Jan 22, 2014

[Games] Broken Age - Act I

So I finished the first act of Double Fine's new adventure game, Broken Age, in about 4 hours. And that's not a bad thing at all - if anything the whole experience felt almost religious at times. I was actually back in one of the amazing stories crafted by the mind of Tim Shafer - and it was like being home again.

The signs were everywhere - the design of the puzzles, the way the different dialog trees touch on clues that become important later to finding more solutinos. And of course there's the humor - the quirky, oddball jokes and puns that are pretty much a signature of Tim's creative efforts.

I can't really say that this is a formal review yet - we only have one half of the game after all. But I do have some things that I want to say about this game now that I've come this far.

At it's core, the original summary of the game as discussed on the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter updates remains the easiest way to describe the game: Broken Age is a story about a girl and a boy. The girl is Vella, who is about to be offered as a sacrifice to giant monster that regularly threatens her town. The boy is Shay, the only living person on a sort of lifeboat spaceship, who is beginning to tire of the overprotective computer that runs the ship - and his life.

The game as a whole is just beautiful. During the early stages I wasn't sure if I was going to buy into Bagel's art style for the game, but once it was all there in all its glory, I was left speechless. And there's the music that really gives the whole game added depth and dimension. There were new sounds that would help lift you up and there were familiar sounds that had me thinking of past adventure games from years before.

Admittedly, being a Broken Age Backer really gave me a unique perspective on the whole game. Beyond the backer-only forums (which have become a staple for many video game Kickstarter projects), the on-going documentary put together by 2 Player Productions have provided a rather in-depth look at every facet of the game's development. And thus we got to know many of the programmers, animators and other production team members who are responsible for bringing the game to life. And that creates a deeper sense of affinity for the actual output.

But even without the backer-access to behind-the-scenes information, Broken Age is a solidly enjoyable game. This is not some revolutionary game concept or genre-changer. If anything, it feels like a return to a different age of gaming - one that died not because of lack of interest or love but more because of studio and distributor decisions related to what games have a higher return on investment. True, it takes a unique type of personality to fully enjoy adventure games of this nature. But I'd like to think that more people can benefit from this type of storytelling more than just watching some cut scene inserted between mindlessly violent games.

Thanks to the excellent writing, the beautiful animation and of course the stellar (and rather star-filled) voice casting, Vella and Shay are fully realized characters that you as a player come to care about. You'll want to cheer Vella on in her choice to find a way to fight the monster instead of just appeasing it. You'll share in Shey's frustration about being trapped in a monotonous routine with the Mom personality of the Computer forever watching his every move. You want these characters to find their way in life and achieve their goals. And that's the true brilliance of this game.

For those wondering, puzzle difficulty was pretty moderate. There were still moments when I'd get stuck, but the option to switch between Vella and Shay at will at any time in the game really provided the kind of mental break needed to get the puzzle juices flowing. In the beginning it was like riding a bike - even though people say that you never forget, it still takes you a bit of time to fully remember. And thankfully the game starts you off with some pretty simple puzzles and things get progressively more interesting. But no, you won't have to deal with stupid combine this item in your inventory with another one in order to get a unique thing that only works at a certain time sort of puzzles. Longtime adventure game players know what I'm talking about.

Broken Age is still a work-in-progress with Act II projected to be released this April. But as things stand, this first half is a solid game on its own. It's not too short (although adventure games hardly feel too long) and it ends on a pretty solid part of the story that's still a cliffhanger, but not annoyingly so. If I were to rate this first Act, I'd definitely give it a 5 out of 5, but let's wait for the true end of the game.

In the meantime, the 90's kid inside of me is trying to map out when I'm going to re-play the entire game just for the heck of it. Thank you so much, Tim Shafer!

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