A sheltered, over-protected, bored boy in space. A girl in a fairytale style land who is thrust into becoming an offering to a giant sea monster. Talking trees. Hippy lumberjacks. Broken Age has it all. And then some.
Broken Age (Act 1) is a point and click adventure game officially released by Double Fine Productions on January 28, 2014 for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android platforms and, of course, Linux.
The game also marks Double Fine's Tim Schafer's return to the genre after Grim Fandango (1998). Broken Age, originally known as "Double Fine Adventure", started out as a Kickstarter campaign that launched on February 8, 2012 and was successfully funded on March 13 with more than $3.3 million from over 87,000 backers.
More information on Broken Age's development can be read on the Broken Age Wikipedia entry, but be careful to not read the Plot section since it contains spoilers.
On that note, Broken Age is probably a hard game to truly describe to someone how good a lot of it is without any spoilers, but I'll do my best to avoid them.
The first thing you will notice upon booting up Broken Age is that art style. It was described by Chris Suellentrop of the New York Times as being like an "interactive children's book" in it's feel and I think that sums it up nicely.
The style works whether it be your typical fantasy-looking forests or in outer space (spaceship included) and you can tell a great amount of effort and designing went into it.
The game basically starts out with a choice between the boy, Shay, and a girl named Vella who are in completely different settings.
Shay is on board a spaceship, partaking daily in childish activities given to him by his "mother", seemingly just an AI (Artificial Intelligence) projecting a human looking face onto the various screens on the ship, but is extremely protective of Shay. Shay's "missions" usually consist of "saving passengers on a runaway train" (in reality is a cutesy train ride with some hand-knit robot friends) or saving people from an avalanche... where the avalanche turns out to be ice cream, again as his little cutesy robotic friends encourage him on and praise Shay for being a "hero".
It's extremely cute and although quite repetitive at first, especially as before every mission Shay will then do the same boring old routine of having to eat the same old cereal selections every day (if there's such thing as a "day") and then go to bed at the end of it all. And the cycle begins again.
But, this is intended and you as the player will find out how to break that cycle...
Meanwhile Vella, the girl, is in a small, kind of fairytale styled village and has been one of a few girls in the neighbourhood to be given the "honour" of being a Maiden for the Maiden's Feast.
Basically an offering to a giant hungry sea monster covered in eyes and tentacles, named Mog Chothra.
This seems to be the norm to everyone in Vella's world, except Vella herself and her old-school hardened ex-army veteran Grandfather, who propose they just fight the monster rather than giving up girls to it every 14 years (the cycle upon which Mog Chothra appears and demands the Maiden offerings from various villages, else said villages get wiped out).
Of course, to everyone else this is just a funny little fantasy and they laugh the suggestion off. So young Vella is left to fend for herself and ends up in the offering ceremony. But Vella is a determined thing and once she escapes the initial offering to the great monster (the other three maidens aren't so fortunate), it propels the story into an adventure where Vella must venture out of her little village and find others willing to help fight the monster or indeed, ways of actually killing it.
You can choose either story to play in the beginning but it doesn't matter which you choose first, as you can actually freely switch between the two stories at pretty much any time, so the stories are running in parallel even though they are seemingly totally unrelated and does give a nice sense of freedom. If you happen to be stuck on a puzzle in one story or just feel like a change, you can always switch over to the other for a while.
The one similarity the two stories seem to have in the beginning is that they appear to be a coming-of-age story, in their own way. Shay and Vella's worlds may be totally different in almost every way, but they have to face the same problems of being sheltered and ordered around by those in their immediate surroundings as they reach an age where they wonder if perhaps there's something more to life.
It's hard to talk any more about the story without any spoilers; honestly, so long as you don't mind the point and click genre, you ought to experience the narrative for yourself.
Besides the story itself, the writing and dialog with other characters in the game is typical Tim Schafer. Zany, witty and just a whole lot of fun while still managing to deliver the serious underlying meanings.
It's also, as you might expect, not exactly always predictable which I would say is a good thing. Hippy lumberjacks, talking trees, mysterious figures in wolf costumes, crazy bird/cloud people, adoreable hand-knit robotic friends... and more. There's some truly wonderful wacky humour to be found here with a lovely dash of irony.
On a technical level, especially from a Linux perspective, I'm pleased to say that the game is, in my experience with it at least, immaculate.
So much so, whilst playing the game I never really even had to think about it. I launched game, I played. I experienced. Resolution was correct out of the box and I never had to touch a setting and there wasn't a jitter or glitch in sight. I believe Double Fine pretty much nailed the Linux version, so kudos to them, as not every game studio can lay claim to that, although the general situation is improving, especially as more and more games are being developed with multi-platform in mind.
The Not-So Good
To be honest, this section will be quite small as I struggle to find much fault with the game.
However, if you look around at some of the user reviews around the internet you will see plenty do find fault with the game. It really depends exactly what you are looking for I suppose.
I've been really praising the story and presentation, but of course it is also a game and some expect a fair challenge. To be honest, you likely won't find any great challenge in Broken Age (at least in Act 1, we haven't seen Act 2 yet).
There were some moments where I felt a little "stuck" but it was usually solved by some guesswork or more backtracking and exploring until I found I missed something. And of course the good old try-combining-every-item-in-your-inventory until something happens trick. It's not the easiest game of all time, but it is arguably easy enough. For me, not being endlessly hindered from being able to experience the story and progress is a good thing, which is fine if you are like me.
If not though... well, that and the fact that Act 1 really only gives around 4 hours of gameplay may leave some a little disappointed.
The other thing is I found is the game doesn't seem to have a way of keeping track of your current objectives. So if you leave the game for a couple days and come back to it, you may not be too aware of what you were doing or are meant to be doing. But that's a pretty small gripe.
There's also little to no actual keyboard control, besides perhaps the Escape key bringing up the game menu. But it is a point and click adventure, plus it has also been optimized for touchscreen devices as well, so it's hardly a surprise the mouse gets a fair amount of use.
Of course, if you just plain can't stand point and click games and engaging with a storyline, of course you mightn't like Broken Age.
Broken Age is a fun, charming and thought-provoking experience and the end of Act 1 ends in an amazing twist with a climax that leaves you wanting more.
Thankfully, Act 2 is due to be released later in the year and will be a free update, so any initial disappointment over the length of Act 1 may not be felt as strongly. Also, Tim Schafer has said in an interview with Adventure Gamers, that Act 2 should likely be a more challenging experience. "I think we’ve got Act 1 to the point where it’s not too hard and not too easy, but I think I want to make Act 2 a lot more challenging. Because it can’t be easier than the first act, it has to be harder”, he said. -- Source
So for those wanting more of a challenge, you may well get it, but we shall have to wait until Act 2 is released to see.
All in all, the first "half" of Broken Age has proven to be quite an impressive game that leaves us with plenty to talk about the cliffhanger ending and speculate on many elements of the story until Act 2 arrives.
There will be some that will think my final score of the game is far too high, but in my opinion the game is exactly what it set out to be, despite what I could nitpick if I really tried. I think it is deserving enough of the score and I for one eagerly await Act 2.
See the main Broken Age website for more information and screenshots. The game can be purchased on Steam (though a DRM-free version may be available at some point, reportedly most likely after Act 2 launches) and is currently priced at $24.99 USD.