Episodic Nightmare – The worrying trends of Episodic Gaming

Over the past couple of years, along with the rise of crowdfunding I’ve seen another trend emerge in gaming, one that will slowly reach the same level of shenanigans: Episoding Gaming. Episodic Games come in seasons, their story split into multiple chapters with their own price tag and of course the usual season pass, and over the course of potentially many years.

It used to be that episodic games were the domain of independent developers, those struggling to make enough money to meet development costs. The episodic nature would let them earn money on small bits of the game while they work on others. It also helps them by splitting the development into defined chunks, something useful I believe when they’re juggling day jobs with the game development responsibilities.

But while that is still somewhat true, there is a growing trend of full-time and highly successful game studios releasing games in the episodic format as well. Some have done it for ages and see no need to change now, as the business models suits them best, knowing how to take advantage of new episode releases to boost sales. Others use “episodic” as an excuse to cover up a delayed development and some just want to milk the trend as much as they can. Then there are the episodic titles released by major publishers, those that have no need for this type of content save for feeding the marketing fires. This last one has another side effect that I hope doesn’t become a common occurrence: releasing full games as episodic, splitting it up haphazardly in “post-production.” Continue reading Episodic Nightmare – The worrying trends of Episodic Gaming

The Weekly Puzzle – It’s all Smoke & Mirrors!

Puzzles are at the core of Adventure gameplay, they provide challenges for you to overcome with brains rather than brawn. For Action Adventures, they offer a break from the hacky-slashy-stabby-shooty element of title.

Every week I’ll bring you a new puzzle, drawn from some of the best and worst adventure or puzzle games I’ve ever played. Every once in a while I’ll even leave you one of my own for you to solve. If you do, I’ll find a way to reward you!

For this week’s puzzle, I go to one of my favourite Point & Click adventure series, Broken Sword. This series has had its highs and dear lord has it had its lows, but it came back in its oddly episodic Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse with really cool and strong puzzles and this one was one of my favourites. Continue reading The Weekly Puzzle – It’s all Smoke & Mirrors!

Review: Broken Sword 5

Broken Sword 5 is the latest title in Revolution Software’s award winning Broken Sword series. It once again puts Nico Collard and George Stobbart on a world-trotting adventure, this time uncovering ancient Gnostic secrets that could destroy the world as we know it.

The Good

  • Strong voice acting
  • Strong puzzle design
  • Beautiful visuals

The Bad

  • Nico segments are uninspired
  • Poorly paced plot.

Just as all other titles in the series, Broken Sword 5 wastes no time getting you into the plot. You start off in an Art Gallery. George’s company is handling the insurance and Nico is around for an article. Things get complicated when the gallery is robbed and the prize of the collection, a strange painting called “La Malediccío,” is taken, a painting a priest in the gallery condemns as being heretical.

From there the characters spend the next half of the game tracking down the painting and its owner, while giving lengthy exposition on the painting’s history and possible meanings. The plot’s pace is uneven, from a sluggish first segment almost entirely dedicated to extensive exposition to a second and faster paced second act that pushes you towards the end. The plot itself is interesting in its mix of Gnostic beliefs with the hint of the supernatural the Broken Sword series is famous for, but the storytelling itself could’ve used some polish, especially during the first act. It’s one of those stories where you realize early on that the smartest solution would be to destroy the McGuffin so no one can abuse its powers, but no, you need to keep looking for it for “reasons.”

A stiff, a priest and an art gallery. Yep, this is Broken Sword
A stiff, a priest and an art gallery. Yep, this is Broken Sword

Characterization is fantastic, from the obvious romantic/sexual tension between long-time companions Nico and George, to the different secondary characters and even the villains, though the main one could’ve used some polish, as he comes off mostly as a raving lunatic with messianic tendencies, and the secondary one, a Russian with shady ties, gets too much screen time to be honest, even if he’s a Putin clone/critique. If that was how they wanted the villains to come off, good job then, but I wasn’t impressed. Classic characters Duane and Pearl Henderson come back for a short while near the end and they’re always a pleasure, as are George’s interactions with goats. But one of my favourite characters one of the villain’s very philosophical henchman. He was surprisingly funny.

I really liked the visual and sound design. The Broken Sword series has its own style of music, the use of certain instruments and tones and melodies that, if you’ve played previous installments, will make you instantly recognize this as part of the series. I was pleased to hear the familiar and brilliant voice acting for Nico and George, something I was worried about considering how long it’s been since Broken Sword 4. The rest of the supporting cast is very good and even their fake accents (for those who have them) are convincing. The visuals pleased me beyond just being pretty, though. I loved to see them go back to the 2D (or 2.5D) environments instead of the full 3D game that was Broken Sword 4, which I always believed was a bad move for the series. Character models are amazingly fluid and their movement feels real. The way they walk, talk and interact is smooth and feels natural, something that I’ve come to realize is extremely difficult to pull off in Point & Click adventures. The environments themselves are gorgeous, pieces of art with puzzles included.

One of the secondary villains (the pointless one), he's clearly a Putin lookalike
One of the secondary villains (the pointless one), he’s clearly a Putin lookalike

Speaking of which, Broken Sword’s true strength is in its puzzle design, which range from your typical and quite straightforward inventory puzzles to others that require deeper thinking and even a bit of creativity without ever falling into Moon Logic. Even the hardest puzzle is just a brain sizzler until you figure out the clue. If you can’t figure something out, it’s because you haven’t checked everything or you’re missing an item or a conversation.

During the first half of the game, the puzzles are mostly straightforward inventory-based, though there are some very good ones, such as building a new business brand for a merchant in exchange for his help, rearranging the letters on his busted down neon sign; finding a way to blow the fuses inside a painter’s studio by manipulating the environment and other NPCs in sort of a Rube-Goldberg machine, or my favourite, dressing up as a recently deceased man to have his drunk-off-her-ass grieving widow dance with you and spill the beans on where he might have kept a few things. George is nothing if not classy.

She's capable of much more than just seducing random strangers!
She’s capable of much more than just seducing random strangers!

Puzzles on the second half of the game are outstanding. There’s one where you need to help cheer up Pearl by giving her the sights, sounds and smells of a Christian Pilgrimage, so you have to use tools and scaffolding to play “Ave Maria,” while finding a way to illuminate the room’s centerpiece and add a bit of fragrance to it and while sights and smells I could figure out immediately, the sound part kicked my butt for a while. It was one of those good puzzles that make me quit and then come back with a fresh perspective. Then again, I’m really tone deaf so that puzzle might have been my kryptonite. Immediately after are a set of decoding puzzles that I found to be extraordinary, as you need to use clues you have and extrapolate them to find the answer. I thoroughly enjoyed that one.

You spend most of the game playing as George, and his segments have some of the best and most complex puzzles, while sadly, Nico’s segments insist on using her as man-bait. We all know Nico is attractive and has a lot of sex appeal, but it’s sad to see Revolution just have her rely on that when we know she’s just as capable as George when it comes to puzzle solving and inventiveness; though it’s fair to say that by Broken Sword 5, George can give MacGyver (dear lord I feel old for making that comparison) a run for his money.

Drunk grieving widow whose feelings you need to abuse? Check
Drunk grieving widow whose feelings you need to abuse? Check

Broken sword 5 is a fantastic conclusion to the series, giving us an outstanding adventure that finishes off George and Nico’s personal arcs. I hope we see more of this series, but if we don’t this was a fantastic goodbye.

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Buying. It has some pacing issues but you’ll enjoy every minute of the game.