Broken Age’s script is so well-crafted that it actually made me stress over my own ability to write about how good it is. And that should be great news for people hoping the game would be the triumphant return of game designer Tim Schafer to the point ‘n click genre. Thankfully, Broken Age isn’t just made for people that pine after PC games from the mid-'90s. Even though its puzzles aren't the strongest the genre has to offer, its refreshing story will hook players enough to keep them pointing and clicking through the first act of this story.
The first act of Broken Age follows two characters, Vella and Shay. Their stories play out independent of one another, and you can swap between the two any time you like (even if it's more enjoyable to experience each of their individual stories uninterrupted). Vella isn't fully comfortable with getting sacrificed to a giant monster, while Shay is trapped in a gilded cage he outgrew years before. Their stories sidestep the usual "save the universe" or revenge tropes, instead exploring themes of individualism and the dangers of groupthink in insightful and funny ways.
Much less clever are the traditional point ’n click adventure puzzles. You’ll click over every inch of Broken Age in search of items you'll need to pull out later as the not-always-logical solution to a puzzle. Some answers are obvious, but others are a bit too vague. I only ever found out a character wanted a bucket of tree sap because I walked around trying to pawn it off to people at random in an attempt to progress through the story. Broken Age isn’t about tasking players with unraveling mysteries. Puzzles are merely a breadcrumb trail to lead you through its narrative.
And if you get hung up on a few vague puzzles, the outstanding (and god damn funny) writing will keep you clicking along. I searched every part of a stage for puzzle-solving items--but I preferred conversing with the numerous characters just to be certain I'd heard every single scrap of dialogue possible. Humor is something games rarely get right, but Double Fine makes it look effortless.
Every character, from the leads on down to the least important members of the supporting cast, is worth talking to, and their homes feel lived in. If only those curious settings weren’t so cramped. Most locations are only a few screens wide, and Broken Age requires you to backtrack and scour every corner for clues, so you’re ultimately very aware of how few places you have to explore. There’s variety and substance to every level, I just wish they weren’t so limited in size and number.
Broken Age’s closed-in world doesn’t cover a lot of real estate, but the art and music design do a great job of filling it out. The the colorful brushstrokes and storybook look bestows the game with an ageless feel that’s versatile enough to work in both sci-fi and fantasy settings. The same goes for the relaxed orchestral score, bringing additional weight to the proceedings. Even when the puzzles falter, the world that surrounds them always kept me engaged.
As the first act of a larger adventure, Broken Age is a great four hours that go by fast and end on a satisfying cliffhanger. Broken Age ends up being a love letter to the past that still has something for players outside its intended audience. The gameplay and puzzles aren’t good enough to prove that point ’n click deserves to be a major genre again, but it does show that Tim Schafer can still make an adventure that’ll appeal to gamers that weren’t old enough to read when his first games came out.
Act One of Broken Age starts off strong, with an incredibly well-written storyline that props up some occasionally weak puzzle work. Let's hope Double Fine can follow through with Act Two when it arrives later this year.
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