Tim Schafer and his team at Double Fine Productions finally release the second act of their eagerly awaited point n’ click resurrection on PC this week, with the complete PlayStation versions hotly in tow. Is it a worthy renaissance of the adventure game genre, or does it fail to live up to it’s lofty expectations?
Tim Schafer is a name synonymous with the adventure game genre. During his career at LucasArts Games in the 1990’s he was responsible for creating the first two games in the Monkey Island series, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and the recently remastered Grim Fandango. So when in 2012 he successfully Kickstarted a project then known only as Double Fine Adventure, a game which promised to be a trip back to those lofty days at LucasArts, it’s safe to say expectations were high.
The game, Broken Age, finally released its first part in January 2014 and it’s taken over a year for the story to be completed. Act 2 is not only available on PC this week, but the full game, simply called Broken Age, is also due to be released on PlayStation 4 and Vita, with mobile versions following soon after – we’re taking a look at the PS4 version here.
The narrative of Broken Age follows two protagonists – a boy and a girl who’s seemingly unrelated stories of youthful rebellion can be switched between at will by the player. From the word go, these two plot strands are immediately arresting, combining a beautiful art style with great sound design and a strong cast featuring the vocal talents of Elijah Wood, Jack Black and Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward. The graphics are, indeed, stunning. The engine renders the hand drawn style visuals in a way that allows them to be scaled and zoomed, making the game feel almost like an interactive cartoon. It’s similar to the style employed in recent Ubi Art engine games, Rayman Legends and Child of Light.
It’s refreshing to see a story presented in such an inoffensive way, in an era where games seem to want to appeal primarily to a teenage market with profuse swearing and violence, Broken Age has a whimsical and witty story filled with word play and strange scenarios. Indeed, while the artwork is in itself unique, the story feels very much like something that wouldn’t feel out of place in Pixar’s portfolio of animated films. It’s gentle enough to appeal tl family gamers, yet has enough subtext that older players will appreciate – the twist at the end of Act 1 is particularly good.
The player interacts with the world in the time honoured fashion of clicking on stuff. If it looks interesting, click on it and see what happens. Items are collected in an inventory. Some can be combined to form other objects but almost all will have a purpose of some kind. If I could find one major fault it’s in the controls of the PS4 version. Where the remasters of the Monkey Island games sought to bring more of a console experience with direct character control, Broken Age retains a point and click interface with the left stick moving a cursor. This has a tendency to feel imprecise, although concession is made with inventory management – items can be quickly switched using the shoulder buttons. The game also occasionally falls into the common trap that all games in the genre struggle to avoid in that puzzle solutions are sometimes not so obvious and can rely on the player simply trying every item until something works.
A piece of good news for PlayStation owners is that the game is both Cross Buy and Cross Save between PS4 and Vita. This works excellently in practice, the Cross Save being seamless and automatically tied into the Auto-Save routine (as long as you’re online, of course) and playing the game with the touchscreen is a dream.
Ultimately Broken Age is an experience to be cherished. An uncomplicated game with a solid narrative, beautiful sound and visual design that doesn’t require online multiplayer, in-app purchases or downloadable content to justify its existence. A truly essential title and a wonderful return by one of the greats of the genre.