REVIEW: Broken Age (Act 1) [PC]

Double Fine’s Broken Age is a beautifully polished introduction, with a gorgeous aesthetic, a meaningful and relatable story, and fantastic voice acting. Unfortunately, an introduction is all it is: just as the going gets tough, and the story begins to reach its apex, it ends all too soon.

Before I go any further, I have a guilty confession to make: I have not played the Lucasarts classics. My first exposure to point and click adventure games were those from Ron Gilbert’s Humongous EntertainmentFreddi Fish, Pajama Sam, Fatty Bear. These were games I grew up with and loved.

I backed Broken Age on the first day of its Kickstarter back in 2012. Brutal Legend made me laugh more than almost any other game I’ve played, and I was very keen to find out what Double Fine could do without a publisher – and the studio has not disappointed.

Despite a few minor flaws, Broken Age is an incredibly solid introduction. Unfortunately, that’s the kicker: Since this is only Act I, it is clear there is much more if the story to tell, and parts of the adventure are frustratingly lacking. It is also very short, clocking in at roughly 3-4 hours. As long as you are aware of this going in, however, you are in for a treat.

The puzzles are well thought-out, entertaining and scale in difficulty as the adventure progresses. A few puzzles did leave me confused, as they require going against rules the game teaches the player, but overall the challenges are sensible and progress very naturally.

The game features two separate stories, each with a different main character, locale and tone. While at first this feels jarring, switching between the two stories quickly becomes second nature as you reach a puzzle you can’t figure out – you can just swap to the other story for a while. The narrative is very focused (perhaps a little too much so at some points) with little to distract from the core story.

Double Fine‘s signature humour is woven throughout, although it is a little muted in Broken Age. This is a game of grins, rather than guffaws. Although this works well alongside the more serious tone of the story, I did find myself wanting more. Nonetheless, the writing is wry, intelligent and entertaining, with complex, subtle characterisations and fantastic world-building.

What really stood out to me in Broken Age was the level of polish given to almost every aspect of the game. The voice acting is flawless, with talent such as Mass Effect’s Jennifer Hale, The Lord of the Rings‘ Elijah Woods, Geek & Sundry’s Wil Wheaton and the apparently irrepressible Jack Black. The score is subtle and evocative, and enjoyable in its own right. The gorgeous hand-illustrated style makes Broken Age stand out as one of the most visually appealing games to come out in the last year.

[img_big]center,10965,2014-01-29/DOTD-ForgottenMaiden.png,Broken Age[/img_big]

What lets the game down in some areas is the somewhat clunky animation, which feels a little rushed in comparison to many other areas of the game. As of the first patch, I understand some of these issues have been resolved, but it is worth a mention.

Much to my surprise, my gameplay experience was entirely bug free – a welcome change from the usual fare. Thankfully, this is no Early Access beta.

It took me roughly four hours to make my way through both stories and reach the end of Act 1, but when I got there, I found myself frustrated. The ending is very well presented, with a suitably epic cliffhanger asking more questions than it answers, but if you’re anything like me, you want resolution right-now-please-god. I am excited to see what Double Fine does with Broken Age Act 2, and I hope it is not too far away.

Although Broken Age isn’t without its faults, they are minor irritations in an otherwise gorgeous, fantastic game I would recommend to anyone with a penchant for adventure. The short play time and lack of resolution may frustrate, however: It might be worth waiting for Act 2 if you don’t like a good cliffhanger.

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