Tim Schafer is a video game designer and one with a pretty unique vision. He founded Double Fine Productions in July of 2000 after having spent over a decade at LucasArts, and has been behind some very interesting game titles, such as Full Throttle, Grim Fandango and – one of my personal favorites – Psychonauts, all of which have garnered critical acclaim. So it should really come as no surprise that Broken Age – his very first point-and-click adventure video game since 1998′s Grim Fandango – has brewed up a sizeable storm of hype. A “hypestorm”, if you will. Since its inception in February 2012, Broken Age has been a fully Kickstarter crowd funded project promoted by Double Fine and 2 Player Production. Originally set with a goal of $400,000 to cover costs of development and documentary filming, it became the largest crowd-funded video game project at the time, bringing in more than $3.45 million from over 87,000 backers within the month. It remains one of the highest-backed crowd funded projects of any type, and its success helped to establish Kickstarter and other crowd funding mechanisms as a viable alternative to venture capital and publisher funding for niche video game titles. “Sure”, you say, “But is it any good?” While the process by which Broken Age eventually came into being is certainly impressive, it amounts to very little if the game itself bombs upon release. “Duh,” you continue, “Captain Obvious!” Okay, okay. I hear you. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the game.
Broken Age is a graphical point-and-click adventure game, where the player-controlled character can be directed to move about the screen, examine objects, and talk to non-player characters to learn more about the game world. Broken Age features two playable characters – Shay and Vella – each located in what appear to be completely separate worlds. The player can switch between them at any point during the game, continuing their story, and investigating their respective worlds. The game employs context-sensitive actions instead of using verb lists as early adventure games would use, as Schafer stated that in essence, “there really was always one verb, which was ‘interact with’” and opted with the more modern approach. Each character has separate item inventories as they collect objects necessary to complete puzzles and overcome obstacles.
It’s really in the storytelling, though, that Broken Age begins to shine. And why wouldn’t it? Tim Schafer has shown himself to be a very talented writer, adding warmth and humor to an already beautiful game that uses hand-painted visuals as opposed to computer-generated graphics. The story follows the lives of two separate individuals; Shay, a young man and sole occupant of a large spaceship with an over-protective computer calling itself Mother, and Vella, a young woman in a world that is ravaged by a giant monster, who is tamed only by offering human sacrifices at the various ‘Maiden’s Feasts’. Both exhibit the natural instinct to break free from routine and tradition and find a new way. Their own way. It certainly helps that these memorable characters – along with all of the fascinating people and creatures they meet along the way – are voiced by the likes of Elijah Wood, Masasa Moyo, Jack Black, Jennifer Hale, and Wil Wheaton, to name just a few.
Now you might suspect, with all my gushing, that I’ve been completely won over by Broken Age. In part, I certainly have. However, there is a downfall, and that comes in the challenge. The game itself proves to be far too easy. I breezed through it in just a few shorts hours. Puzzles are easily solved by simply listening to what each character has to say, or throwing the various items you collect at an obstacle and seeing which one takes, but overall this is nothing but a fussy nitpick at what amounts to a beautiful animated tale that I look forward to revisiting again and again. Act 1 has shown itself to be a great appetizer with all the right ingredients, wetting our mouths and preparing us for the main course of Act 2. I just hope the continuation has a little more bite.Date posted: January 30, 2014