Double Fine’s crowd-funded adventure is finally available in complete form. Does it live up to the hype?
Throughout the years – decades even – the minds behind Double Fine Productions have been credited for thinking outside of the box. From Tim Schafer’s amazing Full Throttle and Grim Fandango to the vastly under-appreciated Psychonauts, the somewhat confused Brutal Legend, the clusterific Hack ‘n’ Slash and many more, Double Fine Productions doesn’t always do things the “right” or typical way. Such is the case when the developer first took to Kickstarter to fund its next big adventure title – which would become Broken Age. The next few years saw Broken Age split into two acts to further raise money for completing the second part. And now that the second part is here, Schafer has encouraged fans to replay the entire game for the best experience.
Oddly enough, despite having access to Broken Age: Act I a year ago and being thoroughly hyped about the game throughout its development process, I never gave it a try. Had I bit the bullet and actually played it, I would have been rewarded with arguably one of the more awesome – but frustrating – cliffhangers in recent memory. Broken Age: The Complete Adventure finally allows fans to wrap up the saga of Vella and Shay, two completely different characters bound by and fighting to escape the same fate who are connected in ways one could never imagine.
"Every character comes across as believable yet quirky without instilling a feeling of bizarreness. The cast doesn't come across as caricatures slotted awkwardly into a world they're completely oblivious to."
Vella comes across as your average teenage girl who has reached the appropriate age in her village to be offered up to the mysterious but threatening Mog Chothra. She’s not the kind of girl to adhere totally to tradition though and while her peers may be willing participants in this Maiden’s Feast, Vella takes the opportunity to escape. Meanwhile, on a spaceship in some distant quadrant, Shay is watched over by artificial intelligences acting as his mother and father. Shay experiences the same boring missions day in and day out, seemingly isolated from danger at all turns…that is, until he meets Marek, a shady figure who asks for Shay’s help in rescuing innocent creatures across the galaxy while war rages.
Suffice to say, Broken Age’s story is the kind you don’t want spoiled for you. Some may take issue with the direction, especially in the second act, but taken as a whole the plot presents a compelling and worthwhile narrative that’s worth exploring. The appeal of a Double Fine adventure is in the characterization and it’s not hard to identify with either Vella or Shay (and the voice acting, provided by Masasa Moyo and Elijah Wood respectively is top-tier). While the former is understanding but firm in her beliefs, the latter can be cynical but courageous when the situation requires it. Both characters are trying to escape not just tradition but the so-called “fate” that their lives have been slotted into. In the process, they end up influencing not only each other’s lives but the fate of their respective realities.
The good news is that the supporting cast is just as compelling. Every character comes across as believable yet quirky without instilling a feeling of bizarreness. The cast doesn’t come across as caricatures slotted awkwardly into a world they’re completely oblivious to. Rather, they are real living people who try to show their best side despite the overwhelming circumstances presented before them.
Broken Age’s gameplay is a fairly simple, relying on the same SCUMM-based movement and puzzle systems that defined games like Day of the Tentacle. You’ll pick up items throughout the game and need to use them in specific situations. Some items can only be used at certain times and different puzzles require a bit of thinking, much more so in Act 2 where they ratchet up almost unfairly in difficulty. The one key element here is the ability to switch between Shay and Vella at any time.
"As it stands, Broken Age: Act 2 seems like a different experience from Act 1 when taken on its own rather than a natural continuation. However, taken together, both acts feel like much more than their individual parts and shortcomings may indicate. Is this Double Fine's greatest adventure yet? Not quite."
You can choose to complete Vella’s entire story in Act 1 before shifting to Shay, for instance. However, in Act 2, you’ll be required to shift back and forth between the characters to complete certain puzzles. The transition between this dual character play isn’t incredibly smooth but it’s not completely ambiguous either. Helpful tips on screen help guide players without overtly holding their hands through most of the puzzles (not that one would have minded – some puzzles are head-scratchingly confounding at times).
When it comes to visuals, SFX and music, Broken Age is simply amazing. The visuals rely on 2D graphics that come off as simple yet elaborately crafted paintings beautifully realized in motion. It says a lot about the immersion of Broken Age’s atmosphere that you never feel as if these are worlds humans wouldn’t inhabit. Considering one of the environments is a spaceship built for a child, that’s saying a light. The attention to detail, down to earth character designs and warm aesthetics create an experience that’s equal parts endearing and relaxing.
It’s easy to see where players will find fault with Broken Age though. As stated before, not everyone will like the direction of the story or how some locations are seemingly recycled in the second act. Again, having played both acts through at the same time, the feeling of no new content didn’t bother me – it was more about how things changed when both characters literally switched places. Much of the subtext established in the first act becomes watered down in the second and plays out in typical adventure-esque fashion to some. To others, it may come across as our heroes finally taking steps to change their fate, even at the cost of their lives. As it stands, Broken Age: Act 2 seems like a different experience from Act 1 when taken on its own rather than a natural continuation.
However, taken together, both acts feel like much more than their individual parts and shortcomings may indicate. Is this Double Fine’s greatest adventure yet? Not quite. Was it worth the wait for Act 2 to release? That depends on the player themselves and what expectations were set following Act 1. For everyone else, Broken Age: The Complete Adventure is a compelling, if uneven, tale of heroism, individualism and epic adventure with stunning production values. Just try not to rage too hard at the puzzles in Act 2.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Excellent art direction and visuals. Awesome voice acting from entire cast. Likeable characters and story tone throughout. Easy control set up and enjoyable narrative.
Difficulty scales very unevenly in second act. Story direction may annoy fans of Act 1.
Broken Age: The Complete Adventure is a Double Fine title unlike anything before it. While it has its problems and inconsistencies, it's worth playing through once just to see Shay and Vella overcome the odds.