The action shuffles between the art gallery, a street café, a lavish London mansion, and a rundown studio, among others. Most locations are revisited several times, but never without reason. Every scene is perfectly illustrated, with gorgeous, mellow colouring and flowing, artistic lines. Despite the series returning to its 2D roots, the backgrounds have a striking sense of depth, like the picture window of the gallery and Bijou's street. Numerous details enrich each set – realistic in places, like the view of the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur from the café and the mess of clothes and papers in busy Nico's home, and preposterous elsewhere, like the life-sized, David-esque replica of Henri in his office and Lady Piermont's pink négligée. Lighting is used judiciously to set moods and showcase architecture, and day/night variations of places like Hobbs's seedy neighbourhood are fantastic. The inventory and menu icons appear only on rollover, which allows the high resolution artwork to grace the entire screen while exploring. The effect, especially of wide angle cityscapes, is breathtaking.
There are only two cutscenes in the game: the grim prologue in Catalonia and a rambunctious dream sequence. Other segment interludes are plain black screens with brief white text messages. The action continues all through the game, however, with many well-animated in-game sequences of George and Nico carrying on their investigation and managing tricky situations. The 3D characters are designed to blend in with their hand-drawn environments, and this works exceptionally well. The lifelike yet arty models favour the already attractive George and Nico the most, but also flatter the heavily made-up Bijou and the corpulent Laine in the closer shots.
Character movement varies between excellent and acceptable. There are many realistic actions like Laine struggling to get off floors, chairs and couches, Nico using her smartphone, George crouching to inspect objects, and Hobbs swaying drunkenly to music while painting. Moue squirming due to his urinary incontinence is a fine instance of physical humour. Some inventory-based tasks are performed in detail, with visible use of objects like bottles and tools. Conversations occur in-game in the normal course of events; lip sync more or less matches the spoken dialogue, while subtle but apt facial expressions and physical gestures provide non-verbal cues. Surprisingly awkward in comparison are people's gaits: there's a skiddy feel when they walk, and the worst affected is George, who tilts uncomfortably forward in the side view while sauntering about.
Available in five languages, the script is well-written barring minor discrepancies in dates, but is not as tight or sharp as in the early games of the series. There are chunks of conversation where nothing of consequence is said either about the plot or the people. The satire is average, and other than an electric exchange between Navet and George during a crime reconstruction scene and some ribald ribbing when George stumbles across his biggest fangirl, Lady Piermont, there are no memorable moments. But anything lacking on paper is more than compensated for by the all-round outstanding voice acting. Rolf Saxon, who has voiced George since The Shadow of the Templars in 1996, excels in the role of a guy almost half his age, endowing George with a terrific range of emotions and reactions that often makes you forget that he is a video game character. Newcomer Emma Tate as Nico puts in a spirited performance to keep up with George's banter, and the voice talents for Moue, Navet, Hobbs and Lady Piermont define their personalities with adept use of intonation and accents.
The Serpent's Curse features subtle, mildly melancholic orchestral background music, and uses a couple of gentle flourishes to indicate success. Large portions of the game are played with only ambient sounds and activity-related noises like footsteps, creaks of doors and floors, whooshes of passing vehicles, and the tolling of the bells of the Sacré-Cœur. The best part of the soundtrack is the psychedelic rock song “Jasmine”, performed by the Hairy Lobsters, Henri's band from the '70s. It's cheerful and addictive, and brings some much-needed gaiety to the otherwise grave proceedings. Vocal volume, especially George's, varies sharply at times, though overall audio is of superlative quality.
Few adventure games have been burdened with as much expectation as Broken Sword 5. Going solely by Episode 1 at this point, the decision to take the franchise back to the traditional, hand-drawn, 2D point-and-click format in an era of rapidly evolving gaming technology has succeeded, resoundingly well in fact. Nitpicks aside, The Serpent's Curse is extremely enjoyable and rekindles the magic of the series, drawing you deep into its incredibly artistic, slightly insane world. The debut installment has more practical – and consequently easier – tasks than its predecessors, but goes for gold on story, characterisation and production quality. The complex and (so far) credible plot intertwines centuries-old religious persecution with modern day business fraud, mixing superstitions and skepticism with alacrity. George and Nico's complex relationship is handled maturely, and the assorted other characters are just the right degree of eccentric. Episode 1 is weighed down a bit by the expository nature of any introductory chapter, but even with that caveat, it's parked squarely in the 4-star territory as it leaves George and Nico poised for the big leap into the heart of this mystery. The second and final part of the game will decide its overall rating, and here's hoping that the anxious wait will be worth it.