Broken Age Review

By Rebecca Smith,
Broken Age has had a rather turbulent development cycle. Initially announced as Double Fine Adventure, the game's Kickstarter project smashed through its $400,000 target in just over eight hours and finally achieved a total of over $3.3 million. With this outstanding success came its own problems. Backers expected a much larger title and developer Double Fine set out to try to satisfy these demands. The result was a game that was released in two halves on PC to keep people as happy as possible. Playstation players, however, had to wait a little longer. The good news is that the game released in its entirety on Playstation 4 and Vita -- there are no episodes in sight. Was it worth the wait?

Logo

The game tells the story of two people. Shay is a teenage boy living on a spaceship. Unfortunately, the ship is run by a computer that is so protective of Shay that he is not allowed to do anything that may be considered reckless or slightly dangerous. Day by day he completes the same sugary-sweet child-like missions over and over again, like giving a knitted creature a comforting hug after it has been attacked. Shay longs to shake the monotony that his life has become and, to be honest, you wonder why he hasn't had this epiphany before now when most people would have rebelled long ago.

On the other hand, Vella is a girl that is about to complete her coming-of-age ceremony. The problem is that this ceremony involves sacrificing herself to the monster Mog Chothra in order to keep her village of Sugar Bunting safe from attack. She wishes to escape from the ceremony and defeat Mog Chothra so that no more girls need to be sacrificed. What links these seemingly unconnected lives? This is what players must find out.

Rescue knitted creatures from a rather dangerous icecream avalancheRescue knitted creatures from a rather dangerous icecream avalanche

One of the first major decisions that you must make is as which character you wish to play first. In the game's first act, it makes no difference in whether you tackle Shay's story first or whether you choose Vella as the stories run independently. In fact, if you get stuck on a puzzle or just fancy a change then you can easily switch to the other story at any time. While both stories involve the usual Adventure genre staples of exploration and puzzles for which players must locate objects in which to progress, each character also has their own "speciality".

Vella's story very much focuses on conversing with characters. It is up to the player how much of this conversation they want to hear, but skipping the dialogue runs the risk of missing some witty and amusing commentary. The game's stellar voice cast, featuring names such as Elijah Wood, Masasa Moyo, Jack Black and Wil Wheaton, combined with Tim Schafer's comical script means that you never tire of listening to the supporting characters. While Shay doesn't miss out on any of the comic delivery, most of it comes from the incorrect usage of objects. I dare you to use the talking spoon on every object and person that you find.

He'll be nice as long as you don't murder his brethrenHe'll be nice as long as you don't murder his brethren

On the contrary, solitary confinement leaves no people for Shay to meet, so he gets a number of mini-games that require little more than timing. Very few of the puzzles on either side of the first act will tax players too much. The solutions make sense within the game's world, even if they would seem absurd in real-life. The objects tend to have an obvious use; even the object combinations are not likely to cause much trial and error. Characters will provide subtle clues as well as direction. You're more likely to get lost on Shay's spaceship or on Meriloft with Vella then you are to get stumped over a puzzle.

As players progress through Broken Age the game smacks players over the head with a plot twist that you will never see coming. As you head into act two, the general premise of the game doesn't change but it still feels different somehow. While the puzzles are still there, they've taken on a different tone. For some puzzles you'll need to take notes as a solution to Vella's puzzle may be hidden in Shay's environment and vice versa. For others the solutions have hit a higher difficulty spike; one problem involved the construction of a logic grid and the use of several clues to eliminate possible answers. The solutions are not as obvious as they were to the point where you may be left wondering what to do next. Your brain will definitely be taxed in act two.

Meriloft: a town of many personalities and many different directionsMeriloft: a town of many personalities and many different directions

Meanwhile, you still need to talk to the supporting characters and you definitely still need to wander around to find new objects that have appeared due to the character's changes in circumstances. The problem is that the locations and the characters are the same as they were in act one -- there is a lot of recycled content. Over familiarity may cause players to miss things and you lose the sense of discovery that you felt in the first act. The plus side is that you're no longer likely to get lost. Don't let this deter you though. The second act is longer than the first and adds the challenge that was lacking from act one. In total, you're looking at around 10 hours for a first playthrough.

One of the things from which console point-and-click games often suffer is clumsy controls as the genre is very much a PC staple. The controls for this title occasionally have their moments. The cn_LS is used to move the cursor around the screen manually, while cn_RS snaps the cursor between clickable objects. As usual, cn_X is used to interact with objects, while cn_T is used to open your inventory. cn_S is used to select objects, while cn_L1 and cn_R1 are used to scroll between these objects. The cursor speed initially felt quite slow, but the main issue was the placing of the inventory. Moving the cursor to the bottom of the screen also opens the inventory. When the inventory is opened for the umpteenth time instead of interacting with an area at the bottom of the screen, you start to curse its placement. On a more positive note, this also resulted in the accidental combination of a few items and the instant solution to a puzzling conundrum.

The game's controls aren't this basicThe game's controls aren't this basic

Of course, we can't review this game without mentioning the trophies. These are mix of unmissable story-based trophies and completely missable trophies that involve completing tasks in a certain way. If you happen to miss one or more of the trophies in the latter category, you will need to start a new save to go back for them. There is no chapter select due to the lack of chapters, nor is there an option to skip straight to act two. The vast majority of the trophies are easy to achieve, although there are a few that involve perfect timing and may involve a couple of attempts (pro tip: make a manual save beforehand). There is then a trophy for finishing the game with a save file of less than one hour. As a result, players will need a minimum of two playthroughs to get the coveted Platinum trophy.

Summary

Broken Age is a game of two halves in more ways than one. Ignoring the obvious act one and act two separation, you have an intriguing tale of two seemingly unconnected people who each have their own problems. Finally, you have the different way that the two acts play out. The first act is a tale of exploration, witty conversation and gentle puzzle solving. Act two turns things on its head with more complicated puzzles that involve connections that weren't there previously. Despite this and the occasionally clumsy controls, Broken Age is a worthy addition to the Adventure genre on Playstation 4. Besides, who doesn't want to talk to a spoon?
4 / 5
Broken Age
Positives
  • Engaging story
  • Witty character dialogue
  • Balanced puzzles
Negatives
  • Recycling of characters and locations
  • Sometimes lacks direction
  • Occasionally clumsy controls
Ethics
The reviewer spent ten hours talking to barfing trees and trying to give away the talking spoon as she figured out what was happening to Shay and Vella. She gained 43 out of the 45 trophies. Car'l is still making the large cloud shoes that the reviewer needs for her hour speedrun and final two trophies. This Playstation 4 copy was provided courtesy of the publisher.
Rebecca Smith
Written by Rebecca Smith
Rebecca is the Newshound Manager at TrueGaming Network. She has been contributing articles since 2010, especially those that involve intimidatingly long lists. When not writing news, she works in an independent game shop so that she can spend all day talking about games too. She'll occasionally go outside.