Broken Age : Act 1 – Sorta Review

It’s been almost two years now since Double Fine did their Kickstarter. And then suddenly Broken Age: Act 1 was ready and in my email inbox. As someone who doesn’t really read the backer updates too closely, I will admit I was kinda taken with my trousers down.

Pro cropping! (Not really)

The game is not quite out for official release yet. The 27th of January, I believe; I noticed it being up for pre-order now. As a Kickstarter backer though, I got early access, only this early access is the proper game. Sort of. It’s hard to talk about this game without going into the… issues it’s had. So let’s not even try to skirt around it, and just dive right in.

When Double Fine first launched their Kickstarter, they asked for $400 000. They ended up getting over $3.3 million. They were hailed as the first big success story of Kickstarter, and I have to imagine that kinda went to their heads. And this is a group of very creative people, with Tim Schaefer being the most prominent among them, so I imagine their heads were buzzing with ideas before the money was even in the bank.

It’s a shame their budgeting skills weren’t quite as strong. The project with the working title of Double Fine Adventure was originally planned to be released as a complete package. Until the money ran out. Then they attempted a Humble Bundle to raise more money, which still wasn’t enough. And for a while there I was wondering if Broken Age would end up stuck in development hell. Finally came the announcement that this was now an episodic game.

And I’ll be damned if the clever bastards didn’t manage to make very good use of the format.

*wooden expression*

Presented without context.

I want to say this plays as your classic, standard point-and-click adventure, but as someone who lived through the 90s I know better. It feels like one, but thankfully it’s not as convoluted. You don’t have to pick whether you want to eat, smell, use, look at or talk to the knife in your inventory, there aren’t a ton of inventory items, the moon logic is kept to a minimum (though that is speaking as someone who has played a lot of these games, so it might feel different to newcomers) and they’ve left out the random “GOTCHAS”. Then again, Lucasarts never liked putting deaths in their point-and-clicks, so it makes sense a project headed by Schaefer and others from there would also omit that.

I did my very best to stay cynical while playing this. I really did. I felt its odd history deserved such a critical eye. Yet I ended up getting carried away anyway.

Mmm, look at that artwork.

Our two protagonists.

A combination of clever writing, good voice acting and interesting artwork dragged me along for the ride, and I’ll admit I’m glad it did. You can choose between two playable characters to begin with, as per the screenshot above. To the left we have Vella, a young girl of the village Sugar Bunting, and to the right is Commander/Captain Shay of a spaceship I can’t recall if was named. He has a talking spoon that gives him nutritional facts when he’s eating, and makes slightly disturbing comments when he’s not. I felt this needed to be mentioned.

I will take this opportunity to bring up a minor gripe I have: It is not always immediately apparent whether you’re supposed to be doing something or not. Sometimes stuff happening on its own and the game wanting you to take action transitions so smoothly that it took me a few moments to realise the game wanted me to do something. See, if the mouse cursor appears, then you’re expected to do a thing, but it doesn’t always stand out that much, so it can take you a few moments to notice. Like on the character select screen up there, where I just sat there waiting for like a minute wondering what was gonna happen next until I realised it wanted me to pick.

Spoiler: That old woman is horrid.

Celebrations!

I started out with Vella, though as you see in the screenshot above, your inventory bar has an icon of Shay’s face in the lower right, and you can at almost any time switch over to playing him instead (and vice versa). I ended up playing though about half of Vella’s story, getting kinda stuck, going over to Shay, completing his thing, then going back and finishing with Vella. Regardless of how you personally want to do it, I do recommend starting with Vella, but I will assume the story works however you do it.

So, yeah. You point at things, and click on them for stuff to happen. Drag-and-drop to use an item on something. It’s very straightforward. And I think you’re allowed to explore every conversation choice without worrying about fucking things up beyond repair, but I’ll admit I was too chicken to pick the least subtle ones just in case. The joys of immersion!

Is... is this Yggdrasil?

Of course there’s a plum tree on a cloud.

I don’t really want to go too much into the story, because I’m not sure what would count as too much of a spoiler (which is also why I’m pretty careful about picking my screenshots), but I will say that it didn’t take long for the name Broken Age to start making sense. Things are a bit… dark.

That ending though… I say it again: clever bastards. I’m still trying to analyse everything the game told me. I really desperately feel a need to get my hands on Act 2, which I assume was the point. I just hope it can follow up such an explosive start. I have so many questions! (The cynical part of me insists this can only end in disappointment.)

Who thought making a spoon sentient and eager was a good idea?

The aforementioned spoon.

The bottom line is: Double Fine have released a very promising start to their adventure game. I am looking forward to seeing more. I can’t really stop thinking about it right now. Though… speaking of being cynical…

It’s not that hard to see where the budget has gone. I assume it’s mostly into the voice-acting. Everything is voice-acted. There are many conversation options. And almost every interaction of trying to use an inventory item on something or someone seems to have a unique line. With voice talent like Elijah Wood, Jack Black, Wil Wheaton, Masaya Moyo, Jennifer Hale, etc, that can’t have been cheap.

The artwork also seems time-consuming, which tends to translate into expensive. I am not an artist though, so I could be horribly wrong on that one, but this stuff looks hand-drawn to me. If it’s not, they’ve done a good enough job to convince me it is.

Perhaps we can call her... Mother Brain?

This is the face of Shay’s main computer. She sees herself as his mom.

The Steam page claims Act 2 will be the conclusion, and if you buy Act 1, you will get the rest for free when it’s available. Considering I completed this game in about 3.5 hours, I wonder if Act 2 will be comparable in length? I suppose in the end all that matters is whether it’s worth your money.

If you like point-and-click adventure games, like me, I will say this is one of the most enjoyable ones I’ve played in a long time. If you don’t like point-and-clicks, this might not be for you. I mean, it’s not especially hard, the interface is fairly intuitive and forgiving, and the moon logic quota is low… so it might still be worth it for the story, if you care about that.

~Wulf

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Posted on January 16, 2014, in Games, Sorta reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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