Broken Age is a point-and-click adventure from indie studio Double Fine. Double Fine are mostly known for the critically acclaimed Psychonauts and Brütal Legend games, and its founder Tim Shafer for the Grim Fandango games. Broken Age is a crowdfunded project that raised an impressive 3.45 million dollars through Kickstarter, which at the time of its inception was one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date (the team had originally set their goal at only 450 thousand dollars for development and production). Due to development pressures, the executive decision was made to release the game in two halves and the second instalment has just been released and the game is now available in its entirety on PC, PS4 and PS Vita.
The two main protagonists in Broken Age are Shay and Vella. Although their worlds are very different in terms of culture and geography, we see them both struggle with being oppressed by their respective environments and the apparent rules that bind them that are not to be questioned. The player can quickly swap between the two characters at any time, but in each act each character has a separate set of problems and puzzles to solve that are mostly independent of the other. The story here is quite captivating, with interesting twists and turns and an intriguing coming-of-age tale that is buoyed by the numerous colourful and genuinely funny characters that our heroes meet along the way. One of my favourites was Harmn’y Lightbeard, a guru who runs a spiritual community (definitely not a cult) in the clouds. He is expertly voiced by none other than Jack Black (who also voiced the main character in Brütal Legend), and his philosophical musings will definitely elicit a chortle or two. Another honourable mention is the woodcutter Curtis (voiced by Wil Wheton), who is forced to turn to metalworking after the trees he routinely cuts down start to talk (and scream). Talking to Curtis will reveal that underneath that flannel and thick beard he’s a bit of a hipster, and he’ll give you his two cents on art and capitalism if you’ve the ear to listen. Elijah Wood (as Shay) and Jennifer Hale (as Mom) also lend their pipes to the game to good effect.
Gameplay-wise, Broken Age is a stock standard point-and-click adventure. If you’ve played games like the Monkey Island series or Broken Sword you know exactly what to expect here. You spend the bulk of your playtime wandering the environment, talking to people, picking up items and combining them in creative ways to solve problems. The game requires you think laterally in order to succeed and the vast majority of its puzzles and solutions are quite clever. This is definitely a game to be played without a guide, as there is a certain satisfaction in completing some of its more frustrating head scratchers using only the information the world gives you. I can only think of two times that I thought the solution to a certain problem was a touch obscure, but one might argue that this is par for the course in a point-and-click adventure.
Visually the game has a distinct, hand-drawn art style, with a vibrant colour palette that creates a lively world. It is unfortunate though that the settings in this world, while diverse and well-realised, aren’t particularly numerous. You will find yourself wandering the same paths for long stretches of time and they can start to feel a little claustrophobic after a while. Happily though, there’s a great, quirky, orchestral soundtrack that accompanies the game, which performs the almost impossible feat of not getting on your nerves even after you’ve listened to it for hours (previously I thought only Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame was capable of this).
Broken Age is a by-the-numbers point and click experience with an original coming-of-age tale to tell. Helped by truly memorable characters and some excellent writing, the game has a consistently wry, wittily sarcastic tone that is a pleasure to experience, and continually surprised me with its insightfulness. Double Fine should be commended for bringing a crowdfunded project of such quality to fruition, and for delivering a polished product that exudes intelligence, character and style.
Reviewed on PC