Broken Age Act 1 – Charm of parallel worlds – Review

Gare – Thursday, January 16, 2014 10:48 PM
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The middle of January is upon us, and with it comes the release of the first half of the aptly – and in retrospect quite ironically – titled Broken Age – at least for backers. Financially speaking, Tim Schafer’s project found itself in a problematic situation last year, forcing the team to face the inconvenient truth: the production was slowly but surely running out of the Kickstarter funds, and it was becoming increasingly likely that a considerable amount of content would have to be cut out from the final release. Refusing to put his own creative work under the knife, Schafer then decided to instead release Broken Age’s first half in advance – the backer-exclusive first Act that debuted on January 14 is the result if that decision, and below, we’re going to take a brief look at what exactly makes this baby tick, along with all its pros and cons.

A boy and a girl sit back-to-back in different worlds

Broken Age’s narrative – much like its title suggests – is split into two different segments with two protagonist. One of our heroes is a young girl by the name of Vella, who is just on the verge of being sacrificed to the legendary monster Mog Chothra, while on the other spectrum we have Shay, a boy trapped on a spaceship, longing for days of adventure to replace his mind-numbing daily routine of cereals and ice cream mounds. He is, however, practically kept prisoner on his own ship by an overbearing female AI that does so in order to – apparently – protect the boy from all potential threats, thus dooming him to an eternity among the cold steel walls of smiles and fake yarn friends. Playing Vella’s campaign provides a more, let’s say, traditional point and click adventure in the sense that it is an actual “adventure” – we have a heroine in a pinch, a number of diverse landscapes to journey to, a cast of wacky characters to interact with as we figure out which of them holds the key to our advancement of the plot. Shay’s side, on the other hand, is restricted to a lone ship drifting in deep space, devoid of an actual crew and thus reinforcing a feeling of isolation as the boy attempts to break out of his happy-go-lucky prison. The two vastly different locales lend a welcome feeling of contrast to Broken Age, allowing it to be two stories in one, offering an experience with two distinct atmospheres while still being of consistently high quality. How the two stories eventually end up intertwining is something the first Act gives a brief glimpse into; Double Fine managed to close off their opening chapter with an intriguing twist that has fans already craving for a continuation.

A beautiful fairy-tale world

Visually speaking, Broken Age’s art direction is the result of heavy collaboration with artist Nathan Stapley, whose style is miraculously brought to life during the game’s various cutscenes. Broken Age’s first minutes transport the player into a world drawn in the familiar Stapley style – furthermore, both the game’s animations and each of its characters’ subtle facial expressions play a major role in truly making Double Fine’s cast stand out compared to other titles in the genre, with each cutscene of the game giving off the general feel of a well-choreographed production. Similarly well-made is the highly atmospheric soundtrack, as well as the notable voice talent collected for the game. Special mentions must be given to the motherly artificial intelligence portrayed by Jennifer Hale, as well as Wil Wheaton’s paranoid lumberjack and the humanitarian tree haunting him, for providing some of the most memorable and well-acted characters of the first chapter. Schafer’s writing is – thankfully – as effective as ever, with Broken Age’s bizarre yet genuinely entertaining characters and situations constantly reminding us of the fact that the old magic is not yet gone.

Easy puzzle solutions

As far as the not-so-stellar aspects of the title are concerned, one must inevitably point the finger at the puzzles and their overall difficulty during the first Act. No doubt this, in itself, could also split the fan base: some will consider the lack of any real mental challenge in the title an insult to the spirit of great predecessors. In most cases – with only one notable exception –, it is fairly easy for the player to recognize which items need to be used where: as such, those that thoroughly explore their surroundings and indulge in conversation with all the NPCs available will have no trouble breezing through the adventure and its fairly simple puzzles without any outside help whatsoever. I do think, however, that many a player might nonetheless enjoy the relative simplicity, being able to focus on the game’s atmosphere, colorful main cast and witty dialogue without the danger of getting stuck or frustrated by one pesky puzzle or another. In terms of length, Broken Age is hardly an epic: most players – partly due to the actual brevity of the chapter and the simplicity of the puzzles involved – will be able to reach the finish line in roughly 4 hours, which may indeed be disappointing to some. We must, however, keep in mind that this part of the title is merely its first Act – as such, the completed story is expected to reach – if this first episode is anything to go by – at least 8 hours, which, all in all, isn’t all that different from the average length of some of the other classics produced by Schafer.

In summary, I would consider Broken Age’s first episode a moderate success – but a success nonetheless. Despite its puzzles leaving much to be desired, it is a true labor of love rich in charm and Schafer’s wit, and while I wouldn’t exactly call it an undying classic just yet, it is most definitely worth the price of admission. We anxiously await its continuation.

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