When I think back about the point-and-click adventure game era of PC gaming, I don't remember the puzzles, the riddles, or what the fetch quests were about. What continues to resonate with me after nearly three decades are the characters, stories, and the hilarious moments that those adventure games delivered so poignantly.
Broken Age, developed by Tim Schafer's Double Fine Productions, manages to bring that classic point-and-click gameplay, and follows the fascinating and strange stories of two ambitious characters. The characters, Vella and Shay, are driven by their desires for breaking the status quo, and to find a future beyond their current constrained lives. There are more moments of oddity rather than funny ones, but the premise and story are truly memorable.
Powered by star-studded voice actors, every single character in Broken Age is voiced. While this adds a great deal of immersion into the game, there were times where I wish I could advance quickly past lines of dialogue instead of listening to the entire conversation. The game does allow entire conversations to be skipped, but instead of skipping the complete set of dialogue, allowing a quick reader to skip a few lines of dialogue would be more useful.
In terms of production values, Broken Age features beautiful graphics and artwork that look hand-painted. The simplistic visual style and animation keep in line with the whimsical theme of the story, and work perfectly with the point-and-click nature of the gameplay. It almost seems as though it would be a disservice to the game if the graphics were more "advanced." In fact, there is a hidden visual filter that when enabled, makes the graphics look like the game was created in the 80's, with pixelated 8-bit retro rendering. Broken Age was not intended to be a graphical showcase for the latest Unreal Engine, but the art style is gorgeous to look at.
There isn't anything revolutionary presented by the gameplay, as it preserves the old-school fetch quest mode of gaming, and there's a bit of trial-and-error when it comes to figuring out which item in your inventory will accomplish a particular task, but when you do succeed, there's a sense of weight and meaning to doing so.
But really, it's in the storytelling where this game truly shines. The story intentionally begins a bit stale, and there's a stagnation in the routine lives of our two lead characters. But as their stories unfold, the excitement ramps up, allowing the player to experience a breakout, just as the characters themselves do. It's remarkable how easily Double Fine managed to connect me with the characters. It certainly helps that the characters are likeable, but more than that, both Vella and Shay are easy to relate to.
Broken Age Act 1 concludes with a cliff-hanger, and Act 2 will be delivered sometime later this year. In a strange way though, I would be quite content without a second act. There's a haunting quality to the way this story played out, and it is one that just stays with you. Broken Age captures the essence of classic gaming, and provides an adventure worth experiencing at least twice.
Broken Age is available on Steam now.
This review is based on a review code provided by the developer.