Developers: Double Fine Productions
Publishers: Double Fine Productions
Plot: Broken Age tells two stories, one about Vella, a girl chosen to be sacrificed to a deadly monster and another about Shay, a young boy, going mad thanks to isolation and over-the-top health and safety regimes.
I have always said I wanted more episodic games and Broken Age fills that demand nicely. However, I cannot help but feel underwhelmed.
Broken Age is your basic point and click game, literally taking a leaf out of the Walking Dead’s book. You are thrown into two different characters, both exploring the themes of ‘breaking away from tradition and expectations to become your own person’. The first thing that hits you is the art. It is a very creative game. Most games with a different art style (Wolf Among Us, Gone Home), look great at the start, but we kind of acclimatise to the style and forget about it. Broken Age always finds new ways of making us wonder at how well-crafted some of the locations are. Like most point and click games, it is heavily story-based, having you walk around the surrounding area to try and piece together the narrative. The story is actually quite a good one, but there is so much dialogue to get through that you might find yourself wishing for something a little more fast-paced. I like a good story in my game, as much as the next guy, but Broken Age is yet another game that leads with a story, rather than tying their gameplay into an interesting narrative. Vella’s plot suffers the most from it, as each time you enter a new location and realise you will be spending the next twenty minutes shifting through characters and speech, trying to get a feel for the new area, you will begin to get fed up. Maybe Broken Age’s saving grace is that it is an episodic game and not one you need to play all in one go. That would get tiring very fast.
My main gripe for the game is the fact that it is designed for children. That is not usually a problem, but with Broken Age, I found myself wanting to shake some more life into the proceedings. Vella’s storyline finds an OK balance between kid entertainment and adult entertainment, as we handle something as dark as human sacrifice, but in a PG tone. It feels very fairy tale-esque and is the kind of children’s tale that works. Shay’s story, on the other hand, takes so long to get off the ground, because it is trying far too hard to be funny. The first few moments of Shay’s level builds up this feeling of pointlessness and repetition, which while important, gets aggravating after a while. If you start off playing Shay’s side of the Act (you get to choose the order), you might find yourself throwing the game away. Also, you can’t actually die. It works at first, acting as a tutorial, but when you are nearing the end of Vella’s story and taking on a boss fight that won’t actually finish you off, all sense of danger evaporates. There is being child-friendly and then there is making a game that won’t impact anyone in the slightest.
Not that Broken Age isn’t fun. Action might be out the window, but puzzle-solving is quite amusing. Sure, it becomes clear that this is one of the only things Broken Age has got going for it, but it could be much worse. You arrive in an area and it becomes clear that there is a problem that needs solved. But to solve that problem, you need an item, and to get that item you need a favour from a friend and for that favour… you get the idea. Everything becomes a clever little game of ordering that requires you to think and explore every avenue. Every now and again, it will get you totally stumped and I began to appreciate Broken Age more for actually getting me to sit back and think about what to do next. It became impossible to stop playing, because I was so hooked in the puzzle-solving. While it borrows a lot from the gameplay and episodic feel of the Walking Dead Game, I think that maybe Telltale could also look to these sequences for inspiration every now and again.
And yes, the story is a good one. I might warn that you will get fed up and put the controller down, but more likely, you will bitterly play this one to find out how it turns out. Mystery hangs in the air through Shay’s level and with Vella, you need to find out if she vanquishes the vile Mog Chothra or not. Also, while I disapproved of the humour, sometimes it does hit the spot. I was rolling on the floor, laughing, when we are introduced to a race of people that remove vowels from their name and the youngest is called Sh’t. The trees insulting anyone that tries to cut them down was also a welcome addition. Elijah Wood, who voices Shay, also wins us over with his bored, monotone way of reacting to events. Sometimes, it is just so odd, you have to roll with it. And when you complete Act I, the twist is incredible. I had an idea where it was going, but when the reveal is finally shown, I realised just how clever this game had been being from the start. For that reason alone, I shall purchase the second Act.
Final Verdict: Flawed, but the cliff-hanger alone is enough to make me entertain the idea of buying the next one.