much more about your review, but I am too lazy, so I will only pick out a few points. Yes, there are things to criticise in BS5, but IMHO not at all the things you point out.

    You complain that magic plays no role in the game until the very last moment. I think most people would actually consider that the biggest strength of the BS series. In BS1, we strictly speaking never saw ANY magic (unless you count the stones pulsating with blue light in the last scene). In BS2 we never saw any magic either, except in the final cutscene where Tezcatlipoca awakes and is instantly defeated. In probably the best point and click ever, namely Indy and Atlantis, we only see Atlantean technology, never really any magic (although advanced enough technology may look like magic to us).

    There already is too much magic in games. We are tired of it. That way it looses its, err, magic. We want it used sparingly. The point of the BS series is the historical and archaeological mistery, not the magical mystery.

    This also answers your statement about George and Nico not having any real stake in the story: This is not different from BS1 and BS2. They are simply curious people, as we PnC players are. For us, this is a good enough answer.

    This is the main thing BS3 did wrong. It showed and told us too much too early. And what we saw and heard seemed as if it was written by a third class cable TV astrologer. Apparently you like BS3, so maybe BS5, returning to the spirit of BS1 and BS2, simply has the wrong focus for your tastes.

    I thought the second goat puzzle was absolutely fine. It was classic point and click fare, and reasonably funny while still logical. On the other hand you say you liked the translation puzzle. For me this was one of the worst parts of the game, as this kind of puzzle rather caters to the Myst audience than the PnC audience. The average PnC player probably cringes every time an adventure game goes into close-up view for a puzzle like this.

    My personal view on the game is that it captures the BS1 and BS2 spirit perfectly. Yes, there is a certain sloppyness to many aspects of the game: Some strange holes and jumps in the plot (e.g., Father Simeon), I agree that episode 2 has a few very bad puzzles; episode 2 is too short; lots of little bugs like disappearing objects and scripting that does not quite account for all possible player behaviors; really sloppy technical implementation of the German version (changing speech volumes, sometimes George speaks instead of Nico and vice versa, some texts are not translated, sometimes no speech at all,…).

    This sloppyness is annoying, yes, and somewhat disappointing. But not a deal-breaker. And it cannot ruin the otherwise great game for me.

    Again, I respect your opinion; but I just think that this is the wrong game for you.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      “You complain that magic plays no role in the game until the very last moment. I think most people would actually consider that the biggest strength of the BS series.”

      As I explained in an earlier response, this is fundamentally misunderstanding the complaint. The earlier Broken Sword games didn’t suffer from this problem because the nature of their stories was different. They were not so strongly predicated on their magical elements because the magic was primarily spice on the modern story. This is not the case with The Serpent’s Curse, which is initially built around a painting presented as having magical powers (even though it ultimately doesn’t) and then goes on to rely on the premise that the villain’s plan will have a very specific, sweeping effect that our characters have to completely buy into (and indeed, do – George has his moments of skepticism, but for the most part in the second episode buys right into it.) The complaint is not that magic is or is not part of the story, but that the game fails utterly to sell the magical side that it chooses to brings to the table.

      (Broken Sword 2 isn’t a great comparison for anything on a narrative level though because while it’s a fun game that I like a lot, its storyline is piss-weak. Even so, it took some time to build in its fantastical elements prior to hitting the temple in the form of the stones, shaman, the introduction of the eclipse and so on. Not that WELL, but still far more effectively)

      “In probably the best point and click ever, namely Indy and Atlantis, we only see Atlantean technology, never really any magic (although advanced enough technology may look like magic to us).”

      By bringing it up as an example, you’re actually agreeing with me! It doesn’t matter whether we’re dealing with magic or technology per se, what matters is the nature of orichalcum and the stakes that it demonstrates for the story. Fate of Atlantis repeatedly demonstrates why this is a problem, with everything from Sophia’s psychic powers and Nur-Ab-Sal to the Nazi experiment that blows up a whole lab with a single bead of the stuff early on to its various practical uses later on. This is exactly how you handle this kind of story element. If it followed the Serpent’s Curse model, the only thing we’d get is an inert bead and a couple of random people saying “Ooooh, better be careful with that.”

