At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Richard Pilot PC/Mac Double Fine Double Fine 1
Requirements
Windows: Windows XP Service Pack 3, 1.7GHz Dual Core processor, 2GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260, ATI Radeon 4870 HD, Intel HD 3000, or equivalent card with at least 512 MB VRAM, 1500MB hard disk drive space
Mac: OS X 10.6.8 (Snow Leopard) or later, Intel Core Duo processor, 2GB RAM, ATI Radeon HD 4850, NVIDIA GeForce GT 120, Intel HD 3000, or equivalent card with at least 512MB VRAM, 1500MB hard disk drive space
Linux: Ubuntu 12.04 LTS or later, 1.7GHz Dual Core processor, 2GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260, ATI Radeon 4870 HD, Intel HD 3000, or equivalent card with at least 512 MB VRAM, 1500MB hard disk drive space

Broken Age - Part 1 review

For better or for worse, independent developer Double Fine changed the landscape of crowdfunding when, back in 2012, they managed to raise over three million dollars in funding from members of the public as part of the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter campaign. It was the highest crowd-funded gaming campaign at the time and only the second to raise over a million dollars. It triggered a wave of similar initiatives, with many developers and publishers realising the sorts of successes that were available to them via Kickstarter and similar schemes. Success projects have included FTL, The Banner Saga, the Ouya microconsole, and Planetary Annihilation; the list goes on and on. After all these successes, it may come as a surprise that the campaign that kicked it all off has only just released its first game. Last month Double Fine released Broken Age - Act 1, the first of a two-phased release that represents the game that so many pledged their money for. So was it all worth it? Lets find out!

What is Broken Age? The game was pitched as a "Point-and-Click graphic adventure game for the modern age" and for the most part it meets that goal fairly well. The game tells the story of two characters each in their own separate worlds. Players can choose either character to play as and can switch between them at any point during the game. Vella is an adventurous girl who has been groomed to be a sacrifice for a huge monster that has been tormenting the surrounding villages. Shay is a young man who has grown up alone on a spaceship with only the computer systems and animated robots for company. Both characters are keen to escape the confines of the situations they find themselves in. Vella wants to fight the monster instead of placating it, and Shay wants some excitement outside of the same old routine he finds himself repeating. Throughout the course of the game players will help the duo on their respective adventures, meeting quirky characters, solving puzzles and exploring new locations and, whilst I won't explain how the two stories relate to each other, Part 1 of Broken Age certainly ends in an interesting cliffhanger that I didn't see coming until the very end.

I would not trust that tree...

I would not trust that tree...

One of the things that you'll spot straight away is that the game is beautiful. The backgrounds are stylised to look like a watercolour painting, with elements slowly moving around bringing the whole thing to life. It's very reminiscent of the environments in Braid. Characters have their own distinct style, notable for their often quirky appearance and smooth animations. The worlds themselves fit the quirkiness of the setting of the story, such as the cake-themed village Vella finds herself in, to the eerily empty corridors of the spaceship. Double Fine have done a very impressive job creating all these assets and its clear that it was done with great care.

Helping flesh out this world are an ensemble cast of characters, each of whom brings a little bit of humour to the world, whether that's from their situation, their demeanor or their conversations with the character. These are voiced by a huge cast of vocal talent, clearly showcasing how Double Fine spent a good portion of the budget. There's a bunch of familiar names lending their voice to the game including Elijah Wood, Jennifer Hale, Jack Black, Wil Wheaton, Pendleton Ward and more. None of them feel overused or overemphasized and they help bring their respective characters to life.

Is it really a good morning? Shay thinks otherwise

Is it really a good morning? Shay thinks otherwise

The game certainly sticks to its point and click adventure roots with plenty of dialogue options for each of the characters you meet, offering a variety of interesting conversations. However, you can have very little impact on the direction things proceed, with almost no puzzles or meaningful choices; almost all options are there to flesh out the characters and the world or to inject humour into some of the interactions, such as the woodsmen who thinks the trees are after him or the enlightened guru at Meriloft. These conversations are comprised of a list of options and whilst it's often amusing to listen to all the possibilities, there's no gameplay here. This rests the majority of the game's challenge on the inventory system. Here too, much like the conversation system, the systems are stripped down to the basics. Items are acquired by clicking on the relevant object or clicking the applicable option in the dialogue tree. Once in your inventory you can attempt to combine any items together or drag them into the environment and place them on any glowing object. Part of the fun results from coming up with the particular combination the game is looking for, but there is no challenge, no consequence of an incorrect placement and no losing state. Outside of this system, there are two environmental puzzles that are solved purely from where you go in the world. This was the only time I got truly stuck and it can't be solved simply by brute force. Vella's one required turning the previously taught game logic on its head, and was therefore particularly frustrating. Your enjoyment of the game rests upon how much you are immersed in the story. While the world is undoubtedly beautiful, filled with some cool characters, the gameplay is Broken Age's weak point.

Described as a 'point and click' adventure, it is only true in the most literal sense. Many conversions that you may expect are absent, there is no ability to look at any item of interest and a basic inventory system that rewards trial and error over intelligent problem solving. Luckily the story of Broken Age is so interesting that you probably won't care. Double Fine have created a world filled with interesting characters and beautiful scenery. You're never going to be overwhelmed by fiendish puzzles, but you won't mind as you follow the two characters on their journeys. The end of part one certainly sets up an intriguing mystery to continue into the second half and if my inventory was any indication there's plenty of room for more complexity in the puzzles when that arrives, hopefully later in the year. For now you have an interesting game, albeit one driven by the narrative more than gameplay, although in this case it's not to its detriment. In fact, it very much lives up to the original Kickstarter name, Double Fine Adventure!

Ratings

Overall Broken Age: Act 1 offers a impressive experience with high production values from art to voice acting. What it lacks in depth to the gameplay it more than makes up for with its compelling narrative. 8/10

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