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Broken Age Act 1 Review

Posted by Stephen Foote On Monday 20 January 2014ADD COMMENTS

Available on PC l Published and developed by Double Fine Productions l Unclassified l Supports 1 player

REVIEW IN BRIEF > Boasting gorgeous visuals and a soothing score, Act 1 of Double Fine’s crowd-funded adventure teases players with the first bite of two interwoven narratives. While it excels aesthetically, it is an unevenly paced experience with some questionable mechanics and unchallenging gameplay that fails to reach the heights of previous entries in the genre from creator Tim Schafer.

REVIEW IN FULL > Full disclosure time: I was a backer of the Kickstarter project that eventually became Broken Age, having ponied up my $15 almost two years ago. I didn’t follow the development of the title closely, going so far as to completely ignore the Backer Update emails and the episodic documentary series from 2 Player Productions.

While the first act succeeded in being charming, it didn’t meet the expectations set by Schafer’s involvement.

As the first point-and-click adventure from writer/director Tim Schafer since 1998′s Grim Fandango, long held up as one of the pinnacles of the genre, Broken Age had much to live up to. While the first act succeeded in being both intriguing and charming, it didn’t meet the level of expectations set by Schafer’s involvement.

The game wove two narratives that took place in opposing environments but carried similar thematic weight. The protagonists, Shay and Vella, were yearning for a change in their routine-mired lives as they struggled to break away from their respective familial and cultural shackles. It was this adolescent attempt to craft a unique identity that started each narrative, although Vella’s was arguably the stronger of the two.

The major factor in my preference for Vella’s story arc stemmed from the fact that of the mere three hours it took me to complete Act 1, two of them were spent with Vella. Further strengthening Vella’s case were the diverse array of areas to explore in comparison to the single setting in which Shay’s story took place. This was compounded by the fact that I finished Shay’s section before progressing on to Vella’s. This meant that by the time the inevitable cliffhanger ending rolled around, I felt much more invested in her side of the story. Whilst the game allowed me to switch between its protagonists at any time, this mechanic went unused during my playthrough. There were no lulls in either story in which it would make sense to jump to the other. Indeed, I would only have done so had I encountered a particularly difficult problem, of which there were none.

While it was a blessing that the developers had forgone the truly bizarre “adventure game logic” conundrums that plagued Sierra and LucasArts games in the mid 90s, the level of mental dexterity required to best the puzzles presented in Broken Age was truly at a minimum. More often than not, story progress was achieved by simple fetch quests, with the destination never more than four screens away. To add insult to injury, the crowd-sourced nature of Broken Age meant that many of the people who funded its development were the exact same players who once spent hours wracking their brains over adventure game puzzles before resorting to pre-CNET GameFAQs for solutions.

More often than not, story progress was achieved by simple fetch quests, with the destination never more than four screens away.

Where Broken Age proved above reproach was in its audio and visual presentation. Indeed, the colour palette, art style and composer Peter McConnell’s score conspired to evoke a sense of calm and wonder. Characters and set pieces all appeared to be lovingly crafted, with the voice actors on hand ranging from good to excellent, many of the roles being admirably performed by celebrities willing to conjure characters rather than simply star as themselves. It was unfortunate that the opening act was so short, as Double Fine had succeeded in creating a beautiful and mysterious world well worth exploring.

I found it somewhat difficult to review Broken Age in its current state, as this first act came across as the “shorter half” of a complete game. Hopefully Tim Schafer and his team at Double Fine will use the lead up to the second instalment to beef up the running time and difficulty. Until then, it remains to be seen whether Broken Age will become a classic of the resurging adventure genre or just another good game. Either way, thanks to Kickstarter, Double Fine already has my money.

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