Reunited and it feels so good

If the holiday gaming season has left you feeling a bit bloated, now’s a great time to deflate with some indie fare that recalls a simpler time in the pastime’s history. A time when solving problems meant clicking on every square inch of the screen with your mouse, or taking abuse from a goat.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse – Episode 1 should make old-school adventure game fans crack a smile, though that merriment will give way to a frown of concentration in no time. The title, funded by a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, reunites old friends George Stobbart and Nicole (Nico) Collard, and gives them a fresh new conspiracy to dive into. While the Templars took the spotlight in previous games, Nico and George now find themselves tangled up in a plot involving the Gnostic Gospels and a stolen painting that gives off unsettling, almost blasphemous, vibes.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse - Episode 1

As is the case in previously-released Broken Sword games, getting ahead in The Serpent’s Curse is all about interacting with your environment. Either Nico or George walks from scene to scene (the story flips between the two viewpoints) and investigates curiosities by putting their virtual hands all over them. On occasion, they may find an item that can be collected and used elsewhere. Is there a shiny object of interest just beyond the grille of an air conditioner vent? That would be a perfect time to use that paperclip you happened to pick up earlier, don’t you think?

Most of the time, these logic puzzles come together with a little click that makes you feel good about yourself. Occasionally, however, they pull you away from the story. Imagine you’re in the midst of getting to the bottom of a juicy insurance scandal – only to have to stop and find a roundabout way to trap a cockroach because it’s the only way a terrified clerk will speak to you.

It’s no surprise The Serpent’s Curse has its share of convoluted puzzles – this is the series that gave us the infamous goat puzzle, after all – but gameplay mechanics that were acceptable in the 90s are harder to swallow when adventure games like Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us manage to entertain us and challenge us without wasting our time.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse - Episode 1

Though the puzzles in The Serpent’s Curse sometimes drag, its presentation is consistently top-tier stuff. The voice acting is good, and each character delivers their lines without any cringe-worthy awkwardness (even if you’re not an inherent fan of arrogant young police inspectors that can’t see the forest for the trees). Each background is lovingly hand-drawn and filled with striking color and detail. The shaded character models look a bit flat against their environments, and their animations tend to get repetitive, but make no mistake: Overall, The Serpent’s Curse is a fine-looking game.

Despite a rough edge here and there, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse – Episode 1 sets up an enjoyable reunion between George and Nico. Feel free to jump in even if you’re not familiar with the duo. The more brains we have fixated on this mystery, the better.