Broken Age is my first Kickstarter gaming crop to flower. It’s been a really interesting experience, watching this game germinate from an unnamed promise to the beautiful and charming game that we have before us now…well, half a game. Therein lies the problem, Broken Age is unfinished, and I can’t help but wish that Double Fine had weathered the delays and released the entire game in one.
Broken Age has two parallel storylines, both following a young person seeking escape. There is Vella, a young woman who has been chosen as a potential human sacrifice to Mog Chothra, a Lovecratftian nightmare which attacks her village every year. Vella manages to escape her fate, potentially dooming her village in the process, so she journeys through a selection of strange and wonderful locations in pursuit of a weapon that may be able to destroy Mog Chothra. Our other protagonist is Shay, a young man who lives on a space ship ruled over by an A.I that believes it is his mother. She sets up a daily routine of fake perils for him to overcome, to make him feel like a hero. Shay manages to escape this cycle, and encounters Marek, a strange creature in a wolf costume, who sends him on missions around the galaxy to save helpless creatures.
Broken Age tells one of those stories so wonderful that I’m careful to even analyse it too much as I really don’t want to spoil anything. Vella and Shay aren’t necessarily particularly deep characters, but as with all of Tim Schafer’s protagonists, they’re deeply likeable and easy to imprint ourselves on. I think a lot of us were expecting a full blown Monkey Island-style comedy, but Broken Age really isn’t. Don’t get me wrong; it is funny, in fact it’s frequently hilarious, but it actually has a curiously sinister and melancholy tone throughout a lot of it. Vella and Shay’s worlds are really messed up places to be, with both protagonists stand as the sole voice of reason in a world where pretty much everyone has gone mad. Without saying anything more about it, the ending is incredible and is going to make the wait for Act 2 unbearable.
Double Fine haven’t reinvented the wheel gameplay wise in Broken Age, but, well, their Kickstarter pitch was to make an old fashioned point and click adventure game so…that’s what they made! That said, it never quite gets to a particularly complex level. In fact, Broken Age is one of the easiest adventure games that I’ve ever played. Still, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. None of the puzzles reach that level of pixel hunting convoluted stupidity that these things can reach; I’m looking at you The Longest Journey (I kid, I love that game). Broken Age flows beautifully, and although it’s never challenging the solutions are always clever and amusing, which is much more important to me than fiendish complexity. Still, if what you’re after is something on the level of Monkey Island or Sam & Max Hit the Road, you may be out of luck.
Broken Age can perhaps be described as style over substance, but as has become something of a refrain in this blog; so what? The art style for Broken Age is simply stunning, like a painting come to life. The characters are so expressive, the environments so imaginative and gorgeous. Double Fine games have always been imaginative and wacky in their environments, but the polygonal 3D has never quite done them justice. With this hand drawn style (which I’m sure takes just as long, if not longer than traditional 3D), Double Fine are finally able to make their vision reach its potential. Alongside the gorgeous visuals, the music is delightful yet understated, but it is the voice acting that deserves the most praise. Double Fine’s surprisingly star-studded cast are used well, particularly Elijah Wood as Shay. Jack Black’s performance as a cult leader is enjoyable but he’s perhaps underused, with the less famous Masasa Moyo’s understated turn as Vella also standing out. Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time fame’s, turn as a man stuck in a tree was my favourite, but Wil Wheaton also deserves major credit as a lumberjack convinced that the trees are out for revenge. Tim Schafer is clearly a man who has made some influential friends over the years, as it’s hard to imagine that they would have found space in the budget for big name actors. Broken Age is simply put, a wonderfully presented game, an honest-to-God feast for the senses.
The thing is, as wonderful as Broken Age is, it does feel disjointed. The cliffhanger at the end is epic, but it would have fit just as well as a midpoint to the story, and with no release date in sight for Act Two, it’s slightly depressing. Broken Age: Act One is a brief, joyful experience, but I’d recommend holding off until the entire game is ready.