Sunday, 9 February 2014

Indie Gaming: Broken Age: Part 1 (A review of sorts)

So, I finished Broken Age. Well, I finished the first part anyway. It all ends on a rather huge cliffhanger, but we'll get to that in a moment. SPOILERS AHEAD! (actually the cliffhanger thing is a spoiler I guess, so SPOILERS BEHIND! also, but this being part 1 of 2 the fact there's a cliffhanger shouldn't be surprising).


The game is split between two storylines, but of course anyone could realise that they must surely meet at some point. After briefly spending time with both characters (as you can read in my previous post on this subject), I decided to focus on one at a time. I stuck with Shay first, since I'd spent the least amount of time with him so far.

The aftermath of another Maiden's Feast
As an aside, I feel like the switching between characters really hasn't been worthwhile. I think a better approach would have been for the game to switch between the two at key moments, gradually building toward the cliffhanger and remove that freedom from the player. It was vaguely reminiscent of Day of the Tentacle, where you could have different characters acting in different time zones in order to progress. Broken Age lacks this clever use of character switching, and I almost feel like it was put in there as a callback to Maniac Mansion and DOTT. Perhaps part 2 will actually use it as a mechanic, but it would have to be something special to justify it's inclusion in this half.

An inflatable copy of me, to use as a distraction. Why is this even here?
Shay's story begins very well, with the character a virtual prisoner in a child-like prison. Everything is designed to be as safe and secure as possible, to the endless frustrations of the teenage protagonist. The "missions" are actually just games with talking knitted puppets, and even when you finally manage to "break" one of the scenarios, you merely end up bouncing off the "deadly spikes" at the base of a pit.
A giant peach tree, high in the sky, dispensing regular-sized peaches.
This initial frustration fades though, when you are met by a talking wolf (quite obviously someone in a wolf-suit, which thankfully you can question later). He has actual dangerous missions for you to do, rescuing people from various sectors of space. It wasn't long before I felt like I was still continuing playing a game, rather than actually being a hero. The wolf appears to merely be giving Shay another distraction and no meaningful interactions. (at this point, we don't know who the wolf is. He calls himself Marek, my initial suspicion was that he was the "Father" computer AI - a counterpart to the "Mother" AI which spends most of the time with you).

The wolf, Marek and his command centre in the belly of the ship.
 Here's a good point to move to Vella, whom I had spent the most time with previously. She was escaping the monster Mog-Chothra (a lovecraftian horror that demands sacrifices from the various towns in her world). The initial escape from the "Maidens Feast" (the ritual sacrifice), was aided by a large, strange bird who eventually carries Vella to a town in the clouds. After a few basic puzzles based around a missing egg, Vella makes her way back down to earth and crashes into a woodcutter's house.
A lovely stained-glass window. Let's deface it!
Near the woodcutter lies a lovely seaside town based on sandcastles and shells. All of these specifically themed places are an obvious relation to the different towns in Loom, and indeed it was Loom that was one of the first games to use a mouse-driven, simplified interface now so much in favour with modern adventures. It certainly is simple too, and for all it's many charms this can sometimes be a little frustrating. Most items tend to have one use, then are discarded forever. There's a lack of things to interact with in any given area, and you can't "look at" or "examine" something to get more detailed information. The first scene with Vella gives you a room full of people to talk to and a few things to interact with. After that, the game moves from scene to scene swiftly, all in service to the chain of puzzles that leads you to the end.

An angry talking tree. You have to make it sick up sap.
Shay's final objective of this part captures this feeling the most, as you must traverse various rooms of the space ship to disable the shields and hack the docking controls. However, while you are required to wander throughout the ship, you can only interact with very few items. It feels very empty, and there's nothing more I hate than having to track back and forth in an adventure game to gather things for otherwise very quick and simple puzzles.

The weaver (ship's navigation), and surely a Loom reference.
Vella's final act had better pacing (almost too quick in fact), as you prepare for your final showdown with Mog-Chothra. Still unable to come up with a plan, you find a temple to a blind god. After a brief riddle (which might have been a bit harder had I not had only a few items in my inventory to guess with), you enter the temple. After you revive the blind god, you discover it is actually a crashed space-ship and a small puzzle later lets you use it as a weapon. How fortunate!

Needless to say, you enter the local Maiden's feast, you defeat Mog-Chothra and save the day. When you look into the defeated maw of the fearsome beast, you notice it looks a little bit odd. From the shadows a person emerges, it's Shay! It turns out the wolf's missions had been Shay abducting the various Maidens, rather than a monster eating them. The space-ship had actually been the monster, and as a final action your two protagonists switch places, the door shutting between them. Shay is now stuck on the outside, Vella on the inside.

Yet another Maiden's Feast, this time before the carnage.
Obviously there must be a technologically advanced area on this planet, in contrast to the other towns which are more developmentally stunted. Why does it send out monsters to capture young women? These questions are for part two. I do hope it doesn't take them too long to release it, I'm not sure I have the patience to wait too long. My guess is that the boys are all clones, but the similarities between Shay and the older "dead eye god" may just be superficial.

The Dead Eye God, a space-faring man who looks a little like an older Shay.

Part one has been full of charm and a certain amount of wit. It's a wonderfully well crafted tale, but is quite light in the gameplay element. I enjoy the art style (even if it looks a little rough in one or two areas), and the music is brilliantly fitting. Generally, it has all the polish that you would expect from such a well-funded but short game, but doesn't quite reach the heights that Tim Schaefer has reached before.

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