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Broken Age: Act 2 Review

By Andrew Powell, published 20/11/2016 in Reviews


Way back in early 2014 I reviewed Act 1 of Double Fine Productions's quirky and colourful adventure, Broken Age. Somewhere along the line I assume I was either hit in the head or started living under a rock (perhaps both), because it wasn't until very recently that I got to playing Act 2. I gave the first act a full blown 10/10 score, so how does the second and final act fare?

In this humble author's defense, the second act did take a little over a year to release after the first installment. Act 1 of Broken Age released in January 2014, while the second and final part was released in April 2015. I held Act 1 in such high regard, though, that it is pretty incredible I never played Act 2 until very recently. Which is a shame, because it is indeed very good! Ten out of ten, good? Perhaps not, but we'll get to that in a bit.

As mentioned, I did review Broken Age: Act 1 (see here) which not only reviewed the game up until that point in the story, but explained a lot about the game's mechanics and visual styles (etc) as well. As such, this review should be much shorter as there is little need to cover all that ground again.

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A hammer hung around her neck... fashion trends are certainly different in the world of Broken Age

Story

As you would expect, the story starts off pretty much right where the end of Act 1 ended and continues the narrative. Without getting too spoiler-y (and I wouldn't read beyond this point if you haven't already played Act 1 of Broken Age), the end of Act 1 leaves us with quite a twist, with the monster "Mog Chothra" that the female protagonist, Vella, helped to shoot down is revealed to actually be the so-called spaceship that the male protagonist, Shay, was inside the whole time.

Whereas Shay's adventure in the first act was pretty much entirely within his "spaceship" and its surrounds, and Vella's being in her little village of Sugar Bunting and the cloud village up above, as well as the port town of Shellmound, Act 2 turns things somewhat upside down and switches the characters around - Shay ends up in Shellmound and the cloud village, while Vella herself ends up in Shay's spaceship, AKA Mog Chothra.

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Cupcakes that stare back at you. Not creepy, not at all

This is obviously a pretty interesting dynamic, with Shay being a sheltered and protected boy brought up in a simulated spaceship with extremely controlled events, having to explore a foreign world (even though he's technically been on the planet the whole time) and come to terms with the nature of his upbringing. While Vella, brought up in the real world in a simpler, almost tribal type world has to come to terms with weird advanced technology and try to help further unravel the mystery of the Mog Chothra vessel and its purpose. That's not to say, however, that Vella is a simple-minded being with no idea of the technology around her, as it's pretty obvious even during Act 1 that she's an extremely intelligent and resourceful girl and adapts very quickly. This is further highlighted in Act 2 and to be honest, in my opinion Vella is one of the absolute stars of the show. She's tough, intelligent and has brilliant intuition.

Shay is still an interesting character in his own right. He's more deadpan and not quite the extremely quick thinker that Vella is, but he holds his own and is an important part of the whole narrative. One has to take into account his upbringing too, where things were so "clean" and constantly controlled. His adventure into the real world is as much about self-discovery and freedom as much as it is unravelling the mystery of his upbringing and the nature of the maiden-stealing monster/spaceship, Mog Chothra.

The story is as quirky and filled with humour as we have come to expect from Act 1 (and expect from the likes of Double Fine Productions, of course). It's infectious and always likely to bring a smile to one's face, unless you're a total robot.

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A crack in the fabric of the fake universe

I felt the ending was pretty satisfying, albeit potentially a little rushed. I'm aware some probably feel the ending wasn't actually very satisfying or perhaps didn't go places they were hoping it would, but for mine it didn't detract from the story as a whole. There's enough explanation and resolution to be a valid ending, even if a lot of the ending is explained through clever and cutesy illustrations in the end credits.

Graphics

There isn't much to add here, as the game has the same beautiful children's story book style of artwork as we came to love in Act 1. Not to mention many of the same locations are reused. This isn't meant to sound like a negative at all - the graphics style should be pretty timeless and this isn't a direct sequel anyway. Act 1 and 2 of Broken Age are the exact same engine and ultimately, come together to form the complete game, it's just that Act 1 and 2 were released over a year apart.

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Did we mention the wonderful artstyle this game has?

Gameplay

Again, continuing on from Act 1, all the same mechanics will be present and as Broken Age is a point-and-click adventure game, the mechanics are basically as you would expect from that genre. You click stuff. Lots.

Things are still intuitive though, for the most part, and the point and click controls are a breeze, along with the big, colourful and easy to use UI.

