Broken Age Act 1 Review: The King Has Returned

Broken Age is a game that has had a lot of high hopes providing the wind in its sails, but there have also been a lot of questions lingering in the air. Can Tim Schafer actually create a point-and-click adventure game that in 2014 will live up to all of our fond memories of the good old days of PC gaming? Will it find an audience beyond us who grew up playing the Indiana Jones, Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island games? Most importantly, when compared to the magnum opus that was LucasArts’s Grim Fandango, is this just Schafer and co. feeling nostalgic? Those are a lot of questions and a lot of pressure on Double Fine, on top of being the Kickstarter that Kickstartered them all, but many of those will be answered over the next few weeks.

This week was the release for the Kickstarter backers of Broken Age Act 1, which has promised to be about half of the full game’s length and is in “early access.” The early access felt more like a season pass because this is only the first half of the game, not because there are any real bugs that need to be ironed out, especially knowing that Act 2 is just going to be an update for the game.  So then it just became a “Season Pass,” go figure. We were originally going to hold off on a review, as Double Fine politely asked for a two week embargo on reviews until the public launch, but every site under the sun decided to complain and Double Fine quickly reversed their stance on it, a small blemish on the otherwise incredibly fan-friendly endeavor.

Broken Age follows the tales of two characters; Shay and Vella. Both Shay and Vella live very different, but similar lives, which are somehow intertwined with each other. At the beginning of the game you are given a cursor and allowed to select whichever character you wish to play as and there is an option to switch back and forth between them, but it seems more like a matter of convenience at the moment than an actual gameplay mechanism. You’ll be playing through Act 1 of each character, having to overcome the challenges that both of their lives seem overwrought with.

Vella lives in a small town where the townsfolk are ruled by fear of a giant beast that apparently eats nothing but young girls. Every town holds sacrificial offerings to the beast with them presented as a great honor as to not anger the great beast and keep peace for each town. Vella is, of course, one of those “Maidens” in her town of bakers and will be offered up to the great beast. Of course, she has some thoughts of her own, which her grandfather seems to support but everyone else feels would break tradition and put everyone else in danger; she wants to kill the beast, not bow down to it.

On the other side is Shay, who lives a solitary life inside of a spaceship that is wandering the cosmos completely outside of his control. Shay might not be a small child anymore, but the ship is outfitted for a small child to create some grand illusion for him. The ship’s computer is the overbearing mother who takes the form of the Sun, while his father takes the shape of the Moon that only appears while he’s sleeping. The ship is childproofed and gives him a choice of cereals each morning followed by missions which are, well, a joke. They involve dolls made out of yarn and stuff like giving them hugs, receiving presents on a space walk and saving his yarn friends from an ice cream avalanche. Shay’s disobedience finally begins to pay off when he meets a Wolf who looks to take him on a real adventure, away from the overbearing ship’s computer, something not safe anymore.

Each will encounter their own unique problems to solve by the way of puzzles and must use items that they find along the way to solve these puzzles, or combine them in a useful way to do so. I’m not sure that this game felt as challenging as past adventure games from Schafer have, but then again, there were a few puzzles that took me a little bit to discover the solution to, as some environmental stuff isn’t always obvious in these games. A seasoned adventure gamer will not have many problems navigating these puzzles, but will probably be pretty happy while doing so anyway. Other players might find them to be a little frustrating at times, but there are already walkthroughs popping up online, so there is always cheating. I must say, it felt nice to have to pull out a piece of paper and copy down what I thought would be a possible solution to a puzzle and then try to find the right place to plug it in. It’s the kind of feedback you don’t get from a lot of games anymore and was sorely missed.

Graphically it is a pretty game as most of the backgrounds are done in a hand-drawn style much like the graphic adventures of old, but when pumped up to the highest resolution they might lose a little bit of their luster. It’s still a beautiful game and you’ll find yourself marveling at the locations throughout. The sound is about what you’d expect from a Tim Schafer adventure game, with fun but not obtrusive music and a cast of voice actors that you’ll likely recognize and appreciate.

You’ll either love the gameplay or hate it, depending on what kind of gamer you are. I feel like fans of the more twitch- and gun-obsessed gaming of late will find this game to be a bit of a chore, as the pacing is generally a lot slower and unlike the more recent games by Telltale you won’t find yourself in any real action sequences where you are shooting anything. But if you are a fan of point-and-click adventure games you are going to be wondering where Broken Age has been all of your life and appreciate little touches like double clicking on a door to skip through to the next area as opposed to watching your character walk through to it.

Clocking in between three to four hours in length this won’t take up a ton of your time but will be a wonderful experience, especially knowing that this is only half of the game and that the other half will come later on in the year. If you didn’t back the game I highly recommend picking it up on the 28th when it launches as it is the most authentic adventure game experience that you’ll have outside of playing older games and supporting this game just means that we’ll get more, which would be great. We’ve seen so many other genres of games repurposed or rediscovered that it is nice to see an old school point-and-click adventure game released by one of the masters of the genre in Tim Schafer.

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