To those nerdy enough to know of him, Tim Schafer is widely accepted as a genius. Along with fellow programmer Ron Gilbert, Schafer fathered the point-and-click adventure game genre, creating classics like Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle, and my personal favorite, Grim Fandango. Once point-and-click adventure games fell out of fashion, Schafer founded a new game studio called Double Fine, and pumped out Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, and smaller releases like Costume Quest and Stacking. Despite almost universal critical praise for their major releases, Double Fine has struggled to match commercial success with critical acclaim, making them a hard sell for publishers. With Broken Age, Schafer and Double Fine jumped the publisher hurdle entirely and raised over $3.3 million on Kickstarter – demolishing their goal of $400,000. With this money they set out to make something the world hasn’t seen in decades: a new (semi) big budget point-and-click adventure game. Now here we are, almost two years since the completion of Schafer’s hyper-successful crowdfunding campaign, and Act 1 of the game is finally upon us. And it’s good. It’s real good.
The game begins by giving you the choice of two young characters: a boy in space, or a girl in the countryside. The two stories, which you can switch back and forth at will, seem at first to be connected only in theme. Without ruining any surprises, both characters are in oppressive situations they wish to break out of, which basically makes the whole thing two parallel coming-of-age stories. The game’s sharp writing and quick wit prove up to par with Schafer’s legendary track record. The other characters you encounter intrigued me enough to make me want to talk to every single one until they had nothing else left to say; a process that almost always left me with a smile on my face. The voice acting shines throughout the game, thanks to the talent of A-list stars like Elijah Wood, Masasa Moyo, and Jack Black.
Not looking to be outdone, Nathan “Bagel” Stapley’s art design explodes with color and creativity, and Peter McConnell’s fully-orchestrated original score complements it beautifully. Regardless of whether I was eating part of an ice cream mountain or walking around on a cloud colony run by a cult leader, I always made sure to explore every inch with the volume cranked up. Broken Age may not be the first game to ever try the “hand painted” look, but I can guarantee that you’ve never seen any game that looks quite like this one. The sharp character designs range from adorable to hilarious, and the environments are vibrant and memorable. Enough good things can simply not be said about the art and sound design of Broken Age. It’s charming to an almost ridiculous degree.
Despite my gushing, the game isn’t perfect. Some of the animation seems a little strange and choppy. Characters handing each other items, for example, always looks pretty off. The puzzles generally offer very little challenge; figuring out what to do shouldn’t prove too difficult as long as you’re willing to walk around and click on everything. In some ways, this problem just comes with the territory of the point-and-click adventure game, but it seems to go a little beyond that in my opinion. Maybe the puzzles were simplified to make the game more accessible, or maybe Double Fine simply didn’t have the money to do as much as they wanted with them. After all, $3.3 million may seem like a fortune, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to most major game development budgets, which can get as high as $50 million. My hunch, though, is that Double Fine kept the puzzles simple enough to easily complete with a touch screen in preparation for the iOS and Android release of the game later this year. This gripe might be enough to turn off some hardcore fans, but it’s an easily forgivable sin for those looking for a unique game with a fantastic story.
The biggest problem with Broken Age is that it isn’t finished. In typical Tim Schafer fashion, Double Fine ran into budget issues and could not finish the game with the amount of money raised from the Kickstarter campaign alone. Instead of going to a publisher to get the cash to pay for the rest of the game, they decided to release the first part and use the profit to fund what remains of the second part. Don’t worry though, because if you buy Act 1 for the asking price of $25 you’ll get Act 2 as soon as it comes out, no extra money needed. After about four hours of playing, Act 1 ends satisfyingly enough; you’ll want more, but in an “I want to know what happens next!” kind of way, not in a “wait, that’s it?” kind of way, which is what I was concerned about when I heard about the split.
Despite its very few shortcomings, it’s easy to recommend Broken Age to just about anyone. It probably won’t revive the point-and-click adventure genre, but for those who have been waiting for a new Tim Schafer adventure game since Grim Fandango’s release in 1998, your wait is over. And for those who have never played a point-and-click adventure, get on your computers and get out your wallets, because you’re in for a treat.
Broken Age will be available on PC, Mac, and Linux via Steam on January 28th. You can pre-order the game here. Android and iOS versions, along with Act 2 of the game, are due out later this year. 2 Player Productions documented the development of Broken Age. The entire documentary series is currently only available to backers of the Kickstarter campaign, but episode one can be viewed on Youtube for free.
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