I say, "for the most part", in regards to things being intuitive for one main reason: difficulty.

The biggest and most obvious change in Act 2 from Act 1 is the difficulty of the puzzles. The use of puzzles with the point and click system can, to be perfectly honest, be quite brilliant and there are parts during the game that left me with a huge grin on my face at how clever and fun they were. These are puzzles that make use of a combination of items/tasks but also involve some clever timing on your part and out of the box thinking. This makes a nice change from typical "combine <x item> with <y-item> that don't relate whatsoever but somehow work" type scenarios we can see in these sorts of games.

However, while a common criticism of Act 1 was that the difficulty of puzzles were a little too easy, it's almost like Double Fine took the criticism and swung the difficulty completely the other way. There is at least a few puzzles that left me completely scratching my head and in a couple of instances, even having to get hints from strategy guides online. It seems I'm not the only one, as I've seen comments in forums from players saying they even dropped the game completely because of a particular set of puzzles.

To be somewhat fair to the developers, a couple of these puzzles do require you to really (gasp) write things down on a piece of paper. We're talking real pen and paper here... as in real life. Some old-school gamers will probably appreciate this, as many old games would require this kind of thinking and note-taking. It's probably a bit of a shock to some modern gamers, but I wouldn't say it's a bad thing myself. However, some of these puzzles are at first quite obscure and not intuitive at all that it can be very hard to even make the connection, mentally, of where to start or go next.

A good thing, though, is how the game makes use of the two character system with some of the puzzles. Like Act 1, you can switch between Shay and Vella at your leisure and do things generally in whichever order you want between their two adventures. But, there are a couple clever scenarios where you, as the player, need to control both characters to certain points and gather clues during their adventure to actually solve puzzles in the other character's story. It's kind of a bit of "meta-gaming" and at least on one occasion, Shay and Vella will need to coordinate things and work together, even though they have no direct contact with each other. But you as the player have the power to switch between the characters and make it happen.

Linux Performance/Stability

Thankfully, the "Broken" in the game's title doesn't at all reflect the game's performance on Linux. Broken Age, as a whole with Act 1 and 2, is still one of the games that in my experience runs absolutely flawlessly and smooth on my Linux machine. It's not super intensive either - with my Bumblebee (dual-graphics) laptop, I didn't even bother running the game on the NVIDIA GPU. The integrated Intel chipset handled the game just fine. I also do not remember coming across any bugs, either technically or just in-game. The developers really deserve kudos here.

Summary

Act 2 completes Broken Age as a game and brings the zany and yet heartfelt story to a final close. Its beautiful visual style and great production values with voice actors such as Elijah Wood, Jennifer Hale, Jack Black, Wil Wheaton and many others bring that typical quirky but high level experience we've come to expect from Double Fine games. I'd also like to give credit to Masasa Moyo, who voiced Vella and gave even further strength to an already great character.

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I choo-choo cho...er I think I've used that joke before. Vella clearly agrees

The difficulty level and occasional frustrating non-intuitive nature of some of the puzzles is a bit of a downer, compared to Act 1. For some players it may well be an improvement, if Act 1 seemed like too much of a breeze. The ending too may leave one not as satisfied as it could have, but really, these are the only real negatives I could find for the game.

While Act 2 mightn't get the 10/10 scoring that the first act did, it's still an amazing experience in its own right and well worthy of a playthrough. This is coming from someone who's not even a huge fan of point-and-click games, I might add. Taking into account my below scoring and the score of Act 1, I would give the game in it's entirety around a 9.5/10.

Act 2 is integrated into Broken Age, bringing Act 1 and 2 together as a finished product, so if you purchase Broken Age from the official website you will get the whole game. If you already owned Broken Age from Act 1, Act 2 is freely available for you and if you use a service like Steam, will be downloaded automatically. It's also worth mentioning that Broken Age is DRM-free.

Pros:
  • Zany, quirky humour
  • Great, outside of the box storyline
  • Freely switching between characters works like a charm
  • Usual beautiful artstyle and overall execution
Cons:
  • Some puzzles are very difficult and non-intuitive
  • The ending may not be everyone's cup of tea
  • It ends...waaaaa
Verdict: 9/10

About the author

Andrew Powell is the editor and owner of The Linux Rain who loves all things Linux, gaming and everything in between.

Tags: broken-age double-fine games gaming linux-gaming reviews
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