Broken Age Act 1
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: Double Fine
Release Date: 01/28/2014
Broken Age (initially called Double Fine Adventure) is perhaps one of the biggest Kickstarter success stories that demonstrated the viability of crowd funding as a means of allowing developers to produce niche video games that would stand little chance of being touched by a traditional publisher. The original goal of $400,000 was far exceeded, reaching $3.3 million. The scope of the game expanded accordingly, to the point where it was split into two parts. After two years in development, the first part of the game has been released. Was it worth the wait?
The plot revolves around two characters whose stories might seem to have little to do with each other at first glance, but share some thematic commonalities. Shay Volta lives on a spaceship, which you would think would afford him ample opportunities for adventure. The adventures he does get to go on are clearly ones he’s gone through so many times they’ve become rote (to the point where a mountain of ice cream seems unappetizing) and juvenile, uncomfortably stifling in the way clothes long outgrown are. Whenever he does get to go outside of the ship, he’s tethered so closely that he can’t explore any of the vast space surrounding him. The ship’s computer nurtures and protects him, but in ways that feel more cloying and smothering than warm and caring. A way to break the endless routine comes when he encounters a being disguised as a wolf named Marek.
On the other side you have Vella Tartine, who hails from a town of bakers. She’s been selected to participate in the “Maiden’s Feast” that’s held annually by villages to appease Mog Chothra so that he doesn’t consume the rest of the village. She’s meant to see being picked to be eaten as a grand honor. However, with some prodding from her grandfather, she questions why no one tries to fight and kill Mog Chothra, but everyone else laughs at the notion and brushes it off. Much to everyone but her grandfather’s chagrin, she escapes and ends up in a village of clouds, from where she must find a way to defeat Mog Chothra before he razes villages.
You can switch back and forth between characters freely, which is helpful if you start to get stuck or need a change of pace. Shay’s side consists of more exploration, while Vella’s contains more dialogue and character interaction. Both of these make sense due to the respective settings, given that Vella’s travels take her to more places and encounters a lot more characters as a result. In contrast, Shay only has the machines on the ship to talk to before Marek comes along. You can complete each path in whichever order you prefer (or simply end up doing). The game ends on a cliffhanger (this is only Act 1, after all), though it manages to tie the two tales together in a way that makes you want to find out what happens in the next part.
High production values, visually and aurally, are evident in the overall presentation of the game. The watercolored graphics are smoothly animated, with plenty of detail both in the backgrounds and in character models and motions. No two characters look alike, and each have their own quirks that come across in their animations. The voice acting helps convey those quirks as well, with a mix of big name voice actors, such as Elijah Wood as Shay and Masaya Moyo as Vella, along with veterans of Double Fine games, such as Richard Horvitz as Walt’r and the Space Weaver and Nicki Rap as Dead Eye Courtney. The soundtrack complements the visuals and unfolding events quite well. The sound bites can get a bit repetitive while exploring and examining things, though that’s not too big an issue.
The controls are your standard point and click, with the primary inputs involved are left clicking and moving your cursor around. You drag and drop items to combine them or to use them on something. Hovering your cursor on the bottom lefthand corner (or pressing the 4 key) brings up your inventory. The escape key bring sup the pause menu where you can save and toggle subtitles and other settings. You click on someone to talk to them, to select dialogue, and to move around by clicking on a spot. You can also click on other things to get commentary from the character you’re controlling. Right clicking or left clicking and hitting space lets you skip a cutscene. So as you can probably tell, the gameplay mechanics themselves are rather simple, and it can feel like you’re going brought the motions rather than actively interacting with the world, but they’re functionally and fall perfectly within the classic point-and-click adventure standards as per the pitch on Kickstarter.
It’s not possible to get yourself permanently stuck or miss anything, which means you can worry more about progressing through the game than about making sure you have multiple saves just in case (though I’m a compulsive multiple save slot user anyway). The lack of possibility of failure is reminiscent of Monkey Island games. I even loaded a save towards the end just to see if it was possible to fail in the last big showdown in Vella’s story, but it wasn’t, even if I sat there and did nothing. Most of the solutions to the puzzles are obvious if you really look at the environments and what’s currently In your inventory and listen to character comments (though the head shrinking/growing part did take a little doing for me). While these prevent frustrating points of being stuck and unable to progress and make the game more accessible, it also saps some of the suspense during the more intense sequences, and for some people who have played Tim Schafer’s other games, it might not be what they were hoping for.
It’s not a long game (I finished it in about 4 hours), and there’s only one way puzzles can be solved and the story to unfold, so there’s little incentive in another playthrough unless you want to experience the story again. There is a secret “retro” modethat can be unlocked by following the steps outlined in the video, and while it’s a cute Easter egg, it’s probably not something you’d want to play the whole game in, especially next to the standard graphics. Looking at it purely from a price/hours ratio, it does seem like a terrible bang for the buck, though people who buy the first act now do get the second act for free when it comes out. Whether to get it now or then depends partly on how tolerant you are of cliffhangers and partly how long you’re willing to wait before taking the plunge. Even if you do get it now, it have plenty of whimsical charm, beautiful animations, and does a good job in setting things up for the second act.
Short Attention Span Summary:
While it doesn’t pave any new roads, Broken Age is a solid point-and-click adventure that mostly does as advertised and hardens back to the classic adventure games of yore. The characters and story ooze plenty of whimsical charm, and the two story paths are linked well together despite the disparate settings. The graphics are beautiful to look at, the voice acting is solid and features some big names, and the music complements the environments and events well. It does lean on the easy side, it’s linear (as are many adventure games), and it ends on a cliffhanger, so we still have to wait for the second half of the story. That being said, I am looking forward to seeing how everything concludes in the second act.