Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: 'Broken Age' by Double Fine Productions



Adventure games are a tricky proposition in today's video game market. In an environment continuously touting hyper-realistic graphics, online multiplayability, and more, a relatively simple point-and-click adventure game has a hard time gaining traction. That's exactly why developer Double Fine went to Kickstarter: they knew there was an audience for this type of game but couldn't find a publisher to take a chance on it. Two years and over $3 million later, we finally have Broken Age, and boy was it worth the wait.

Broken Age follows two thematically-related storylines. One involves Shay, a young boy living aboard a spacecraft with some overbearing computer programs who takes part in absurd "training" missions. The other takes place in a quaint village as Vella finds herself chosen as one of the sacrifices for the monstrous Mog Chothra and, unlike the rest of the village, doesn't see the point in appeasing the monster. The plots unravel slowly as you explore, and the slow burn really helps to build each storyline's respective world. Characters are funny and clever and, most importantly, each interaction feels important, or at the very least worthwhile. There's also enough intrigue and mystery that you'll want to keep clicking through until the end.

The gameplay is, comparatively, pretty straightforward. You click where you want your character to go and are able to pickup and otherwise interact with certain objects. When you speak with people (or computers in Shay's case) you're able learn more about the world in which you're interacting and choose your next course of action. The puzzles involved are fun and clever; you'll need to, for instance, decide how to use objects in conjunction with each other or figure out a certain path to take, and while they can be tricky, nothing in the game will leave you frustrated or exhasperated. The UI is clean (and virtually nonexistent) and nothing is so confusing that you won't be able to jump right in.


Aesthetically the game fires on all cylinders. If you've played a Double Fine game before - Psychonauts, BrĂ¼tal Legend, etc - the distinctive art style is alive and well. The graphics have an almost watercolor appeal to them, and there's a great contrast between the soft backgrounds and the sharp characters and objects. The music is fun, and the voice acting is superb - which is great, because the game is incredibly character- and story-driven, and a half-assed attempt at making the characters come to life would have done it a huge disservice. When a company can get this kind of quality on a relatively small budget, it makes you wonder why you need a hundred million dollars at all.


The worst part about Broken Age is that it ends. Abruptly. You see, only Act 1 has been properly released, with Act 2 coming out later. The team found a nice end point for a cliffhanger, but it also means that your playthrough will be short at only a few hours. Maybe chalk it up to good marketing and always leave them wanting more, but it's tough to decide whether you like having what you can right now or if you wish they'd finished the entire thing up before release.

It's appropriate that Broken Age's protagonists struggle with growing up and forging their own paths, as that's exactly what Double Fine has done with their game. Their Kickstarter campaign has, in fact, kickstarted the resurgence of an almost-given-up-on genre and helped validate crowdfunding as a viable business model. The best part is that this wasn't just for show; Broken Age is a truly fun, engaging, emotional game that's worth the hype. Don't be disappointed when it ends; know that there's more on the way, but more importantly, make sure you enjoy the ride while you're on it.

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