      “There already is too much magic in games. We are tired of it. That way it looses its, err, magic. We want it used sparingly. The point of the BS series is the historical and archaeological mistery, not the magical mystery.”

      This is the game predicated on the idea of summoning Lucifer to kill God. Just saying. And again, the problem isn’t that there’s not enough magic per se, it’s that The Serpent’s Curse fails to sell what it put into the story it wanted to tell.

      “This also answers your statement about George and Nico not having any real stake in the story: This is not different from BS1 and BS2. They are simply curious people, as we PnC players are. For us, this is a good enough answer.”

      Okay, I let it go the first time, but: You don’t speak for an ‘us’ or a ‘we’. And that is a terrible answer even if you did. In both those games, they had a far stronger reason to be involved – especially if you factor in Nico’s retconned story in the Director’s Cut (though I didn’t care for it). In the first one, George is in the middle of the action from the start, as opposed to this one where he’s a bystander at best. In BS2, Nico’s kidnapping draws them into the story.

      In both cases, the games build up a plausible reason for them to be fully engaged when the story moved beyond that point. By your own admission, The Serpent’s Curse does not; like so much else in the story, it just assumes genre convention will paper over the cracks. And that’s poor writing. Ignorable writing, perhaps, but absolutely poor, when there are so many ways to put the characters more deeply into the story and actually make it *their* story.

      “On the other hand you say you liked the translation puzzle. For me this was one of the worst parts of the game, as this kind of puzzle rather caters to the Myst audience than the PnC audience. The average PnC player probably cringes every time an adventure game goes into close-up view for a puzzle like this.”

      Aaargh, PLEASE stop trying to speak for adventure fans in general. Speak for yourself. It’s all I can do, it’s all you can do. As someone who’s been playing them since the mid-80s, I’ve never once been invited to the great cabal where we all vote on these issues, and I’m fairly sure my membership card hasn’t been lost in the post.

      And no, I loathe the Myst series. But the translation puzzle was a more interesting way of discovering that piece of information in a way that it’s easy to suspend belief in… more or less… than many alternatives, so yes, I thought it was fine. I’m not a fan of crytography puzzles, but it served its purpose, was a slightly different kind of cryptography from the usual substitution cyphers, and felt like something that the characters who set it up might plausibly have done. So, yes. I thought it was fine.

      “Again, I respect your opinion; but I just think that this is the wrong game for you.”

      I’ve been a fan of the Broken Sword series since 1996. I very much wanted another Broken Sword game. I play adventure games all the time. I contributed to the Kickstarter, and sat down to play with high hopes. I replayed the first three shortly after the Kickstarter started (ignoring the fourth because I’d rather give myself dental surgery) and enjoyed them.

      If The Serpent’s Curse was the wrong game for me, I’m afraid the fault is not mine.

      • Halk says:

        >They were not so strongly predicated on their magical elements
        >because the magic was spice on the modern story.

        Not really. The Templar’s stone (I think that is what it was called) and its alleged magic powers are rather important in the game. Just like in BS5 the alleged powers of the painting. And in both cases early in the game we do not know how much of the claims about them are true. I don’t see a big difference.

        >that our characters have to completely buy into (and indeed, do –
        >George has his moments of skepticism, but for the most part in the
        >second episode buys right into it.)

        I did not understand the story like that. They buy into the painting being somehow imporant, but whether in a magical way or not remains unclear. Just like with the Templar’s stone in BS1.

        >(Broken Sword 2 isn’t a great comparison because while
        >it’s a fun game that I like a lot, its storyline is piss-weak)

        Again, disagreed. I don’t see how BS2’s story is significantly inferior to BS1’s. In fact I find it quite similar in its basic structure to that of BS1 (and in fact all parts of the BS series have stories similar in basic structure — which is not necessarily a bad thing).

        >with everything from Sophia’s psychic powers and
        >Nur-Ab-Sal to the Nazi experiments blowing it up
        >to its various practical uses.

        I actually would have liked it if they had shown less of that early in the game. I did kind of excuse it because it was not magic but technology, but nonetheless a few scenes in the early game were too much for my taste. I am thinking of the nazi lab scene or when Sophia inserts the orichalcum pearl for the first time and the earth shakes etc.

        >This is the game predicated on the idea of summoning Lucifer to kill God.

        Again, not how I understood the story.

        >In both those games, they had a far stronger reason to be involved

        Did they?

        In BS1, the Templars were only scary if you somehow believed there was something to the Templar stone’s power (magical or not). Even though George and Nico did not really have any reason to believe that, they still pursued the Templars. Most likely out of curiosity.

        In BS2 the same applies to the Tezcatlipoca threat. If you don’t believe in Tezcatlipoca then the only reason to follow the events is curiosity.

        It’s the same as in BS5 for the alleged Lucifer threat.

        >One goat puzzle as a cute callback? Cool.
        >Two goat puzzles? Not funny any more.

        As they were both very different, I don’t see the issue.

        But maybe that is because I never even took particular note of the goat puzzle in BS1. For me it was never more than one puzzle among many others. I only learned that the goat puzzle was “a thing” during the BS5 kickstarter campaign. So maybe that is why the two references to it in BS5 bothered me less.

        >If that makes it the wrong game for me, I’m afraid the fault is not mine.

        Of course. I just don’t think that your complaints about the game will be relevant for a large number of players, so I wanted to offer a different perspective. Of course I may be wrong.

        • Halk says:

          Sorry, it was the “Sword of Baphomet” not the Templar’s stone, but of course that does not change the argument at all.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          “Not really. The Templar’s stone (I think that is what it was called) and its alleged magic powers are rather important in the game. Just like in BS5 the alleged powers of the painting. And in both cases early in the game we do not know how much of the claims about them are true. I don’t see a big difference.”

          Stone?

          Anyway, they’re really not, and there’s a big one. A thing being relevant to the characters does not automatically make it important to the game. That’s why MacGuffins exist. They’re drivers for the plot, not the plot. (The big one in BS of course being the Broken Sword itself). And that’s fine, when that’s their purpose. But when they BECOME the plot, as the magical side of Serpent’s Curse is, the rules change. This is very basic narrative craft. Broken Sword doesn’t have to push its magical side to the front, because it’s not ABOUT that. It uses it as a multiplier to add extra drama and raise the stakes. But Serpent’s Curse IS about that, and fails to push it.

          “I did not understand the story like that. They buy into the painting being somehow imporant, but whether in a magical way or not remains unclear. Just like with the Templar’s stone in BS1.”

          The only reason the painting is held up as important is the talk of it being cursed, raising the devil and so on. That’s the mystery that story relies on for its primary stakes throughout the whole of Episode 1, because the threat of George losing his job sure as hell can’t cut it. Then in Episode 2 it gets thrown to one side after serving its purpose as yet another treasure map, with first the Tabula and Gehnen’s goofy ultimate plan taking center stage. On neither side are they built up to the necessary level to justify how the game ends or build the stakes it needs.

          “Again, disagreed. I don’t see how BS2′s story is significantly inferior to BS1′s. In fact I find it quite similar in its basic structure to that of BS1 (and in fact all parts of the BS series have stories similar in basic structure — which is not necessarily a bad thing).”

          The mythology plot is weak, the areas are gimmicky, the overall mystery surface level and the villains forgettable – both Tezcatlipoca as an off-screen force of darkness and Karzac as his deeply unimpressive face in the modern story. Not that Broken Sword had great ones, but at least it had characters like Khan and to some extent the Inspector to fill the gaps. Amongst other things. It’s a much better written and funnier game, with some cool areas, but the plot is rushed and wafer thin.

          “I actually would have liked it if they had shown less of that early in the game. I did kind of excuse it because it was not magic but technology, but nonetheless a few scenes in the early game were too much for my taste. I am thinking of the nazi lab scene or when Sophia inserts the orichalcum pearl for the first time and the earth shakes etc.”

          Then that is your taste, and that’s fine. I fundamentally disagree though. Too much explanation can absolutely kill a story – hello, midichlorians – and of course mysteries are important to, but there has to be enough to at least demonstrate the stakes of the story or there are no stakes at all. Just hearsay. Usually the dull kind.

          “Again, not how I understood the story.”

