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Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Revolution Software
Release Date: Sept. 21, 2018

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Switch Review - 'Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse'

by Andreas Salmen on Oct. 29, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Broken Sword: The Serpent's Curse is an adventure that will hurl intrepid lawyer George Stobbart and sassy journalist Nico Collard onto the trail of a murderous conspiracy forged in the cauldron of war-torn Europe.

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The point-and-click adventure genre is one of the oldest and most consistent genres in the video game industry, and while it hasn't seen many radical innovations over the decades, there's arguably no better way to tell a story, especially a crime-heavy one. Broken Sword is probably the best-known adventure series that is still running, most recently with a port to the Nintendo Switch for its latest release, Broken Sword 5. While it's certainly a good entry point to the series and adds a few extras that weren't previously included, the Switch iteration is as entertaining as it's underwhelming.

Broken Sword follows the crime-turned-conspiracy-theory adventures of Nico Collard and George Stobbart, who have been solving complex cases for over 20 years. While the series struggled to maintain quality and focus in early installments, the fifth part is a return to form with good writing, a technically and mechanically sound experience, and a bit of nostalgia. Playing a Broken Sword game can feel like coming home to family and friends in an alternate reality — except there's always a dead person at the family reunions.

Broken Sword 5 is no exception. Both our protagonists attend an art gallery event; Nico is a journalist, and George is the insurance worker who's securing it. Things take a turn for the worse when a motorcycle helmet-wearing thug grabs a particular painting, La Mallediccio, and shoots the gallery owner on his way out. Nothing adds up, and soon enough, the painting itself becomes more interesting than the theft and murder. The tale is also rife with heavy religious overtones and the conspiracy theories that often develop in Broken Sword titles. It's a generally well-told story that doesn't overstay its welcome; it can get slow at some points, but the pace picks up soon afterward. The general way it's told, with historical facts and fiction mixed together, is enough to keep players motivated through the 10-hour campaign.

We start our investigation at the crime scene in the art gallery and work our way forward. Shady business owners, fake insurance policies, and an incompetent inspector are the least of our worries as we try to piece everything together. Broken Sword 5 takes a traditional approach to the genre, with closed-off environments that offer scripted dialogue options and classic inventory puzzles that never get too complex or nonsensical. This enables a good flow through the game that is far from a breeze but doesn't provide insurmountable roadblocks. It may occasionally lack the challenge some veterans seek, but it does a good enough job in providing content that can be enjoyed, regardless of a player's skill level.

We walk around the scene and interact with objects. We can look, pick up, talk, take, and use as we take a tour through the beautifully re-created Paris and other locations. Items can be used in conjunction or combined with a few context-sensitive dialogue options, so interacting with the game world is generally fun. Sometimes, we may even solve a small, self-contained puzzle to activate a machine or other electronic devices; these never pose an increased challenge, but they mix things up. Puzzles are kept logical, not to the point where they're too easy or too tough. The result is an adventure that definitely won't go down as the hardest or smartest in puzzle design, but it's an enjoyable ride that consistently adds little manageable puzzles along the way.

Puzzles can still get frustrating, not due to difficulty but the way we interact with the environment. The best way to play Broken Sword 5 on the Switch is in handheld mode with the built-in touch-screen. While this works as intended most of the time, the screen can be too small to interact with certain objects or recognize that you can interact with them in the first place. There will be plenty of situations where you're looking for something nearby, but finding the item can be frustratingly difficult, and you'll scour the screen to find the exact tiny spot. This is lessened when playing on a big screen with the classic controller, but it isn't completely gone even then.

Dialogue in Broken Sword 5 is serviceable, especially for an adventure where voice acting can occasionally be a total disaster. Broken Sword does a mostly good job here, with only a few situations where the voice acting and writing are off the mark. Apart from that, you can look forward to witty dialogue with interesting and awkward characters. It would've been nice to have some more freedom with dialogue options, but then again, the game was initially released about five years ago, so we have to take its age into account.

Visually, the game looks incredible. The semi-real representation of Paris is realized with beautifully hand-drawn environments, detailed character models, and a good lighting engine. It's a looker for visual fidelity alone. The only thing that isn't on par here are the animations, which aren't fluid and can appear as if they were running on a lower frame rate. It doesn't destroy the experience, but when looking at the otherwise gorgeous aesthetics, the animations stick out.

As I've already mentioned, Broken Sword 5 is a port of a five-year-old game. While the game is still pretty enjoyable, especially for existing fans of the series, it may put off a few people due to its price. Broken Sword 5 retails for $30, a price that is difficult to justify when the title is available on a huge number of devices for significantly less money. It's even been released for smartphones at a price point far below $20, which arguably provides a similar portable experience to the Switch. Minor improvements, such as the inclusion of a few short bonus videos, don't add enough value to a game that can otherwise be completed in about 10 hours.

All in all, Broken Sword 5 is a good adventure with good visuals, a good story, and enjoyable puzzle segments. It's not the hardest, it's not the best, and it certainly comes at a price point many won't find acceptable, but it's an enjoyable experience nonetheless.

Score: 7.1/10

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