It is hard to deny that the adventure-genre, mainly the point-and-click iteration, was in adire situations in the early 2000’s. Even Cecil himself blamed the new age of 3D and the Playstation for the decline of adventure-games. While I don’t believe these are the sole reasons to their decline, Revolution’s rise ironically happened not just thanks to the Wii and DS remakes of the first Broken Sword, but also Apple. They contacted Revolution, asking them to rerelease Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars: Director’s Cut and Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror: Remastered for their devices, leading to also porting the game to phone-devices and PC. This helped Revolution tremendously, as they were commissioned 70% of the revenue rather than the expected 7%.
Thanks to the digital market and with how popular Broken Sword 1 and 2 became, Revolution was once again ready to revive their series. While they started self-funding their next title, they also decided to use Kickstart in order to gain more support. When the team’s Kickstarter-goal was achieved, they were able to go further and make the game more in tone with the adventure-aspect of the first two titles, and focus on more diverse puzzles. I actually backed this project and owned both the episodic titles since they were released, but I have not touched them until this review. I am excited, interested, and pray this is not a Kickstarter-failure.
Revisiting the past’s concept
After opening with two quotes and witnessing an assault on a Spanish family in 1937, we are cut to Paris in present day where an exposition is held, with one of the key-pieces being a painting from the murdered family. Inside we see some familiar faces, including George Stobbart who is now working as an insurance assessor for this gallery and coincidentally met Nico here. Before they can catch up, a robbery takes place with the thief only taking the Spanish painting, as well as firing his gun at one man, killing him. Nico gives chase after the criminal, while George investigates the crime scene.
Broken Sword 5 clearly revisits concepts from the first game, having a painting instead of a manuscript to decipher, dealing with religious symbolism, and the murder taking place in Paris. It starts out slow and well-paced, building up a nice mystery of why this painting is so important, the question on what motivation anyone involved might have, and what dark secrets are held. The lore is also intriguing and while leaning rather heavily on the religious beliefs rather than (the) historical facts, it is quite interesting, dealing with Gnosticism, as well as themes of liberty and order.
Sadly, one of the key problems with the story is how it is paced after the introduction. It all slows down to a halt, and while there is tension due to uncertainty on what is really going on, there is a huge amount of exposition for what the painting deals with. The answers to the mysteries is also revealed just halfway through the game. Because of the lack of lore-building mystery, it makes the last half uninteresting, to the point where there clearly were some events cut to make this story smaller than what it could have been. There are also areas that would have been interesting to visit that are connected to the mystery, but these are only used as guiding-points on the map for finding the last pieces to solve this case. What also makes this mystery tiresome, are the amount of unnecessary clues. Getting a few for finding your next step or an answer is one thing, but there are so many you have to decipher which tells you what you already knew for the third time.
These could have been just a couple of flaws that would have made the story just off-paced, as the plot is still captivating, and while more on the beliefs rather than historical facts, I did learn a lot about this religious faith that was fascinating. However, there is a bigger problem Broken Sword 5 has: a lack of personality. Again, it starts out strong with familiar faces that are a nice nod to past games, and all have something chuckle-worthy about them. My favourite example might be a policeman who hinders you from entering a crime-scene, despite that you must talk to the commissioner inside to gain access, just because of his loyalty to his boss. It is delightfully silly, and George Stobbart still cracks some hilarious jokes.
Unfortunately, personalities dwindle with every minute that passes and while some humorous comments are provided by George, such as giving a cockroach an adorable name, or giving sarcastic feedback to unhelpful NPC’s, there is not much else to speak of. It almost feels like they start off the game with a lot of nostalgic setups, concepts and charm, before they set aside the personalities, making the characters forgettable. They do definitely include some over the top moments in the story, the characters turn into either one-dimensional figures or become too plain to be describable. It is a shame as there is a lot of interactions between characters, but after the first hour, only the occasional comments from George are entertaining and memorable. Not even the chemistry between Nico and George are well made, as they talk like they have no connection and just state the obvious. Because of this, the character-portraits you can unlock for reading more about the characters feel rather pointless.
These huge problems with uneven progression to the plot and characters that do not get to shine, is what hurts a story that does understand what was so fantastic about the earlier titles in the series. It has all the right pieces with gripping lore and amusing commentaries, but it just has no idea how to go further with its story in a consistent and meaningful matter. Lastly, while it does provide an interesting theme of balance, it all ends with a terrible pun that is followed by an awkward silence. Not the best result overall.
