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Broken Age Review – Beautifully Thinking Outside Of The Box

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Nov
12

In this modern gaming world, it's rare to see a genre not as well represented as the others. Even if you have to dig a little, there is always something for everyone, whether your looking for horror, platformers, or even simulation games. There is one genre, however, that seems to be a dying breed, a genre that is struggling to find it's place in this day and age. That genre is the point and click style of games. While they were everywhere in the earliest years of gaming, it's becoming more and more of a surprise to see one released by an indie studio, let alone a AAA developer. Broken Age is proof that the genre can and should survive, creating a wonderful, if sometimes frustrating, experience I couldn't put down.

Narrative

 The game centers around two protagonists, Shay and Vella. Even though they live in entirely different worlds, both share a common goal; to escape the lives they live. Shay is stuck on a spaceship whose main A.I. believes it's his mother and babies him to no end. Vella is a soon to be sacrifice to a Cthulhu-esc monster in order to save her village and her family. You can start the game with whichever character you want, and have the ability to switch between Shay and Vella whenever, so no worries who you pick first.

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The beginning of the game is charming, yet relatable as it's common for people to wish for a way to break free of their destiny and experience something new. I won't go over much of what the story has to offer as it's certainly best experienced on your own, but it had me hooked throughout my play through. In fact, the story gave me one of the best "Oh my God" moments I've had in a long, long, time.

The one complaint I do have, is the story really never seemed to reach a climax, ending not abruptly, but feeling without significance. I felt like I didn't really achieve the goal I set out to and that I really made no impact. Most of epilogue is told in pictures during the credits, not explaining very well the impact you made unless you basically fill the holes in yourself. It's not a bad ending at all, it just feels a bit disappointing.

When it comes to the characters, the game does a really wonderful job of making them all feel real, with personalities that are quirky, hilarious, or a mixture of the two. One of the best parts about the game is that between the two acts, every single character you come across is significant to finishing both Shay's and Vella's adventure. No character is used once then never seen again, as Double Fine really got the most out of the unique people they created. You really came to like the people you met along the way, making the epilogue pictures you see during the credits more rewarding as opposed to if there was a much bigger cast of throw-away characters.

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Interactivity

Being a point and click adventure game, there isn't a variety of control to be found in Broken Age. You move your character around by pointing to a specific location with the cursor and pressing X. If you see an object or character you can interact with, clicking on them will make Shay or Vella instantly move towards them. I went into the game knowing I wouldn't be directly controlling the protagonists but sometimes it felt like they wouldn't go where I wanted them to. Sometimes they would completely walk past something important or stand just inside a doorway, without actually going through. In the end though, it wasn't too much of a nuisance.

To access your inventory, all you need to do is press R1. You can cycle through your inventory using the same button, and pressing square on whatever your currently looking at will either have the character describe it, use it, or wear it depending on what the item is. Selecting an item and holding it over another one will allow you to combine them, if they can. Once you find the thing you want to use, just hover over it in the menu and the press X on whatever you want to use it on. It's also worth noting that the cursor changes depending on if you can interact with an item/thing/person. This means that you never have to randomly press around the environment hoping to click on something you missed the first time. It's always apparent what you can and can't interact with and I really liked that.

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Now comes the real meat of the game; the puzzles. The puzzles in Broken Age are some of the most genius ways of thinking about things that I have seen in gaming. While some problems, especially the final puzzle, can be way too frustrating with the solution being something incredibly convoluted, most left me with a huge smile on my face once I finally figured them out. Most solutions require you to really think about the items you have and the world around you. How will using an item on this thing change anything? How will using a different one? It's a form of trial and error that never felt like it punished me, outside of hearing the same lines from the protagonists over and over again.

A huge part of the game is listening and paying attention to what you see. Characters will give important details in seemingly casual conversations so it is always important to try every single option of dialogue you can have with them. The most entertaining part of the dialogue system is when the option you need to progress is behind an option that doesn't seem like it would work. Like I said earlier, the characters all feel real with their own motivations so saying something that you wouldn't fall for, might work on them.

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While I love most of the puzzles in the game, some just seems too far out there or unfair to figure out. One puzzle requires you to learn all the information you can on a certain character, and if you fail, the game sends you to a room where it claims all the information is. However, none of the full answers you need are located in the room which left me with a lot of frustrated clicking on the same things over and over again hoping to find something I missed. The worst one, however, is the final puzzle. To say it's convoluted is an incredible understatement. The answers you need are in your grasp, but not once did I even think to do things the way the game wanted me to because simply, some things didn't make sense. You also need to do things in a very specific order or you won't succeed. The amount of time I spent on it, banging my head against a wall, is insane and it really soured the experience at the end for me. Rest assured though, most puzzles you come across are well done, and make you feel like a genius when you complete them.

