There’s a lot to be expected of a game that launches via Kickstarter and absolutely smashes its funding target. But that’s exactly what Double Fine’s Broken Age campaign did. Clearly, the sheer thought of Tim Schafer (Monkey Island, Full Throttle etc.) working on a new point-and-click adventure was enough to get gamers to part with their cash. The question is, has the money been well-spent on a genre that’s peaked in recent times, or does Broken Age fail to capture the magic of those gone before it?
Where Broken Age instantly sets itself apart from many other point-and-click adventures is in the fact there are two different teenage protagonists to take control of, telling a story of two very different worlds, which are somehow intertwined. Vella Tartine is a teenage girl who’s preparing, albeit begrudgingly, for a ritualistic celebration in which she’s about to be offered as a sacrifice to an ugly behemoth of a monster, Mog Chothra. Shay Volta meanwhile is living a solitary and monotonous life inside of a spaceship, with his daily needs taken care of by a computer that thinks he’s having a great time participating in preset, danger-free, adventures.
You can switch between the two of them at almost any point throughout the adventure. What is great to see – especially in a world currently full of regurgitated and re-imagined stories – is a rather unique narrative throughout Broken Age, with plenty of odd things causing further intrigue and humour playing a large part in proceedings. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it before, but once the link between the two worlds is revealed – something which occurrs at the end of the first Act – it all starts to unravel a bit.
That’s mainly due to the intrigue that the first Act brings; all the characters are fresh and offer insight into the lives of the teenagers and the world around them. In Vella’s world, there’s a cult of sorts in a place up in the clouds called Meriloft, and each of the characters have interesting names, stories about how they got involved in the cult etc. Shay’s side of the tale brings with it a shady wolf, a talking cutlery set and a few pals made out of yarn. It’s utterly bonkers to be quite frank.
The second Act however revisits too many of the same locations, the people don’t have anything more interesting to say and the game seems to rely solely on the gameplay to carry it over the finish line. The story really regresses in many aspects.
As far as gameplay is concerned, well as you’d expect, most of it involves pointing the on-screen cursor and clicking on things to interact with. You may, if you wish, strike up a multi-layered conversation with a nearby character or pick up an item of interest. Talking to people can often provide clues as to what to do next, whilst anything you add to your inventory will have a purpose; you just need to figure out what it is. Problems to overcome include finding a way to escape situations, taking part in a claw machine style mini-game and making a talking tree spew up.
Everything about the gameplay in Act One plods along nicely, with mostly bog standard point-and-click puzzle solving keeping things ticking over – combining items or giving them to someone in order to progress. But the puzzles in the second Act, although way more varied, are close to leaving me stuck – possibly until Half-Life 3 is confirmed – if not for a little outside interference from people who’ve played it before. For example, there’s a part where you have to wire up a ‘hexipal’, but the way in which it has to be done is pretty much a complete mystery. In fact, it isn’t until finding out that it is actually related to something seemingly unimportant in the other side of the story where the mystery is solved. It is things like this which really take away the fun factor and these puzzles make subsequent ones a bit frustrating.
In terms of the visuals, Double Fine have created two distinctive looking sides to the story; with Vella’s world having brightly coloured and earthy areas, whereas there’s generally a more futuristic vibe going on for Shay’s intergalactic antics. Sound wise, the quality of voiceover cannot be questioned and the instantly recognisable tones of Jack Black and Will Wheaton really add a spark to the supporting cast. Elijah Wood and Masasa Moyo also do a bloody good job in the titular roles.
Overall, Broken Age isn’t just a tale of two teenagers, but a game of two halves. One half of which introduces a load of interesting and unique characters, alongside some tricky but manageable problems to overcome. The other half suffers in terms of dialogue and extraordinarily difficult puzzles, despite offering more variety to them. There’s no doubt though that the standard of voice acting doesn’t drop throughout and the all the locations are lovely to visit – until you’ve traipsed back and forth searching for answers, then you’re crying for somewhere new to go.
Broken Age is a good game, just one which is let down by a few absurdly tough puzzles and a lack of freshness for the second Act of the story. It’s worth a look if you’re into point-and-click adventures, though it’s not quite at the same level of other recent titles like The Inner World and The Little Acre.