Broken Age: Act 1
Broken Age: Act 1 is a new point-and-click adventure from Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions. If the name Tim Schafer sounds familiar it’s because he’s had a hand in some of the best adventure games of all time, including The Secret of Monkey Island (1990), Day of the Tentacle (1993), and Grim Fandango (1998). So when Double Fine started a Kickstarter campaign for Schafer’s new adventure, they had no trouble generating player interest and financial backing, with Broken Age as the result. But is the new game as good as the old games? Is that even possible? Keep reading to find out.
In Broken Age, you control a pair of teenagers. Shay is living on a babysitting spaceship, where the onboard computers feed him, bathe him, and generate special “missions” for him to go on, including rescuing sock puppets from an ice cream avalanche. Your goal for Shay is to help him break free of the spaceship, so he can go out and do real things. Meanwhile, Vella resides in more of an H.P. Lovecraft world, where she’s been selected as a sacrificial maiden to feed a creature called Mog Chothra. This designation is an “honor,” but Vella would rather not be eaten, and so your goal with her is to keep her alive.
Broken Age is played using a point-and-click interface. You left-click where you want your characters to move, and you left-click on the things you want them to interact with. After picking up something, you can access your inventory by pressing the I key or by clicking on the inventory tab at the bottom of the screen. There isn’t a key for showing hotspots, but then one isn’t really necessary. Broken Age doesn’t try to generate difficulty by hiding objects in obscure places. You can also switch between your characters at any time by clicking on an icon in the inventory display, but unlike some other games with multiple characters, Shay and Vella aren’t close enough to each other to influence each other’s puzzles, and so the only reason to switch between them is if you get stuck with one and want to try something different for a while.
The best part of Broken Age is its charm. The writing is excellent, with lots of subtle humor, and with Shay and Vella responding to situations as regular people would rather than how they’re supposed to. As an example, when you take control of Vella, it’s almost time for the “Maidens Feast” — but this isn’t a party to celebrate the sacrificial maidens; it’s a description of what’s going to happen when Mog Chothra shows up. All of the other maidens are excited about the feast and want to “win” the competition (and aren’t opposed to using “performance enhancers” to draw Mog Chothra to them), but Vella thinks fighting is better than appeasing, and her escape generates numerous funny conversations about stools, sick trees, and dead gods.
The graphics and sound also support the game’s charm. All of the locations and characters are hand-painted using 2D models, which is unusual these days, but which supports the game’s fantasy settings. For example, when you’re on Shay’s spaceship, all of the rooms and corridors are painted in bright colors, and all of the computers feature smiley faces. The hand-painted characters also work well, as there is a lot of detail in their faces, and their expressions help to give them personality. Meanwhile, the voice actors do a nice job of actually acting their lines rather than just reading the script — which is a good thing because there is a lot of dialogue in the game, and monotone performances would have sunk the production.
Unfortunately, the downside to Broken Age is the puzzles, which are a total cakewalk. Almost all of the puzzles are inventory-based, where you pick up objects and then find the right places to use them. But there are no red herring objects — and, really, there are barely any inventory objects in the game at all, maybe 20 in total, and so figuring out where to use them is easy. For example, at one point you meet a woodcutter, and later you find a piece of driftwood. Can you make the connection? That’s about as difficult as the puzzles get. The only time I got even halfway stuck on a puzzle (trying to crash a train), the game decided to give me a hint on my second try. Well, thanks. As a result, the first act only took me a little over four hours to complete, which is short even for half of an adventure.
Broken Age: Act 1 is an amusing game, but it’s not a great game, and it’s a little disappointing given its pedigree. It has all the charm and personality in the world, but the puzzles are so lukewarm and obvious that they drag down everything with them. With better puzzles, Act 1 could have been something special, but as it stands now, it’s roughly as good as numerous other adventures out there. Still, Act 1 is only half of the game. Act 2 will be released later this year as a free update, and maybe it will be a little more thought-provoking. It will also be interesting to see what happens when Shay’s and Vella’s storylines actually intersect.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
This review is based on a digital copy of Broken Age for the PC provided by Double Fine Productions.