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Broken Age Review

by William Schwartz

When Tim Schafer said he was throwing his hat back into the ring for a new go at a modern-day adventure game, it’s understandable that people got excited.  The Double Fine Adventure as it was once known, received an immense amount of financial support through what at the time was a little known crowd funding experiment called Kickstarter.  Nearly 100,000 pledges were given to Double Fine for this adventure game, and they secured over $3 million dollars in funding… Pretty impressive for a point and click adventure title.

Nearly two years later, Broken Age is upon us.  Well, at least the first part is.  Part one of a two-part series recently arrived for Kickstarter backers, and in many ways the game definitely lives up to the hype that has surrounded it since it’s announcement.  Broken Age is the epitome of a game that hasn’t been touched by the cold hand of corporate greed. It’s a passion project made a reality by those who supported the developer’s vision, and what a vision it is. Broken Age simply walks to the beat of its own drum, with its beautiful hand drawn art and original story line that a mega publisher wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Adventure games have seen somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. Spearheaded by Telltale Games’ and their super-sucessful The Walking Dead series, Broken Age is a game of the same type.

This isn’t Shafer’s first go in the genre. He’s worked on plenty of games of this type, some of the best that have ever been made as a matter of fact. Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and others, Shafer made a name for himself with these games. It’s probably too early to put Broken Age in the same class with those classics, after all, Broken Age is still very much a work in progress.

What we have in Broken Age so far is more thoughtful when it comes to story telling, world building, and aesthetic beauty than those old Lucas Arts titles from the 90’s were.  But it’s far less thought provoking than those adventure games of old, too.   The difficulty curves of the likes of Day of the Tentacle aren’t prevalent in Broken Age.  It doesn’t require as much thought, and doesn’t have nearly as much depth to the exploration or puzzle solving mechanics.

broken-age-shay

Broken Age tells the story of two characters.  Vella, a young woman who goes against the conventions of her family and people when she refuses to become a sacrifical lamb during her town’s “Maiden’s Feast” to a giant monster called Mog Chothra.  Devising a plan to both save her people and herself without becoming food for the giant beast, her adventure takes you down an unfamiliar heroes path.  Vella’s an interesting female character in video games.  She looks to break conventions, and think outside the box, while it appears that everyone around is content with falling in line with the status quo.  Vella’s adventure takes her from the clutches of Mog Chothra in her home town’s sacrificial cermony, to a enlightened cloud city in the skies, and back again.  It’s chocked-full of light-hearted humor, to go along with its fantastic music, art, and voice acting.

These presentation aspects carry over to Shay’s side of the story as well. Shay’s tale is a little bit slower, more isolated, like Shay himself.  The coddled space faring youngster yearns for adventure, but lives in a bubble of safety built by his parents. Shay’s life consists of the mundane, growing tired of his parents treating him like a toddler, he looks for ways to break these shackles. Discovering a secret part of his ship, Shay’s adventure begins. Broken Age allows you to swap back and forth between these two characters and their stories. While there’s no interaction between the two, on off chance that a puzzle stumps you, are you are looking for a change of pace, either story is a mouse click away.

broken-age-vella

It’s not hard to fall in love with these tales, nor relate to these characters in some capacity. If you’re over the age of 15, you’ve likely been there before. There comes a time in everyone’s life where they want to take control away from their parents. This is that story. Broken Age has a compelling presentation package overall.  Voice acting is top-notch, you’ve got top-tier Hollywood talent involved on both sides of the aisle. Elijah Wood, Jack Black, Jennifer Hale and others do wonders in this witty script’s delivery. Aside from the great acting, the storybook aesthetic, hand drawn art, and impeccable score just beg for you to take them in all their glory, and you can. Unfortunately it’s over all too quickly, and just when you to start to actually care about these new characters, the game comes to a halt without any real hook to keep you interested. Yes, the characters are great, the presentation is fantastic, but there’s really no telling where Broken Age is heading in part two. No clues, no cliff hanger ending, just a bet that you’ll want more Broken Age.

This abrupt halt isn’t helped any by the game’s absent replay value.  Nor is it helped by the utter simplicity of the game’s puzzles.  Many of which are extremely straight forward, and can be breezed through with very little thought.   So while the game is beautiful and ambitious in its presentation, that beauty is only skin deep.   Some of the frames seem too sparsely populated with items to interact with or people to talk to. You can breeze through both sides of the Broken Age story between 3-4 hours. Given the pedigree of Broken Age, it’s not what some will expect from an adventure game. It feels a little light in the game aspects and that’s ok if you’re fine with wheeling through an interactive children’s book in a very short amount of time.

As episodic releases go, Broken Age is a game that feels entirely incomplete. It’s over almost before it starts, and offers very little as a standalone title. It very well could end up being regarded as a classic upon its completion, it just doesn’t hold much more than promise, right now.

"meh"
meh

Broken Age

  • Available On: PS4, XB1, iOS, Android, Vita, PC
  • Published By: Double Fine
  • Developed By: Double Fine
  • Genre: Adventure
  • US Release Date: January 28th, 2014
  • Reviewed On: PC
  • Quote: "Broken Age doesn't do a very good job of standing on its own. It very well could end up being regarded as a classic upon its completion, it just doesn’t hold much more than promise, right now."
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