          Well, that’s the plot!

          “In BS1, the Templars were only scary if you somehow believed there was something to the Templar stone’s power (magical or not). Even though George and Nico did not really have any reason to believe that, they still pursued the Templars. Most likely out of curiosity.”

          Or more practically, them being an evil secret organisation with a shit-ton of resources whose existence they are fully aware of, they’ve gotten in the face of, and they’ve faced death as a result of tangling with. The fact they have a magic sword is the final reveal and in-universe a big deal, but not what drives them as a threat in the story.

          “In BS2 the same applies to the Tezcatlipoca threat. If you don’t believe in Tezcatlipoca then the only reason to follow the events is curiosity.”

          No, it’s multiple kidnappings. By the time Tezcatlipoca and the Jaguar stones enter the picture properly, there have been enough pieces to get them involved (along with on a mundane level, Nico’s dealings with Karzac’s company – Transglobal or whatever) on the magical side. All they have in BS5 is one cranky man’s claims and the fact that some other guy has bothered to spend a lot of money on what’s not going to be a wild goose chase because that would make for one boring, shitty ending.

          “It’s the same as in BS5 for the alleged Lucifer threat.”

          No, it’s not. George completely buys into it after Marquez’ death with no evidence whatsoever, with everything that happens simply assuming everyone else will too.

          “I just don’t think that your complaints about the game will be relevant for a large number of players”

          Bad storytelling is bad storytelling. If the rest makes up for it in the eyes of players, then I’m glad they enjoyed it. But for me, this story simply isn’t good enough or sufficiently well told. That’s Wot I Think, so that’s Wot I Said. Other people are free to make their own calls on whether they agree or not, or even care. All I can do is explain my reasoning, and let that be filtered accordingly.

          • Halk says:

            >The only reason the painting is held up as important is the
            >talk of it being cursed, raising the devil and so on.

            No, it’s because several murders are committed in connection with it, despite the fact that it is not a very valuable painting.

            That Father Simeon talks too much is true (and ridiculous), but the story would work as well if he did not exist at all.

            >they’ve faced death as a result of tangling with.

            … as in BS5.

            >The fact they have a magic sword is the final reveal

            The sword is mentioned rather early, I believe when George listens in to the conversation of the Templars in the sewers.

            >No, it’s multiple kidnappings.

            Compare with multiple murders in BS5.

            >That’s Wot I Think, so that’s Wot I Said.

            Ditto.

            Of course you can dislike the game all you like. I just think the problem with your review is that it creates the impression that BS5 is very different from BS1 and BS2, when I believe it is not. Actually, here in the comment section you acknowledge yourself that the weaknesses that you see in BS5 have largely also been present in BS1 and BS2. You excuse them because they were old games, and apparently you would have liked to see something more modern in BS5.

            Well, the WHOLE POINT of BS5 was to go back to the style of BS1 and BS2. That was the project. That’s what people paid for in the Kickstarter. “More modern” has been unsuccessfully attempted with BS3 and BS4. So (modulo the slight but annoying problems with the execution I mentioned above) I would say the game is a success measured by that standard.

            That your taste in games has changed since 1996 should not deter people whose tastes have not. That is why I felt it was necessary to write my initial comment.

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            “Compare with multiple murders in BS5.”

            There isn’t a good comparison to be made. The kidnappings in Broken Sword 2 are directly relevant to the characters. George is so unfased about Henri’s that his first comment is mocking the guy’s fashion sense, which is hardly the same as a drug cartel running off with Nico and trying to kill him. The fact that a thing is in a game doesn’t mean it serves the same narrative purpose or has the right effect. Ditto with your claim about them being in danger, in a game where even the villain is so blase that he can’t be bothered to waste a bullet on them before heading off to do his plan. Context is key.

            “Actually, here in the comment section you acknowledge yourself that the weaknesses that you see in BS5 have largely also been present in BS1 and BS2. You excuse them because they were old games, and apparently you would have liked to see something more modern in BS5.”