Presentation

The presentation in Broken Age is hands down the best part of the game. Visually, the game is beautiful with every environment and character looking like they were taken straight out of a painting. It was always a treat to find a new area just to see what kind of new gorgeous things I could see. From the sterile spaceship that Shay lives in, to the town in the clouds Vella finds herself in, to beyond, each environment felt different and beautiful thanks to the art style.

While simple, the characters all have that special Double Fine touch that adds a certain charm to them. Some portions of their bodies may be exaggerated but it always adds to their character and never makes them seem different for the sake of being different. The animations each character has also helps with making them feel real and believable.

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This wouldn't be a Double Fine game if the writing wasn't some of the best around in the industry. Broken Age is one of the funniest games I've played in a while, constantly making me crack up over the simplest things. The game pokes fun at so many clichés we see in games/movies/books, but no joke overstays it's welcome. The writing is what truly makes each character come to life, making Broken Age have one of the most enjoyable cast of characters I've had the pleasure of meeting. From a father who accidentally got his family wrapped up in a harmless cult, to a talking tree that hates humans for murdering his kind, the conversations I had were witty and always had me coming back for more.

The voice acting is also top notch, as we see celebrities like Jack Black, Elijah Wood, Wil Wheaton, and Jennifer Hale have major roles. Elijah Wood playing Shay is the most entertaining role as he brings just enough teenage angst and boredom to really sell the character. No matter if a character was voiced by someone well known or not, the voice acting was spot on and enjoyable.

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While the music takes a very subtle role in the game, it further adds to the the world in very pleasant ways. The interior of Shay's spaceship is quiet with small droning in the background indicative of what you would hear in a spaceship, while the luscious open areas Vella gets to explore are lively and inviting. Overall, the presentation is incredibly well done, making Broken Age a huge treat to play through.

Innovation

Nothing Broken Age does is anything particularly new or innovated, but it does bring a point and click adventure to a modern console which is certainly a rare sight. Having played a lot of them as a child, it warmed my heart to be picking up a PS4 controller in 2015 and playing through a new adventure.

Other games also have the "switch between two characters whenever you want" mechanic, but it felt more important to me in this one. As I stated before, whenever I got bored with one characters campaign, I would just switch to the other one and tackle a new area or puzzle. It kept the game play fresh but it was especially helpful when I was stuck on a puzzle with one character. Instead of getting more and more frustrated trying to figure out an answer, I would just switch to the other protagonist and instantly feel better because I was able to make progress. While puzzles near the end involve both characters to complete, somewhat making this plus invalid, it helped make the game a better experience in the long run.

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Value

My play through of Broken Age lasted roughly 14 hours, which is quite longer than I expected it to last. Forgetting that a few of those hours are me stuck on puzzles, the game itself is longer than I would have expected it to be, which is a good thing. The game never feels like it overstays it's welcome, adding enough content to always have me coming back for me, but never adding more stuff just for the sake of it. It felt consistent and enjoyable the entirety of my play through.

For those craving a good modern point and click adventure, this game is a must play. It leaves all the unwanted practices of the old point and click games behind and takes a modern approach to the genre. Frankly, it's a must play even if your not craving a point and click adventure, and your just craving a good game to spend a decent amount of time with.

Conclusion

Broken Age was a surprise hit for me. When I first downloaded it, I didn't know how I would like my time with the game. I absolutely love Double Fine as a studio and that's what originally gave me the urge to check it out. I am very happy to report that while it is a very well made game, it's also one of the best Double Fine has ever put out. The game is visually gorgeous, the writing is hilarious and witty, the voice acting is fantastic and a majority of the puzzles had me feeling like I was an incredibly clever guy. On the downside though, while the story is enticing for most of the adventure, the ending fell flat to me as it really didn't feel like I accomplished anything. There is also a handful of puzzles that felt way to unfair and by the time I figured them out, I wasn't even happy about it. Beyond all the negatives, though, this is a game I feel everyone should play. While it might not do anything for some, or maybe even most, the ones who do keep playing will get an experience they won't forget. It's a game I can say, even though I beat it two weeks ago, I'm still sad it's over. Broken has never felt so good.

8.5/10

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