Broken Age Review

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Better Broken

Broken Age
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4/Vita, iOS, OS X, Android, Linux, Ouya
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions

It has been over three years since Broken Age was announced as the Kickstarter project Double Fine Adventure. It went on to become one of the most successful Kickstarter projects ever. I played the first part of Broken Age shortly after its release last year and absolutely loved it. Despite enjoying it, the game was released incomplete and I decided to hold off reviewing it until the second part was released which it was late last month.

Broken Age is a story of two teenagers, Shay and Vella from different worlds whose lives become intertwined. As the story such an integral aspect of the game, I’d rather not go into any more detail than that. As a matter of criticism, I thought the narrative began very well in part one and went off in an unexpected direction in the second. There was a satisfying resolution to the story even if I didn’t quite like how it got there.

Tim Schafer is the big name behind the project and a legend in the genre behind classics such as The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. Double Fine is perhaps best known for the critically acclaimed Psychonauts and the vastly underrated Brütal Legend. While I was disappointed with the story, particularly in part two, Schafer’s dialogue is as humourous as ever with plenty I’d love to but won’t be quoting here. The humour is always quirky, if not absurd and the voice acting is excellent. The success of the Kickstarter meant Double Fine was able to hire Holywood talent such as Jack Black and Elijah Wood who thankfully haven’t phoned it in at all. There are also quite a few other names well known in voice acting like Jennifer Hale. Some of the most enjoyable moments in the game were conversations between characters. There are often multiple dialogue options, that are worth doing despite mostly being unnecessary to progress through the adventure.

The player takes on the role of both characters and can switch between them at any time. Being in the adventure genre, this option becomes particularly useful when stuck on a puzzle or just bored. This is another area where part two was a let-down. In part one the puzzles are fairly simple especially when compared to the often absurd puzzles in classic titles. The puzzles in part two are much more like the latter. Whatever your preference, having such a change in design half-way through the game was irritating to say the least. Some puzzles require going back and forth over long distances, waiting and in the most irritating case remembering patterns found in scenery that the user interface isn’t designed to juggle. Schafer did recommend replaying part one before proceeding as there were hints for the puzzles but with the story so fresh in my mind, I only wanted to continue. The hints were also subtle to the point where they wouldn’t necessarily be readily recalled no matter how recent the playthrough. And this doesn’t excuse the glaring design change halfway through the game.

Second only to the dialogue is the beautiful art design. All areas of the game look like a moving painting and it was clear a lot of love went into creating the world. I also appreciate the way the style works between the radically contrasting areas in the game – one being bright and organic, the other dark and sterile. Despite this there is a coziness, for lack of a better word to both. The game is by no means a technical marvel but that comes with the genre. The only problem is something that again comes back to part two. In part one all the areas are fresh and new and part two is largely a retread of these same areas.

The first part of Broken Age would have got full marks by our scoring policy. Even though part two sees the narrative through to resolution and has some entertaining moments, it drags the game down as a whole. The obscure puzzles and the disappointing direction the narrative takes are the most notable problems. I can still recommend Broken Age to fans of the genre as there is still more good than bad. It unfortunately hasn’t quite hit the high mark it looked like it would last year and I’m not sure it will be remembered as fondly as the classics that precede it. I can still recommend it to anyone that loves the genre and anyone who thought the puzzles were too simple in part one might enjoy the complete package more overall.

3 Stars

May, 2015

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