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Broken Age Act 1 Review: A New Era of Adventure
There are some pretty high stakes riding on the reception of Broken Age, with over $3,000,000 pledged by 87,000 backers almost two years ago (even more with ‘slacker backers’ -ed). Now, overdue and over budget, all eyes are on Tim Schafer and the game he promised would revolutionize the modern adventure game industry.
The story of the first act is about following your heart and chasing your own happiness, no matter what others around you think. Broken Age is split up into two stories that are for the most part separate, though the protagonists struggle with many of the same problems. Vella is one of the regular sacrifices from her town to be offered to the terrifying beast that threatens to destroy everything. Everyone seems perfectly content with this, even to the point of showering the victim’s families with glory and having women fight viciously to have the honor of being chosen as a sacrifice. Even Vella herself starts off complicity accepting her fate because – well, that’s just how things are, right? On the other hand, Shay is a closeted and coddled boy that lives in a world completely fabricated to please him and keep him safe. He quickly realizes that he is a prisoner of this life when he tries to deviate from his daily routine of eating ice cream and playing with ‘toys’, and is quickly stifled. Both characters decide to change their lives and embark on an epic journey… I won’t spoil anything for you but feel free to check out our video coverage of the start of the game (with awesome commentary!)
As one would expect from a Tim Schafer game, there’s abounds of witty humor everywhere and even the poop jokes are wrapped in a pretty parcel of wit and puns. One of the biggest strengths of the game is the character roster, including a lumberjack that is scared of trees, a cultist that rules over a kingdom in the clouds, and the shadiest Big Bad Wolf you’ve ever seen. Most of the amusing aspects of the game come from your interactions with this weird entourage rather than straight out jokes, keeping everything smart. But while everyone is expecting Schafer’s comedic talents to shine through – and it does – the narrative isn’t neglected at all and there is a clear dedication to a complex and thorough storyline. This comes across most impressively when you notice the subtle links between the two otherwise separate tales, and the ending of the first chapter provides one of the most awesome cliffhangers in recent gaming history. Many were concerned that the quality of the game would be diminished as it’s split into two parts but there is a solid beginning, middle and end to the first episode that extinguishes this potential problem.
Having not personally played most of the early point-and-clicks that people hold up as champions of the old adventure genre, my only point of comparison are of modern titles (you know, the ones where you spend more time stuck trying to figure out that you have to mix the banana with the tablecloth to make a jetpack than actually playing?) Despite believing that somewhat illogical puzzle design was just to be expected in these games, Broken Age pumps out clear and directed puzzles like there’s an Olympic medal for it. Odds are that you won’t need to use a walkthrough at all as even if you do get stuck there is a subtle hint system built into the game in which upon failing a scenario repeatedly or talking to somebody again they will provide you with hints that direct you to your goal.
The puzzle design synergizes with the story quite well as you flow through the game at a very controlled pace rather than being stuck constantly. Some have commented that it’s a little too easy and this might be true – roughly half of the puzzles are of perfect, moderate difficulty while the other half err just slightly on the obvious side of the track. The result is a relaxing game experience but not necessarily a greatly rewarding or challenging one. It also means that while the game is only 4-5 hours long (though not short for the first half of a two-part adventure by any means) it feels like you’re covering more content than you are in many other adventure games.
The simplicity of the puzzles may be the only real complaint for the game; Broken Age definitely aims for a minimalistic approach to how you solve problems in the game, and it gets just a bit too same-y near the end. There’s one light minigame you get to play a couple of times but it’s nothing in the same league as, for example, the Deponia trilogy. The overall gameplay is helped in this respect by releasing in two parts, as playing both sections together (assuming the second part doesn’t have drastically different gameplay) would have begun to get a little tedious. The idea was likely to focus on exploration and story rather than trying to use confusing game mechanisms, but it could easily be interpreted as playing it safe, causing the gameplay to suffer in the variety department.
The famous names involved with the voice acting in Broken Age was naturally a big attraction of the game. The vast majority of characters had very high quality voice acting, though it was a bit of a shame that some of the lead names ended up having rather small roles in the scheme of things (e.g Jack Black). Some stand-outs were definitely David Kaufman as Marek, Jennifer Hale as your computerized mum and John Cygan as… well, the spoon. Check out some of the other voices here! Unique art and good writing can make characters memorable but Broken Age proves that stellar voice acting is really a necessary part of making a world feel alive.
Speaking of artwork, the art design doesn’t disappoint in that arena either. Art is really an area that modern adventure games excel at as they constantly seem to find a way of producing simple graphics that are both beautiful and distinctive, and Broken Age is no different. Admittedly, plenty of games have better background work, but character design and animation is where the game shines. The style suits a Schafer game well as it lends itself to conveying certain expressions in the characters such as sarcasm and awe.
In the end, many claims were made as to how incredible Broken Age would be, and the rebel in me really wanted to deem it unworthy and rip it to pieces. Instead I’m left with that depressed feeling you get when you invest yourself into a good book and then have to wait for the sequel to arrive. If you feel jaded by the gameplay of the latest point-and-clicks, then this a must buy for you.