            (sigh) No. I would like to see games evolve and improve, but once again you’re missing the entire point of what was said in your rush to try and score debating points. Broken Swords 1 and 2 shared a number of these problems, but they *also worked despite them*. The Serpent’s Curse doesn’t, partly because of poor writing, but mostly because it doesn’t support the story it wants to tell. On paper, it may sound okay, but the execution is dreadful.

            Anyway, we’re just going around in circles at this point, so I’m done.

          • tnzk says:

            As an observer of this little debate, and as a fan of the Broken Sword series who hasn’t yet played The Serpent’s Curse, I’m siding with Richard on this one.

            I think Richard would agree that it would be great if Broken Sword 5 returns to the spirit of the original two. Apparently it has, and that’s good. What’s not good is that while it has the spirit of the first two adventures, it fails to build upon it in quality.

            I’m not sure I just want a mediocre adventure that happens to be in the same vein as the first two BS games. Gimme the spirit of the original and absolute quality. Show me a Revolution Studios who’s learned over the course of five video games how to capitalize on what makes the series great. Don’t just give me same old, same old. If I wanted the spirit of the original with the baggage of the original…. I’d just play the original.

            And as for your initial comment Halk, it is Richard’s job to scare people away if the game simply isn’t up to snuff. A person like that would be me. However, while I understand his concerns, I believe I can get over them seeing as I’m a fan of the series, and therefore I will end up purchasing it soon. I just won’t have to do it right away.

            Kentucky Route Zero and Blackwell Epiphany, here I come.

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            “What’s not good is that while it has the spirit of the first two adventures, it fails to build upon it in quality.”

            Yes, that. It’s a Broken Sword game. It’s just not a very good one, by modern adventuring or its own series’ standards.

          • Halk says:

            Okay, Richard, clearly we have reached an impasse, so it makes no sense to continue the discussion. Everything has been said.

            But, just out of curiosity, as you mention it in your last comment: Which games in your opinion, define the “modern adventuring standards”?

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            God no. One can of worms at a time.

          • gwathdring says:

            @Richard Cobbet

            If you ever feel like opening that can of worms as an article in which you discuss the state of modern adventure gaming, I’d be mighty interested!

  14. Premium User Badge

    strangeloup says:

    It’s a little bit depressing when a review of a new game reads like a Saturday Crapshoot of some dusty old title.

    Of course, that’s then immediately counteracted by some excellent alt-text work, which put a grin on my face.

    A really good read in any case. I was dimly curious about this, but I suspect it’s not something I’ll buy unless it shows up at a ridiculously huge discount.

    • tnzk says:

      I’d suggest that if you are a fan of the Broken Sword series, do take a look at other reviews for this game. Richard’s is uniquely negative, though convincingly so.

      I think Eurogamer’s review sums it up best for those who like the series but want to know if it actually is a good game on its own merits:

      “It’s not without its problems, and it’s unfortunate that those who supported it first had the lesser experience thanks to the inorganic switch to a half-baked episodic format. But it’s also doubtful that anyone who loves this series will come away too disappointed by the end result. Like meeting up with an old friend for coffee, it’s a pleasure to be savoured.”

      • Richard Cobbett says:

        Yes, absolutely check out other reviews and other viewpoints. I don’t mean that snarkily, I think it’s always good practice. (Ah, the joys of not having to put a score on WITs…)

      • Premium User Badge

        strangeloup says:

        Fair. I did like the first two, the third was… well, I mostly remember sliding block puzzles, and I never played the fourth as I was reliably informed it was terrible.

        I don’t think I’d go as far as saying I was a fan, really, because that implies more than “I liked two games in this series back in the 90s”. It’s currently about twice the cost that I’d be willing to chance on its pedigree, in any case.

  15. tomimt says:

    Personally I enjoyed BS5 quite a bit. It is true tough, that the narrative is not as strong as it could be, but overall it is very pleasant game.

  16. MichaelGC says:

    One exploded goat is never enough.

  17. Xander77 says:

    A question for Richard / other people who feel nostalgic about the series:

    Could you describe the two leads personalities without referencing their job / nationality? The girl is… kinda sassy, and the guy is… kinda nerdy, I guess?

    I never got the appeal of the series in general, but I specifically don’t get “ah, George and Nicole, you sure are well developed characters that I’m excited to be reunited with”.