electronic brain surgery since 2001

Review: Broken Age Act 1

Last week I finally got a mail I waited nearly two years for. Double Fine released the first part of their “Broken Age” adventure game. I backed the game in 2012 together with nearly 90,000 others and it was as far as I know the biggest Kickstarter campaign ever or at least back then. It brought in 3.3 Million Dollars!

So why was everyone so excited about this game? Well, mostly nostalgia. We all loved Adventure games and the guy behind this Kickstarter campaign is Tim Schafer who co-designed games like Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle and was the Lead on the wonderful Grim Fandango. The prospect of experiencing something like these wonderful games from a lost era again opened up the wallets of nerds worldwide. Expectations were high…

Two years later I played through Act One of the final product called “Broken Age”. A second act is said to arrive “soon”. I try not to spoiler anything here. Instead just watch these two official trailers to get an idea what the game looks like and what it is about:

As you can see from the trailers, you play in two very different environments: a futuristic space ship and a rural, fantastic planet. The graphics are all hand drawn and I guess you can say they are quite beautiful on their own. But to be honest, it wouldn't have been my favorite choice for a “classic” adventure game.

The voice actors they got are all top notch… Elijah Wood, Jack Black and Wil Wheaton are just the ones I recognized in the credits.

So, good graphics and excellent voices. But am I happy with the game? Not really. Don't get me wrong - it's not a bad game and probably worth the $15 I spent on it. And if that would have been some Indie title on Steam I would probably have been happy enough. But I expected so much more here.

The controls are as dumbed down as you can. Remember classical point-and-click adventures? First you had a bunch of words like “Open”, “Take”, “Talk”, “Examine”, “Use” and so on. Later games reduced that to Take/Look/Interact. This game has just “click”. Any interaction happens automatically.

I get that this is probably much easier to port to game consoles and tablets, but it's very limiting. It takes out quite a bit of fun out of the game. No more trying to “talk” to furniture or “use”ing other people.

In addition to this I found parts of the game very repetitive. Especially the first parts of the space ship story. Having to do sequences over and over again to figure out what to do is just not good game design. Luckily Double Fine added a way to skip animations and cut scenes. Hitting escape becomes a routine while playing this game.

The game will not make you think hard either. I played through this in about 3 hours and had to look up only one minor thing in the planet story because I had missed an exit in one of the scenes. Your inventory will never contain much more than a handful of things which can be combined or used with the environment by drag'n'drop.

However the biggest disappointment to me was the stories. Yes stories. They are completely separate and just touch at the very end of the game. No “Day of the Tentacle”-like switching between persons to solve riddles. There isn't even a connection between the two for the whole game. It's basically two games in one. Why?

Two stories and both failed to capture me at all. It's hard to describe why, but to me they were just meh. Not particularly funny or scary or anything else. Just meh. The only little surprise was the end, which is a bit of a cliffhanger for the second act. Otherwise close to being boring.

I really expected more. Double Fine has created some very innovative and fun games before. Costume Quest, Stacking and Brütal Legend come to mind. But Broken Age is just mediocre.

Verdict: if you did not back this game back in 2012, I wouldn't shell out the $25 it costs today. Wait til you get it for five bucks in a Steam sale and it's good entertainment for a few hours.

review, adventure, game, kickstarter
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