A little, but not much,broken Broken Age (2014)

Bring your daughters to the slaughter
First and foremost, Broken Age will probably always be remembered as the game that started the current Kickstarter boom. It also is the first thing many people backed on Kickstarter and for some it probably was the last as well, considering of how well they themselves reacted on the realities of software production: There's always delays and the end product might not be what you envisioned it, especially on a project like this that didn't exist even as an idea when it was originally pitched: only thing Tim Schafer knew about it was, that he wanted to make a point and click adventure and document the making of it from the inception of the idea to the finished project. For this, he asked a measly 400 000 dollars. A part of it was meant for the game, another for the documentation and third for fulfilling the physical pledges, like t-shirts and what not. Schafer and Double Fine ended up making over 3,3 million dollars and the game ended up costing almost double that. Hunger grows as you eat. What was supposed to be a simple, small project ended up as something far more ambitious and some say way off the original track. Which probably is true, if people had been happy to see modern, retro game with an insane budget. But had that happened people would have asked: what the hell happened with the rest of the money?

Broken Age, despite all the delays, was completed and fully released, accompanied by a making-of documentary in 20 parts. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdXvZgIV1Q0&list=PLIhLvue17Sd7F6pU2ByRRb0igiI-WKk3D)
The game itself got a bit mixed reception, while a lot of people praised the documentary itself. Personally, I loved the game and the documentary, but now that some time has passed, do I still feel the same about the game itself? Is it really a good game or was my judgement clouded by the expectation of it and the feeling of closeness to the project I got from watching the documentary series? Let's find out, shall we.

Will I feel like Vella's family at the Maidens Feast?
I still remember playing it the first time. My first thought was, that it felt like playing a gorgeous looking animated movie. The camera moved and zoomed and panned on the characters and locations and parallax scrolling added a nice touch of 3rd dimension on the artwork done with the lead of Ethan ”Bagel” Stapley. And that feeling stands. If Broken Age is anything, it is a gorgeous looking game, with a solid soundtrack and great cast of voice actors. I'd dare to claim, that you could actually turn the whole game into an animated movie as it is with a little bit of editing.

The game is divided into two parts, Shay and Vella. Shay is a teenage boy, living in a spaceship, where he's smothered by an overbearing computer who thinks he's a toddler. This reflects on the activities he does daily: missions, which all are nothing but child's play, dressed up as self-repeating missions. The computer, Mom, doesn't see that Shay has long since grown past that and needs something else in his life. So instead of being excited, he's borderline depressed, only getting excited briefly, before succumbing into his mundane existence. When a wolf Marek approaches Shay in order to hire him on a real, life-altering mission, the boy finally finds an outlet, something else in his life than just stuffed animals and forever lasting ice-cream parties.

Vella, on the other hand, is an entirely different case. She's a teenage girl, living in a baker town of Mog Chothra. But she's not one to take a bad tradition sitting down. Oh no, she decides that the monster needs to be killed and if no-one else is going to do that, it'll be on her shoulders then. And then she understands the responsibility that comes from such a thing.
Sugar Bunting, where she's just about to be sacrificed to a monster

Originally Broken Age was published in two parts. This was mainly because the development time, and the budget, of the original idea, grew bigger. But now, after this time, when you play it, the divide doesn't show. It feels like a natural progression for the game itself, as the two parts have been melted into one game and any new player that picks up the game now won't even notice that there has been such a divide.

The Mog is coming!
The first half of the game is often criticised for being too easy, and perhaps it is, and even felt like that, when the players had to wait for the second part, but now it feels more natural and more fluent, as just like with most games, it starts up easy and gets gradually a bit more challenging. It never gets super difficult though, as the puzzles are mainly logical. As it is, Broken Age feels like a genuine adventure game. You have your dialogue puzzles, your inventory puzzles as well as basic fetch quests. All part of the genre. The UI is simple, with very few actions, mainly walk and use, but personally, I don't think it needs any more than that.

As such Broken Age is also mostly well written. I say mostly, as the first half is short of fantastic, ending in a nice, suspenseful moment, from which any new player can just directly continue. But as a backer, who played the first half through a long before I got my hands on the second part, the second half doesn't hit as hard, as that time period between the episodes made me wonder all kinds of possibilities, of which some do exist in the finished game, but some of which are not fully realised and some weren't even on the table. Especially the finale of the game is relatively poorly constructed and feels a bit like it was rushed in the end to meet the final deadlines.

While not the best of writing, the second half does shed
some light on the sinister deeds going on.
Not all of the second half is badly written, it does have some very nice stuff in it, which ties up a lot of things that were introduced in the first half. A lot of mysteries are solved, but some of the biggest ones feel like they get a few half-assed conclusions, which reminds me a bit of how Lost ended, but with a less open question. Some of the answers just don't feel very satisfying and are left very vague, perhaps on purpose, maybe because of Schafer just couldn't come up with anything. This is probably underlined a bit with Double Fines decision to recycle a lot of the locations from the first half and the finale, in ultimately more interesting location of Loruna behind the fabled Plague Dam that had so much promise in the first half, is left up as more of a glorious glimpse of what might have been. Though then again, it's not the games fault of not going where I was expecting it to go, none the less, I can't help but think of how nice it could have been had Loruna played a bigger part in the story.

So yeah. That's Broken Age. It's not the greatest adventure game ever made, but it is a good one. It's pretty, well acted, has a nice soundtrack and a good set of characters, despite some of them are left a bit underused. The puzzles are mostly good and logical and the difficulty curve ramps up quite nicely towards the end, despite the final puzzle leaves room for improvement. Cinematically the ending is pretty good though, just as the overall quality of the animation tends to be in this game. It didn't end up as THE adventure game for me, but I have a feeling that it might end up being something comparable to old Sierra games or Lucasfilm games to many people who are experiencing adventure genre the first time. Hell, it will be a stable mark for them, whereas in comparison to it especially the old Sierra titles feel and look antiquated and overly cumbersome with an unfair design.

If you want to play it, Broken Age is available for multiple platforms, ranging from Android devices to consoles. For PC's you can get it from GOG or Steam. Or several other digital stores.

While the ending might crash and burn and a bit, the game itself does not.



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