Broken Age Review (PlayStation 4)
It’s been over a year since the first half of Double Fine’s Broken Age launched, and more than three since the developer’s Kickstarter campaign for the working title Double Fine Adventure blew past its goal to raise a then-record $3.3 million. The wait has been long and occasionally mired in controversy, but that’s all in the past now. What we’re left with is a wonderful adventure that echoes the spirit and humor of old-school point-and-clicks while presenting an original art style and modernized control scheme.
I played through Broken Age’s first act when it first came out for PC in early 2014, but while replaying it for this review I was reminded just how delightful those first few hours with teenagers Vella and Shay were. The two controlled characters lead separate but parallel lives, dealing with more than just your run-of-the-mill teen angst. Vella comes from a town that sacrifices its maidens to appease a powerful beast, and she’s about to be offered up on a silver (or frosted, as she comes from a baking town) platter.
Shay, meanwhile, has been alone on a spaceship for most of his life. All of the ship’s automated activities are programmed for a child, meaning he’s long since grown out of his daily routine but is still forced to relive it over and over like some coming-of-age Groundhog Day. You have the option of switching back and forth between them at will, but each has individual gameplay, meaning it doesn’t affect the other’s; so you could play through all of Vella’s story before switching over to Shay, if you so desired.
Broken Age’s striking, gorgeous visual style is only one part of its stellar presentation. The game is full of quirky, memorable characters spouting dialogue that often had me laughing out loud; this is enhanced by some excellent voice acting. Dialogue trees were often an important part of classic adventure titles, and Broken Age carries that tradition into the modern era. Often the solution to the puzzle required out-thinking an NPC and choosing just the right phrasing. This led to some trial-and-error moments and repeated lines of dialogue, but the minor repetition was never too tedious.
Broken Age transitions seamlessly from its first act to its second, which is especially important because this is the first time it’s available in any form on the PS4. Those playing for the first time won’t feel like the experience is disjointed; I could barely tell it’s split into two even with the knowledge of how the Act 1 ended. While the first half of Broken Age definitely had some clever moments, the difficulty rises in Act 2, and that’s a good thing. No matter how good an adventure game’s story and presentation are, it’s a genre defined by puzzles integrated into the environment and the world's inhabitants. Thinking your way out of any given problem is the only way to move the narrative forward. In this, Broken Age ultimately succeeds: it’s just the right balance of tricky and strategic, without being too obtuse.
And you’ll want to push forward that narrative, too, no need to worry about that. After ending its first half on a surprising cliffhanger that I won’t reveal, things only get more interesting in Act 2. I did find myself wishing for a quicker way to get from place to place, as there’s considerably more back-and-forth travel later in the game. You can double-tap on the next location to get there quickly, but you still have to go from screen to screen—not exactly convenient when traversing from the cultish cloud city of Meriloft to the beach town Shellmound and back again with half a dozen screens between locations. A fast travel option definitely would have been appreciated, at least for the parts on Vella’s home planet.
That’s really the biggest complaint I have about Broken Age, and it’s relatively minor, all things considered. There’s not much to dislike, especially for die-hard fans of the genre. Double Fine promised a classic point-and-click title when it launched its crowd-funding campaign three long years ago, but the developer didn’t just rely on nostalgia. Instead, it made a game that captures the humor of the games Tim Schafer worked on at LucasArts while creating a modern aesthetic that totally suits the story. I don’t know what would have happened if Double Fine hadn’t made the controversial decision to split Broken Age into two parts. I do know, after playing the complete game, that it wasn’t a mistake to do so. It’s been a long time coming, but fortunately, Broken Age was worth the wait.
The reviewer backed Broken Age as Double Fine Adventure on Kickstarter in 2012. However, the code for this review was provided by the developer for the PlayStation 4.