Spoiler Warning: This is the conclusion to my review of the first “episode,” which was released in February 2014. If you haven’t finished the game, I don’t recommend going any further as it contains spoilers. Consider yourself warned.
Well, something had to pull me away from Bloodborne, and if it was going to be anything then it was going to be this. It’s the long-awaited conclusion to Double Fine’s long awaited Broken Age Act 1 (BAct1). I have mixed feelings about this game, and by extension Tim Schafer at this point. Despite the long delay between releases, I tried to be as objective as possible in my judgements while playing but it’s been over a freaking year. With the money that they raised and the time that they took, I was expecting something of a grandiose climax. Bitterly, however, I especially hated the “ending,” if you want to call it that. As someone who played the first half on release and then waited, I’m pretty disappointed. If you were to pick up Broken Age now, however, and play it in its entirety, it’s likely that you’d have a much greater appreciation for it than I do right now. You’d probably still hate the ending.
I BACKED this game, man… I was also going through an X-Men phase?
The game picks up exactly where the last episode ended, presumably because they wouldn’t be “episodes” when played from the beginning. Vella and Shay trade places when Vella takes a swing at Shay, misses, and tumbles into Mog Chothra/Shay’s Spaceship while Shay spills out onto the beach. Of course, the door shuts and immediately separates the two, killing any hopes I had of the characters working in tandem within the same setting. I felt like this was what the first half of the game was leading toward, but instead the story was intent on keeping things pretty firmly in the realms of “trading places.” The story then treads an amusing path of answering the questions that were raised in the BAct1, though in doing so regularly raises new ones.
Shay and Vella are constantly drawn to one another throughout the two halves of the game and their inexplicable need to find each other is often what drives the story forward. It’s an element of the story which was indirectly referenced in the first half of the game and becomes a pivotal point that’s sometimes directly spoken about during the second. This connection between the two is never properly explained, however, and not in the “it’s meant to remain a mystery” kind of way. It ties into the rest of the plot and figuring out their roles in everything is key to understanding the point of the story, but that point is so poorly defined. Just when it feels like you’re about to get some answers, the game suddenly ends, and you’re left feeling kind of cheated.
The “post-game story snapshots” in the credits didn’t really help matters, either.
I’m disappointed in how it ended and how the main storyline turned out, but the games overall narrative (though flawed) was still enjoyable up until that point. Indeed, the reason I was so dissatisfied with the ending was because of the lead-up. The NPC’s, surrounding world and the main characters’ interaction with both is largely where the game shined, displaying a lot of the charm and humor that Point’n’Clicks are usually known for. There’s a lot of closure in the stories of the supporting characters in comparison to your own, and a lot of them are genuinely heartwarming and funny. Which is good, because otherwise there wouldn’t have been a complete story arch at all with how things actually end.
Characters are supposed to grow and change throughout a story, but that doesn’t really happen for our two protagonists. Instead, they demonstrate clearly their personalities and motivations in the first half, which then slot perfectly into the world they find themselves in during the second half. They aren’t confronted or challenged, they barely react to massive changes in their worlds, and they’re ultimately the same people by the end of the game. If anything, they’re challenged more in the first half of the game when less is at stake. It’s a good thing that there was a lot of great humor to maintain my interest in the story, as well, because the gameplay and design weren’t exactly revolutionary either.
“Woah, when did this game turn to s***? Where am I? ….. Tim?”
Broken Age is true to form as far as the Point’n’Click Adventure games of old are concerned, and that’s a shame considering it had so much more potential. I mentioned before that I was disappointed that the two main characters didn’t get to work together, and it wasn’t just for the hilarity that might have ensued. There could have been items that only one of them could get hold of, events that would only be triggered when the other was around. The combination of those two design elements could have made for some great puzzles but, instead, we just got a bunch of re-iterations of the same damn, infuriating Hexipal/Hexigal puzzles. End-game puzzles are always going to be difficult, but the repeated use of those little bastards made it more of a frustrating experience than an enjoyable one.
Some might argue that this isn’t a bad thing, that the industry has been lacking in Point’n’Click games overall and this a fantastic return to form for the genre. I would argue that this is because the old formula for Point’n’Click Adventure games, to which Broke Age adheres to quite strictly, is kind of boring. By their very nature, they’re often extremely linear in story progression, with a simplistic design and gameplay only as good as the puzzles they throw at you. The hardest puzzles in the second half were those which followed hazy half-logic at best and the rest, while humorous, weren’t exactly head-scratchers. Overall, BApt2 was just kind of silly to play though not in the good way, and far too full of Hexipals for my liking.
“I have many uses and was made to serve! Take me anywhere! I am the devil!”
Audio-visually, BApt2 is still pretty much on-point though it’s still not totally free of complaint. The surreal environments of BAct1 were one of it’s best features; the lovingly painted landscapes were so finely detailed, breathing life into each of these unique worlds. The Bossa Nostra, Sugar Bunting, Meriloft, and Shellmound were all very distinctly thematic; however, the game’s story was able to bring them together to create a connected and coherent world. The visuals and music in the Bossa Nostra lent it a particularly layered atmosphere, especially when exploring the hidden parts of the ship. These places inspired so much curiosity and a yearning to explore, a feeling that was very much betrayed in BApt2.
If there was something in the backgrounds of the first half that you were hoping to explore, I can tell you right now that you shouldn’t get your hopes up. The second half of the game consists almost entirely of, quite appropriately, ruined, destroyed and otherwise buggered versions of BAct1’s locales. Hilariously, the story creates the illusion of having moved a vast distance and will attempt to trick you into being wowed with the occasional shot outside of your immediate location. The changes in the environment are superficial at best and, most of the time, aren’t enough to significantly alter anything. For goodness sake, don’t be fooled because you will spend the bulk of your time in a place you’ve already been during the first half. It’s almost as though the entirety of Broken Age is an allegory for itself – that’s meta as hell.
Tim Schaefer – Neo-Peter Molyneux or the M. Night Shamalamadingdong of videogames?
I see titles such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead and DONTNOD’s Life is Strange as the natural evolution of Point’n’Click games. Telltale is already playing around with including items in the Tales from the Borderlands game; it’s easy to see that it’s the natural progression of the genre. Double Fine took a pretty decent stab at a revival of the genre, something they’re clearly keen on, what with this and the Grim Fandango remaster. What started out as something really promising with BAct1, however, has ended disappointingly with the delivery of the second half. I’m to understand that there’s a documentary about the development of the game that explains the dissonance in quality between the two halves, but I deliberately avoided it before writing this. Whatever the reasons behind the unimaginative, sometimes confusing puzzles, the unfulfilling story, overuse of environments and an overall unsatisfying second half, those facts remain. “Point’n’Click” is dead – Broken Age has proven it.