It's like holding George and Nico in your hands.
The point-and-click adventure game has seen a resurgence in the past few years, so much so that Broken Sword developer Revolution Software successfully raised $770,000+ on Kickstarter for the fifth entry in the series. It's not the most wildly popular name in the adventure genre, but clearly its dual protagonists and subtle humor appeal to many fans. Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse showcases that appeal for the first time on Sony's handheld platform—PlayStation Vita—with mixed results. The distinctive art style and charismatic personalities shine, but touch-specific controls knock the experience down a peg or two.
Broken Sword 5's narrative concerns itself with a mysterious painting titled “La Malediccio.” Following a brief flashback in World War II-era Spain, the game shifts to modern-day Paris to show the theft of the painting by a fake delivery man, who also murders someone. Series protagonists George Stobbart and Nico Collard happen to run into each other at the art gallery during the theft and the responsibility falls on them to uncover the truth behind the painting and the identity of the culprit. Their search begins in Paris, but eventually the game turns into a globetrotting affair as players also visit London. It's a simple premise that slowly becomes more complicated—emphasis on slowly.
The game presents a compelling story with genuinely entertaining twists and turns. Its historical background and connection to Gnostic Gospels in particular establishes a level of narrative uniqueness that only strengthens the experience. Unfortunately, it takes its sweet time getting there. I'm not the kind of guy who requires non-stop thrills, but stilted pacing clearly stands out as one of Broken Sword 5's weaknesses. The first section in the art gallery, as both George and Nico investigate the crime scene, is only the first example. Eventually I was more than ready for a change in scenery.
Though the game lingers at times, it avoids much of the tediousness with strong writing and even stronger personalities. Players control both George and Nico throughout the adventure, and I grew to like them both over the course of the first episode. The two are American and French respectively, which establishes a nice contrast in both personality and voice-acting. George provides much of the game's humor, which can best be described as subtle but effective and the English major in me particularly enjoyed the Kafka joke in the opening hours of the game. Broken Sword 5 also features memorable side characters, such as the haughty Hector Laine who also witnesses the murder/theft.
But narrative and characters only serve as part of the adventure game formula—puzzles and mechanics provide the balance. Broken Sword 5 doesn't completely stumble in this area, but the puzzles feel like barriers to each new story bit. The lacking difficulty plays a large role in giving the player that feeling. Rarely did I find myself stumped by any one puzzle and even when I was it usually involved a clue I had yet to observe or a dialogue option I failed to recognize. I do commend the game for reasonable logic-based puzzles, though—I've played my fair share of adventure games with ridiculous solutions.
A lot of the game involves scouring the environment for specific clues or items, which proves frustrating on PS Vita. No mouse and keyboard mean players will rely on the touchscreen and the control scheme transition stands as the Vita version's biggest flaw. I clearly remember my investigation of the first crime scene—there was a lot to observe, so I had to drag my finger around the environment to find icons to tap. However, movement is also controlled by tapping the touch screen, so I would move when I wanted to view items and vice versa. The entire time I thought to myself, “This probably controls a lot better on the computer.”
That said, Broken Sword 5 on the Vita does allow fans to take George and Nico with them on the go. The troublesome touch controls result in a lesser experience, but at its core Broken Sword 5 is still a solid adventure game. It touts undeniable charm and likeable characters that help compensate for slow pacing and simplistic puzzles. Now I play the waiting game and hope part two comes to the Vita soon—man, I hate cliffhangers.
Code provided by publisher. Based on PlayStation Vita version. Also available for PC, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS.