Point and click adventures have been a PC favourite for years due to their widespread appeal. Younger generations were taken in by interactive stories and colourful scenery that created an experience bordering somewhere in the middle of reading a book and enjoying a game. Casual gamers are drawn to the almost relaxed nature of a point and click, because it’s possible to take your time and enjoy the scenario while relying on problem solving rather than hacking and slashing. This genre even offers plenty to those more hardcore gamers seeking challenges, thrills, and atmosphere laden horror. From the moment we had a PC, I learned to love the genre, and not just because our PC probably couldn’t run anything more demanding than that. From Myst and Riven, to the more recent Year Walk and Dark Falls, it’s clear that the genre has established a pretty clear recipe. So, can Revolution’s latest addition to their most popular series successfully bring all of these elements together?
Without a distinguishable art style and a strong visual presentation, a point-and-click adventure is likely to fail before it even begins. Revolution has cleverly carried on the beautiful visuals of the earlier titles, yet they feel fresh and appear so bright and sugary: the scenery almost looks like it’s made from candy and Disney animals. As this was my first time playing a Broken Sword (I later went back to make comparisons and keep my curiosity happy) I was slightly put off by the sharp and almost chirpy artwork. I was expecting a murder case with underlying conspiracies but was greeted by such tidy, sunny graphics that I fumbled trying to assess the mood of the game. As I played, the visuals kept me interested even if the story didn’t, I found that the areas to explore were designed with the intent of making everything interactive and with plenty of detail. The rooms were clearly laid out to provide some direction for your exploration, but never in such a way that it ruined the discovery by tacking a flashing red arrow over an object or making a single item visible over the rest of the surroundings. The depth and personality of the areas and characters was by far the crowning glory for this entry, and as such, I was a little miffed when I ran out of places to explore. I look forward to new locations in the second chapter!
It’s common for point-and-click adventure games to explore narrative through interactions with the surroundings, and with items like newspapers, journals or clues; Broken Sword 5 has adapted to use both a non-dialogue narrative and a heavy portion of conversation-led story. While you speak to the characters you find to help you fill in the blanks and discern your next move you are given a set amount of legroom; you can ask the NPC about any of the topics provided or take anything out of your inventory to give or show them. This gives you the illusion of choice without ever giving you the option to adjust the linear storyline, but it also gives you the information your character needs to progress while making long stretches of dialogue entertaining. The script alone in Broken Sword 5 was one of my favourite things as it constantly came out of left field and kept the story witty with characters such as the melancholic waiter, who was easily the most sarcastic, yet philosophical dude ever. Dialogue narratives can easily become boring talking heads, but entertaining voice actors and humorous topic deviations meant less time fast forwarding and more time appreciating the game almost in a film like sense.
Admittedly, it took a long time for the story to progress to a point where I was officially hooked, although, with that being said, this may partly be because it was my first time with the characters. I had no investment in them, but in saying that, it should not have impacted on the interest in the story. And so, after around an hour with only scarce hints at the bigger picture, I was starting to become impatient for the ‘real’ story, however, once it finally took off in another direction, I found it to be involving and addictive right up to the point where I prepared myself for an all-night with the game. Sadly though, it was not long after that when Revolution, who had been dangling this intriguing and epic development in my face, decided to be completely cruel and end the game. Well played, I walked right into this episodic narrative trap and now have to hold my breath until part two can grace my screen.
Naturally, this is the type of genre that automatically puts your observational skills on high alert, and ready for anything that seems out of the ordinary; this is likely why I didn’t even notice the soundtrack. To comment on it for this review, I actually had to go back to my one line notes of the music and then play through parts of the game again. It’s not that the music was forgettable, but more so partnered with the visuals, responding beautifully to certain moments in the story. When a conversation hits the sweet spot, where the secrets are finally spilled, the music builds mysteriously and adds to the excitement without overpowering the game. The more intense or ridiculous situations were only improved by the underlying score, adding atmosphere and drama without harming the dialogue or story. Interestingly, the only time I did consciously notice the music was when it was absent, for example, during plot points that required some back and forth investigating or when searching quieter zones. Honestly, I felt it would have benefited from some sort of backing track instead of simply hearing my sound effects, but none the less, I was still impressed by all the effects I did hear. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, but the game actually had a favourite sound effect for me: Trevor the roach. I can only assume that Revolution recorded someone actually trapping a roach in a matchbox and his subsequent biscuit feeds too.
The gameplay of a point-and-click adventure isn’t as straightforward as it sounds because in no way does simply clicking around guarantee a successful venture. Broken Sword 5 keeps the scenery accurate enough that players can investigate realistically, and this means that while George is standing on the footpath, he can see through the store window, but couldn’t tell you if there was an axe murderer hiding in the vines on the floor above him just because you clicked there. This logical interaction makes putting together the clues fairly simple once you get the hang of it. As a first timer to Broken Sword, I did struggle with the very first room; it asked me to figure out how to open the locked door, so I made the mistake of assumption, and Broken Sword 5 is not a fan of that, or predictability. I wasted time and got frustrated as I tore the room apart and grilled the NPCs for answers; it was only by accident that I realised that I could leave the room… OH! Now we’re getting somewhere! Utilizing limited roaming and hard-won hints from the people involved soon make for smooth sailing and engaging puzzles.
Along the way, you will hoard several items to which their purpose is not as obvious as you’d think. However, fiddling around with most of the items, whether it’s altering them or using them as part of a puzzle is usually very straightforward. At no point did trying solutions or variations become difficult because of the gameplay, and thus, an intelligent design meant objects behaved exactly as you’d expect. However, the one object that misbehaved was a magical disappearing broom that belonged to Nico; it was never seen again after she disposed of it in her back pocket. Although, in saying that, the game still offered freedom with the items, and so, even if it wasn’t the correct choice, it would respond accordingly; often in a very entertaining way. For example, during a teary scene with a Widow, I made the wrong choice and offered her leftover biscuit from my pet roach. I regret nothing.
Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse has masses of sensory candy for players to enjoy, and will likely keep the fans of the series happy. While at first, being bored and impatient, I eventually made a full turn around by the end of the game and am now very eager to get my hands the next installment. It is my observation that a point-and-click of this calibre requires the proper approach and mindset to be enjoyed; don’t come at the game wanting to see whodunit and discounting the conversations and processes. Play it undistracted and turned up loud as if it were a movie. Also, take it slowly. It’s meant to be enjoyed and appreciated as an exciting adventure for those of us with no plans to go to all the bother of an actual adventure. A point-and-click adventure might not be everybody’s first choice in gaming entertainment, and while I’m not saying it should be, the genre deserves to be recognised for it’s longevity, charm, and the way it boldly stands on its own. Broken Sword: The Serpents Curse creates an escape from the real world with enviable locations, hidden sky-pigs and unnerving nods at revelations to come; it deserves the time to experience it in full-preferably before episode two is released. It’s only just getting started!