Note: Currently, only the first act of Broken Age is available. Act two will be provided as a free download for you later this year when you buy the game. This review is based on Act One.
As gorgeous, surreal, and darkly whimsical as a storybook come to life, the first act of Double Fine's point-and-click adventure game Broken Age captivates. If you feel like there are an overabundance of video-game funding projects these days, you can blame Broken Age for that, since its original Kickstarter funding two years ago was such a staggering success that studios, fledgling and veteran alike, couldn't help but sit up and take notice. The initial funding goal was four hundred thousand dollars, not a small amount in itself, but by campaign end the game had taken in over three and a quarter million dollars, so to say expectations are high is a bit of an understatement. I have raised expectations when I pay more than two dollars for a cup of coffee. So does the game live up to those standards? Well... sh'yeah. Mostly.
The controls should be familiar to anyone who's played a point-and-click game before. Just click to interact, and click the arrow in the bottom left corner to open your inventory, which will allow you to drag objects from it onto anything onscreen to try to use them. From the inventory menu, you can also click the character portrait on the far right, which will let you swap between the two main characters. [ESC] opens the menu, where you can manually save your game or change the options. Throughout the game, you'll play as two characters. Vella is a young girl expected to perform a dubious honor for her village, along with a batch of other eligible young maidens, and all the cakes and pies in the world can't hide the rotten truth. Shay lives aboard a space station where the only other residents are devoted automatons that treat him like a child, and though each day blends into the next, he discovers he might have more choice than he thought if he can force a change. They've never met, and neither even has any idea the other exists, but they are both about to shake up their worlds in a big way.
Analysis: Broken Age is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful and cinematic adventures to come along in a long time. The game is devoted to its storytelling as a visual art, and everything from its expressive character designs to its backgrounds, both in and out of the many cutscenes, are a wonder to behold. Of course, the stellar voice acting doesn't hurt either, and Broken Age features everyone from Elijah Wood and Masa Moyo to Wil Wheaton and Jack Black. The world building is initially on the whole rather light, and it can feel like the game is sort of just shuttling you from one strange scenario to another. Cloud cult? Fish maidens? Overly clingy AI system? Warriors turned bakers? It's all very interesting, but none of it really seems to have much to do with anything as a whole until late in the game. It makes Broken Age a very character driven experience, and considering how much the cast shines with personality, that ain't a bad thing.
The writing is, as you'd expect from Double Fine, absolutely top-notch and funny far more often than not, though there is a fair amount of adult or crude innuendo. Where a lot of games focus on self-sacrifice, Broken Age deals with standing up for yourself rather than just doing what's expected of you, of knowing that caring about other people doesn't mean just taking things as they happen. Being brave enough to look for other options even when someone tells you there are none... or even just thinking about yourself and what you want for a change. Despite these interwoven themes, however, you'll still spend a lot of time wondering how, exactly, Vella and Shay's adventures come together, since their settings are so vastly different and they aren't even aware of one another. As mentioned, it feels like there's very little actual world building going on, so while you have a sense of the characters and the story they're trying to tell, you don't really get much of a feel for where all this is taking place apart from merely "somewhere weird". Broken Age had a chance to create an entirely new universe that felt distinctive and whole and unique, and it didn't really do that, largely because the lore is sort of shoved off to one side and the characters and their cultures seem to have little to do with one another in a way that would have brought the setting to life as much as the characters within it.
Broken Age's gameplay is as traditional as you can get for a point-and-click game, which means you're going to do a lot of clicking things on other things to see if they make new things or open other things for you to do. Though the logic can seem a little weird, as most adventure games do, Broken Age actually feels a little on the easy side simply because of the way it's structured. Options and items tend to be limited enough for most of the game that you'll run into the correct solution eventually, but the game is also fairly good at dropping little hints as to what everything does or everyone needs. Some item combinations or uses are weird, sure, but so is the whole setting, and once your brain starts working within that context you'll find yourself moving along at a rapid pace. It's not unenjoyable by any means, but it's also not anything I ever really found myself challenged by, and I found myself wishing for more substantial or challenging puzzles to really engage my brain the way the story and characters did. It's a strange complaint to make since Broken Age was originally funded as a "classic point and click adventure", and yet Broken Age is significantly easier and more straight-forward than the lion's share of classic point-and-clicks, to the part where it more closely resembles a modern adventure game such as, say, The Walking Dead in execution.
None of that means Broken Age is a bad game. Quite the opposite. As you'd expect from Double Fine, it's stunning, funny, thoughtful, and engaging in all the right places. Playing through the entire thing at a leisurely pace took me close to four hours, and while I firmly believe that for me personally the quality is worth the price of admission, for others the game's $25.00USD price tag coupled with the comparative brevity might give them pause, at least until the second act is released later this year. That's a personal decision you'll have to make for yourself. What I can tell you is that, quibbles aside, Broken Age is an absolutely masterfully crafted cinematic experience that's as well written as it is beautiful to look at, and for as long as it lasted, I didn't want to pull myself away from it. Time will tell how the final act ties everything together later this year, but in the meantime, Broken Age still captivates and delights.
Get the full version (Steam)
Mac OS X:
Get the full version (Steam)
Get the full version (Steam)