I love a good mystery. I’m that person who gets sucked into the drama, continually guessing “whodunnit” and usually getting it wrong right to the very end. But in all honesty a strong narrative of any description will pique my interest, and sometimes those which seem grounded in some sort of reality are the most gripping.
Broken Pieces offers up a tale of fear, uncertainty and even love in an investigative adventure set in a seemingly picturesque French coastal town. You are placed into the shoes of Elise, who is separated from her fiance PIerre and finds herself isolated and alone. The region of Saint-Exil may be beautiful, however it’s steeped in mystery and danger. The action starts after an attack from an unknown source, and Elise awakes from a strange dream peppered with cryptic clues.
You know the drill. You’re dropped into the environment but can’t immediately go where you like. Locked gates, missing circuit breakers and tricky puzzles await as you must apply a methodical approach to figure out how to progress and gradually access more of the environment.
In classic point and click fashion, there are many key items to find along with nuggets of information which further expand the story. Think of it as a combination of Broken Sword, Silent Hill and Alan Wake and you’ll start to get the picture. Alongside your main objectives, there are also opportunities to complete optional side missions that reveal details about the goings on in Saint-Exil.
The story is chiefly told through exploration, but also by several audio cassettes that are scattered around the world. These short clips provide context and slowly remove the shroud around events, but also serve another purpose. Pierre, it turns out, was a talented musician who recorded numerous songs for Elise. These are really quite brilliant, and you can use them as a soundtrack for your exploring whenever you feel like it.
Each song is poignant, and rather beautiful to listen to. The same can’t be said for Elise however. Her character accounts for the vast majority of the dialogue in the game, and the voice acting isn’t great. To be clear, it isn’t awful either but does lack emotive range and ends up sounding pretty monotone throughout most of the game.
Unfortunately Broken Pieces does not impress so much in the visual department either. Elise herself looks pretty realistic, and is animated well. There is also some good camerawork with numerous shots offering attractive wide views of the environment. What is nifty is the ability to toggle between angles at any time too, as well as switching between first and third person modes.
Close up, however, the textures can look incredibly basic and would not be out of place on the original Xbox. The jagged edges are clear to see and are really quite ugly. There’s no other way of saying it.
Talking of nasties, supernatural forces will constantly ambush you on your journey as they materialise from clouds of ominous fog. Elise is armed with a handgun which carries regular ammo but she can also craft more destructive rounds from materials scavenged during exploration. She can also pull off a nifty dodge, as well as repel her tormentors in a couple of different ways.
In a way, the combat in Broken Pieces is almost entirely redundant. It’s an occasional, repetitive segment of play which really doesn’t add much at all apart from personifying the mysterious threat. Control wise, it’s also very clunky meaning you’ll often fail to pull off your attempted move.
Elise keeps track of time with her trusty wrist watch which is shaped like a crab and speaks French when opened (don’t ask). However, this is important because if you are out and about after 8pm then the mean streets of Saint-Exil become even more dangerous. Travelling between different areas will eat into your time, as will taking a rest on one of the many benches which will recover some of your health. Keeping one eye on the time and getting home before dark is essential to surviving the mysterious forces which mass against you.
It may seem like there are a number of areas where Broken Pieces falls short, however it doesn’t do so in the most important sense. The story being told here is touching, intriguing and genuinely surprisingly in many ways. It was enough to keep me invested and playing until the end. The sense of mystery set against the gloomy yet somehow otherworldly backdrop proved almost irresistible.
It’s especially impressive as it’s come from an independent developer, Elseware Experience. The rough edges can be forgiven because Broken Pieces manages to pull off telling a psychological thriller in a subtle and sometimes understated way. It’s ambitious and plucky despite not always nailing the execution.
It may be something of a marmite genre, but Broken Pieces tells a story worth hearing, despite its elements not quite fitting together perfectly.
Broken Pieces is available on the Xbox Store