Everything old is new again. There are a number of distinctions to be made when talking about adventure games in 2014: is the game a point-and-click adventure like The Book of Unwritten Tales, a would-be piece of cinema like The Walking Dead, or something radically different, like Limbo or The Cave.
Broken Age is remarkably modern for something that purports to be a point-and-click; it pays as much homage to the old as it enjoys the innovations of the new. It’s the exact thing backers were clambering for, and something that can be enjoyed without a nostalgia for vintage adventure games.
There are two different stories happening at once in Broken Age, and players are free to swap between them at will — which helps make an already well paced game even better. One narrative takes place in the bakers town of Sugar Bunting, where several fair maidens —including protagonist Vella— have been selected as sacrifices to the Sin-like villain Mog Chothra. The other plotline follows the life of a boy named Shay, whose overprotective robot parents have kept him in isolation, forcing him to repeat activities meant for a kid half his age. There’s a good juxtaposition between the two scenarios; Vella’s world is full of open spaces to explore, and Shay’s claustrophobic spaceship gives players the chance to learn its many ins and outs. Both tales are charming and pretty engaging right from the get-go, but what makes me love the story is that it’s funny, and funny for all ages.
Broken Age hangs quite a bit on its production, and not just its looks. It has more traditional gameplay than something like Tell Tale’s The Walking Dead, but it never really gives you a chance to realize it. As a player, you’re constantly parsing a mountain of information; the game is packed full of sight-gags, innuendoes, audio-cues, and you’ll be trying to solve puzzles. Not to mention that, yes, the game’s core acting, art direction, and composition is fantastic. But really, I’d say a lot of the game’s success comes from its editing, which affords every interaction the player has with a real cinematic feeling. You’re scarcely just looking at a picture and clicking on things; the camera pans over environments and cuts in and out of conversation seamlessly. The best editing is invisible, and Broken Age feels incredibly smoothed out.
And the same thing goes for its actual progression.
I’m going to be honest here: I was terrified that I’d become too spoiled by the internet and quest markers to get through an honest-to-god point-and-click adventure without looking something up. But the game always lets you know what it wants you to do without plainly giving you an answer — and of course if you get stumped, you are welcome to switch characters until that ‘eureka!’ moment hits you.
I’ll be quick about it, but I think a little context is necessary to wrap-up. Full-disclosure: I backed the Double Fine adventure when it hit kickstarter almost a year ago. The project received a record 3.3 million dollars to make an ‘old-school’ adventure game and produce a documentary about its development — this game would be Broken Age. The studio pegs its funding at around the same amount they had to make the likes of Costume Quest and Stacking, which are pretty good little games, but just that: good little games. Whether they wanted the responsibility or not, all eyes have been on Double Fine to prove this crowd funding model is worthwhile, which presumably has lead this project to balloon into something considerably bigger than was originally intended.
As of right now only the first half of Broken Age is available; the second half is coming later this year. I don’t normally like to review episodes of games but, at roughly four hours long, part one of Broken Age was worth every penny. It is an exceedingly likeable game that wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s a Double Fine title (and a great one at that).
The same faith that lead me to back the project in the first place leaves me confident that part two can deliver an equally remarkable second half. I strongly recommend Broken Age.
- Seriously terrified I was going to get stuck and need to wait for a guide to progress
- It’s pretty easy to tell this is a Tim Schafer game through and through.
- It’s been pointed out to me that Shay’s story might be a bit shorter (or easier) than Vella’s.
- 2 hours in I was still gaping at how great this game looks and sounds.
- Pretty excited for an iOS release of this. It’s something I’ll gift around a lot.
- This game is bursting at the seams with snacky happiness.
- The episodic model is starting to eat me alive — it wasn’t enough for Valve to leave me in limbo. Now I’m stuck waiting for Kentucky Route Zero part 3, Broken Age part 2, and episode 2 of both Wolf Among Us and Walking Dead season 2.