First with Grim Fandango in January, and now the complete story of Broken Age; just what have we done to deserve two Double Fine experiences come to PlayStation 4 in the space of three months?
Broken Age is point and click veteran Tim Schafer’s first foray into the genre for fifteen years, since the original release of Grim Fandango, but the question is does his return live up to the expectations set by his reputation, or is Broken Age merely… broken?
Broken Age immediately sets itself apart from a typical narrative by having two evidently unconnected story arcs running concurrently with each other. There’s Shay, a young boy seemingly alone on a ship deep in outer space; and Vella, an island dweller preparing herself for the ominous but long-celebrated ritual of the “maidens feast”. The two instances couldn’t get much further away from each other in terms of location and setting, and both have a very distinct feel to them. What’s unique is that you can flick between each character instantly, at any time. In Act One, both are so removed from each other it feels as if you’re flicking between two completely different games at times.
Whilst Act One was first available on PC and mobile in January 2014, it’s brand new to console so the entire game was new to me and I enjoyed the experience as a whole. Both acts mesh together well, and even though there’s a very finite part of the story that marks the end of the first act, the transition is seamless. It certainly doesn’t feel like there’s been a 15-month wait for PC users.
Instantly, I was blown away by the visuals of Broken Age. In a word, it’s gorgeous. The animations are silky smooth; you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a high production animated film. The locations are extremely well-realised and executed and no detail has been overlooked or brushed over. The character designs are flawless and memorable, each with their own distinct personality shining through from their very appearance – something that is synonymous with past Tim Schafer games, yet Broken Age might just be the best example of it we’ve seen so far. The game has many familiar elements to it; some of the locations and puzzles bring back fond memories of Monkey Island, but everything still feels fresh and new.
The voice acting also needs serious commendation, but it’s no surprise when you consider the calibre of the cast list. Elijah Wood, Jack Black and Will Wheaton all make starring roles, along with plenty of other familiar voices of the industry. The narration is a joy; the witty dialogue is delivery impeccably every time. True to Tim Schafer’s legacy, Broken Age is packed full with genuinely funny one liners and comedic exchanges that will have you chuckling from start to finish.
I don’t want to give too much away about the story, but it’s a strange one. Initially, it took me a little time to empathise with either Shay or Vella, because both of their worlds are so far removed from reality it was difficult to gain interest. That quickly faded though; after spending ten minutes or so in the company of these well-written characters, I was won over by them, and the strangeness of their situations just spurred me on to unravel the story and learn more about the mysterious “Mog Chothra” and “Project Dandelion”. The story is paced well, and the ability to flick between Shay and Vella at your will gives you the feeling of control; you can tackle the game however you see fit. It feels a little on the short side though; I completed both Act One and Act Two in around ten hours, and that time was no doubt largely extended by the time spent wandering around figuring out what to do next.
The shortness of the game is coupled with the disappointing lack of environments to explore. Yes, both Vella and Shay have unique worlds independent from each other, but each can be explored by walking from one side to the other in a matter of minutes. In point and click games we’re used to having multiple locations, maps to fast travel, and new areas unlocking as we progress through the story. Unfortunately, you’re going to be treading the same ground throughout the whole game. With the exception of one or two areas, Act Two takes place entirely in the same locations as Act One – with just a few twists and shake ups. With such stunning visuals, and a world so full of imagination, it really is a shame that we couldn’t be given more to explore.
Whilst Act One and Act Two flowed together nicely in the complete picture, there are still marked differences between them. Act One obviously introduces you to new faces and locations, and the puzzles feel varied. There are lots of smaller puzzles to complete, and whilst nothing is too difficult, the solutions are not too easy or obvious that it takes away from the enjoyment or reward of solving the puzzle. Act Two on the other hand feels more compressed; there are lots of puzzles to solve, but ultimately they are all related to the same goal, and in a few instances, the same puzzle is revisited several times (don’t even get me started on wiring those blasted robots!). This leads Act Two to feel somewhat shorter than Act One; it’s only going to be dragged out longer because the puzzles seem infinitely more obtuse and you’re undoubtedly going to spend much more time aimlessly interacting with everything you possibly can for the fourteenth time just to figure out what on earth you’re missing.
That’s the problem with Broken Age; it falls into the age-old trap of all great point and click games: the puzzles can get just too bizarre that you find yourself getting frustrated. Often, it turns out to be something quite small and simple that you’ve overlooked, but the lack of hint system, especially in Act Two, can take what should be an enjoyable journey through a gorgeously constructed world and turn it into an exasperating dead end. Act One feels somewhat kinder; interacting with your inventory occasionally gives you narration filled with clues as to where you might need to use these items. This feature seemed missing in Act Two, which feels like a big oversight, especially when there were more instances when having that extra guidance would have saved time and frustration.
Ultimately though, you don’t mind so much spending the extra time around this beautifully constructed world, because it’s just so nice to look at and wander round. You can forgive the relentless attempts at combining items and repeatedly interacting with your surroundings, because the reward of impeccably delivered dialogue and well-written wit makes it worthwhile. At the end of the day, Broken Age delivers exactly what any classic point and click game always has, and that package wouldn’t be complete without some obtuse puzzles to provoke you. Any fans of the point and click genre, and of Tim Schafer’s previous work, will without a doubt find something special in Broken Age, let down only by its brevity and disappointing shortcoming of new environments.
Broken Age is available digitally on PS4, PS Vita and PC. We reviewed the PS4 version of the game.
Fan of point and click games? Be sure to check out our Top 10 Point and Click Games for PlayStation 4!