Broken Age: Act 1 Review
In March of 2012 Double Fine more than successfully funded their project to make a game in collaboration with Kickstarter backers. The community worked together, giving ideas, direction, and likely being filtered and refined until Double Fine had the concept for Broken Age. We then asked to get our hands on a review copy, and were pleasantly surprised to get one.
Going into the game, I knew very little about it. Simply that it was a point and click call back to older point and click adventures. Right from the intro of the game, it’s pretty obvious what some of the aspects that will set it apart will be. First is the dual narrative. The first choice you have to make in the game is which story to start in. You can either start playing as Shay or Velouria (Vella). If you haven’t done your research, the only info you have to go on is their starting poses. Vella is resting against a tree in a fairly typical autumn nature setting, while Shay is resting in his futuristic space bed. I don’t want to sound like a shallow 5-year old, but my first choice was space bed. From there, you get introduced to the characters, the setting, and what their major dilemma is.
I don’t want to get into too many spoilers with the plot, so I’ll keep my description of the stories brief. Shay’s story starts with him stuck in a constant routine, as he is living on a space ship completely alone except for a set of AI parents, some knit “friends,” and a couple of talking utensils (the knife is my favorite character in this entire game). Because the ship AI is programmed to keep him safe, all of the “life saving missions” he goes on are fake, silly, and totally obviously fake. Shay decides to make a change in his life by purposely failing one of his missions. This leads to him meeting Merrick, a strange man in a wolf costume who decides to show Shay how to be a real hero.
Vella has been selected as one of the sacrificial maidens for the upcoming maidens feast. An event that takes place every fourteen years when Mog Chothra goes to all the villages and feasts on maidens. The weirdest thing about this story line is how cool everyone is with it. Except for Vella, even the maidens are totally up for being eaten by this floating monster orb. Vella decides to escape instead of being dinner and tries to find a way to kill Mog Chothra and return her village to its warrior ways.
Both story lines are really interesting to play. They both deal with similar things like complacency either of an individual or as a society, the merits and faults of safety versus risk, and the need for adventure and purpose in life. The two stories play really well together, and even inter-reference pretty well. It is possible to switch back and forth between the two stories at any point, but this is one mechanic I felt was a little bit wasted. While it is possible to switch between the stories, I hardly did, because once I became engrossed in one story I felt that leaving it for too long was leaving things unfinished. Of course, having a mechanic that is entirely optional, detracts nothing, and adds freedom is not really a fault.
The art style of this game is really cool. There is some perfect middle ground for everything that seemed to be found in the design of this game. The look is cartoonish yet realistic enough to be engaged with the characters. The edges are angled yet just smoothed enough to not seem harsh. The movement has just enough fluidity to match the art style. A lot of thought went into the design of the world and characters. There are always small aspects that show interesting parts of the story, in varying levels of subtlety.
The gameplay is fairly well set, but has a few problems, particularly with its point and click tropes. It always seemed to me that these were coming up at the times that they seemed the most jarring. The best example I can give is the escape from Mog Chothra. To escape you must talk to the girl with the chicken leg, find out she wants a drink (this may have taken several conversations with more than one maiden, but I honestly can’t remember), talk to the girl with the drink, offer to trade her your corset for the drink, trade, have the bottle explode some water on you, trade the corset back because the girl no longer wants it (yes, in a life or death situation, with no other chance at survival, Vella fucking throws the bottle back), then ask her for the bottle AGAIN with nothing to trade, get the bottle because fuck it, that other shit was pointless, trade the bottle for the chicken leg, then use the corset to catch the bird and a knife to cut yourself free. This is a stupid level of point and click puzzle bullshit that would be annoying at a slow stage in the game. This is happening while Mog Chothra is in front of you fucking EATING people around you. The tension of the scene was entirely lost as I kept talking about stuff to people or showing things to people getting the same, or stupid responses. Meanwhile Mog Chothra was just kinda chillin there while I figured it out, only actually doing stuff when I progressed far enough in my escape for his actions not to hinder me. High tension scenes need to be high tension, this is not how to go about them. I give the game some credit that there isn’t a lot of this type of thing in this game. For the most part, the problems are pretty easy or at least organic to figure out. My issue is that having issues like this was far less common during slow times where it is acceptable, and far more common at high paced moments where it is not.
The gameplay does lack pacing for tension, but I never came into this looking for a high paced action game. What I enjoyed most in the game is more what I think the game wast trying to achieve, telling an interesting, relate-able narrative, in an interesting style. Meant more for those who want substance and story in their games than for those who just want some mindless fun.
Broken Age: Act 1 offers an interesting narrative with a really cool art style, while lacking a bit in well paced gameplay.