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Wednesday
Jan152014

Broken Age: Act One Review

I know it's weird to only review the first act of a game, but I think we can all agree that this is an edge case. If you're not aware, Broken Age is the game that came about after Double Fine's hugely successful, $3.3 million Kickstarter campaign a little under a year ago. The company promised to make an adventure game in their old classic style (ala Tale of Monkey Island), a style of game we rarely see made nowadays, and if we do, it's never the quality of the kind of project the people behind Double Fine made back in the Lucasarts days. A major part of the appeal of the Kickstarter campaign was seeing the old adventure game 'band' back together and I think it's safe to say, they don't disappoint.

Broken Age follows 2 characters, Shay and Vella. Upon first starting the game, you're treated to the choice of which of the two you want to play as, and then after that you're free to switch at will. Vella's story takes place in a whimsical land with many odd and interesting characters, on the day she is set be her town's human sacrifice for the annual "Maiden's Feast" to All the girls except Vella are pumped to be sacrificed!satiate the evil monster 'Mog Chothra'; whereas Shay's story takes place aboard a spaceship on which he is the only human, with only a computer and it's creations to talk to. The 2 worlds are such a stark, and interesting contrast to each other that switching back and forth doesn't (as I was worried it might) get in the way of the 2 stories at all. The ability to be solving a puzzle in a cloud town one second, and then be going about your daily life aboard a sentient spaceship the next is exhilarating, and lends the game a sense of scope beyond the obvious size of the environments or events.

If you've played any kind of point-and-click adventure game before, you shouldn't have too big of a problem here. The gameplay is simple and intuitive, with the mouse being 99% of your control (you can press space bar to skip dialogue or cutscenes if you want). What this meant is that I could just ease back, put the game up on my TV and just control the game with the mouse, it was a very comfortable experience that went along very nicely with every other facet of the experience. All you can do is left click, but that turns out not to be a problem at all. In older adventure games, you would often have several commands to pick from for each and every little thing in your inventory, but here you click it to get a bit of an item description, and then if you want to use it on something, you just drag and drop. The whole system works wonderfully, without ever feeling dumbed down from those old classic games, and the game is all the better for it. This really does feel like a much more modern version of this genre, refined and remastered with modern sensibilities and common sense employed to great effect.

Graphically, the game is incredible. The art style is a joy to behold, almost unbelievably so, and it allows Double Fine a whole bunch of creative freedom. It's not enough to just set up a whimsical world, the Shay, under the watchful eyes of the ship's computer.tone has to be right, and here it's perfect. You never question the reality of what's happening, you just instantly buy into whatever you're seeing because what you're seeing is unlike anything you've seen before. You don't question a town floating on clouds when you're actually looking at it, and you can't help but wonder what they're going to be able to show us next in future acts. The world is their oyster in that regard. It's worth mentioning too that my 5 year old laptop, with a very old graphics card inside it handled the game superbly with everything looking sharp and gorgeous. If you own a computer with any graphical power of any kind, it can probably handle it with flying colours.

One of the big features of the classic adventure games was their razor-sharp writing, and that pedigree definitely returns in Broken Age. Colourful, vibrant characters charm you instantly and make you wish they had more dialogue once you've reached the end of their conversation tree, the 2 main characters are savvy and likeable, and you look forward to clicking everything you can see so you get to hear the associated inner monologue of the characters as they examine what they're looking at. I found myself running around to every character when I got a new item and offering it to them just to see what they would say, and that's what you want out a game like this, you want to want to offer the towel to everybody, just so you can hear why they don't want the towel.

There were a few glitches in the sound, occasionally something would happen on screen and there would be no noise associated with it which is a little disappointing but for a game that's yet to be released, not a huge issue, especially when what sounds ARE there are fantastic. Whether it's the ambient noises aboard Shay's spaceship, to the malevolent tones that occasionally rear up during Vella's story, the game's aesthetic is never betrayed by its sound design. Another huge aspect to the game is voice acting, with celebrity voices like Jack Black, Wil Wheaton and Elijah Wood all playing roles. Elijah Wood is the voice of Shay, and does a good job selling the character. The game is beautiful from start to finish.Only at first was I picturing Frodo Baggins sitting in a recording booth somewhere, but that quickly faded away and all I was left thinking was "damn this game's got good voice acting!" The voices all sound very natural and grounded, none of the voice actors are doing anything wacky or ridiculous and the game benefits from the raft of believable performances.

Now ofcourse, all of the above things: Graphics, sound design, acting, controls, gameplay etc. are all well and good, but they're for nought if the game's story isn't very good. Luckily however, Broken Age's story is actually fantastic. Vella's journey not to a human sacrifice and instead fight the monster that's threatening everybody is engaging; and Shay's tale of a spaceship clearly made for small child, but which is now occupied by a curious and bored teenager, is interesting and thought provoking. Both stories containt lightness, but also a lot of darkness. People in Vella's world absolutely love sacrificing their daughters to the evil monster and don't even see why he's such a bad guy; and Shay's life trapped inside a child's fantasy play palace has numerous undertones of darkness and sadness that leave a lasting effect. No spoilers here, don't worry, but Act One finishes about as strongly as any piece of media ever possibly could. If any ending to an act ever made me want the next act immediately, it's this one! I need it, now!

There's not one aspect of Broken Age's first act that I didn't love. It drew me in, hooked me, then made me want more in a way I wasn't expecting. When this thing is finished it's going to be something obscenely special, but until then I'm more than happy to make do with just this little slice of perfection.

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Broken Age: Act One is available now for Kickstarter backers, and on 28th of January 2014 for everyone else. Act Two will be released later this year as a free update.

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