Story Score: 5/10
Point-and-click for the touch-generation
I am happy to announce that Broken Sword 5 sticks with a traditional point-and-click setup, with heavy influences from Broken Sword 1 and 2. There is even an optional tutorial should you be new to this concept, though honestly: it is quite easy to master. You simply explore areas, try to find clues, solve puzzles, pick up and use items on other objects or characters, and find the needed information by inspecting items, or finding the right conversation-topic with the right character. It is traditional, but solid and works wonderfully, with the interface being based of the Director’s Cut version of the first Broken Sword for easy navigation, item-pouch, and options. There is even a helpful hint-system should you be completely lost.
The puzzles are also well made, requiring you to pay attention for items to pick up, and what you can use them on, with subtle hints being scattered nearby. It is a shame then when you have to physically look at an object or talk to someone for you to be able to make certain actions, just because your character in game does not know what to do, despite you knowing. Luckily, this kind of padding is not common, but noticeable. Most puzzles, however, are easy until the very last part of the game, where some can be incredibly difficult. To give you an idea, it ranges from simply spelling the name of a fictional, Arabic character, to deciphering a letter where the alphabet is replaced with symbols. It can be quite uneven in difficulty-spike, but the puzzles are usually entertaining.
This is again a problem with the game: the uneven progression. The difficulty can be off and some puzzles are too easy to be enthralling, but they are entertaining and the game does always keep you going and engaged. In fact, I think this is a great instalment for newcomers or those seeking something light. It will be entertaining for veterans too, but can be too easy at times.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
An interesting representation of the series
Revolution sourced experienced layout artists that had worked for companies such as Disney, DreamWorks, Universal Studios, Aardman, and more for getting the best out of any animation they could. This led to them bringing in Tori “Cat” Davis, who had worked on acclaimed titles like Arthur Christmas. She created and managed the hand-drawn environments for the game and oversaw the work of the background painters, while the game’s lead animator, Craig Gardiner, oversaw the work of the animation team to ensure the character animations were consistent and did not feel out of place. Meanwhile, Tim Robins was the graphic artist and was responsible for the visual style of interactive elements in the game, as well as serving as an assistant layout artist.
I spend so much time talking about the creation here, as the backgrounds are gorgeous. They are filled with minor details, be they small cracks in the sidewalk, windows holding plants, or simply diverse use of colours to give the game a subtle feel of lighting. It is amazing how colourful and diverse each area is, and I am impressed by the art being so incredibly captivating and fulfilling, making me want to explore every nook and cranny. Characters are just as wonderfully modelled and well rendered. These were first made into 3D-models with a cell-shaded style, but implemented with 2D-sprites, making them fit perfectly into the world with the 2D backgrounds. It is the design alone that make the characters distinct, colourful and memorable. They do have stiff movements and certain animations for travelling are clearly vehicles just shrinking in size. Though this is easy to overlook thanks to just how lovely the game is visually and that the facial-animations and other kinds of movements are well implemented.
The game uses the Virtual Theatre 7, which adds a lovely detail to make every character move around without going away from the areas they are supposed to be located at. However, while the game is beautiful and made with quality, there is a lack in diverse areas to explore. You will travel to different areas in Paris and London, but they could be mistaken for one another, and while Spain and one more area provide some intriguing locations, they are short-lived and it is a shame these places could not be more unique or that the game does not contain more areas to visit. Because of this, the journey feels smaller than what it actually is and certain places only become distinct because you are staying there for longer periods of time. Thus the artistic aspect of the world is lacking, despite the incredible amount of quality put in here.
What is amazing though, is that Barrington Pheloung returns as the composer, and he gives all he’s got, with both old tunes being used, as well as some newer ones. These provide a lovely, slow soundtrack that, while reminiscent to the original, is symphonic rather than orchestrated, providing a calm or tense atmosphere depending on the melody, with every single piece of instrument being easy to hear, which is just fantastic. All songs also take geographical inspirations, such as including an accordion by the sea, or echoed effects when things seem dire or you are inside a cave. The two songs provided by Miles Gilderdale are also a nice treat and fit the game by being well implemented as a part of the world with vinyls. This is again a nice callback to the original game, where tunes on the radio could be heard.
Although the voice-acting is okay, people sound incredibly calm at times, even when they are supposed to be shocked. They have distinctive tones and all characters are recognisable by their voices alone, but the direction is all over the place. There are some voice-actors from the first game reprising their roles, and while Nico is not one of them, the replacement does a great job and Rolf Saxon still gives George the charm he has always been known for.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Sadly, while Broken Sword 5 is still a decent entry, it relies too much on nostalgia to keep you engaged and is a limited experience that feels over before it starts. I am happy that they are still going in the right direction, and provide elements with quality, but not necessarily a good progression or intriguing variety. It is somewhat like meeting a troubled friend who has tried to get himself together: it might not be a great reunion and he might be stuck in his own nostalgia, but it is hard to not say it was a good time too. Despite being uncertain if you ever wanna meet up again.