Broken Age

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Broken Age has several big problems, mostly to do with fundamental design decisions, and some with surprising sloppiness in writing. But despite that, there’s a lot of charm to the presentation and a great level of polish to the game.

I didn’t play this game until Act 2 was out, so I played both back to back. The first act is very simple. There’s not much to it, which makes it focused and clear. But it feels a bit flat because of it. I kept expecting to be able to talk more in-depth with characters about what was going on. But after a while, I decided to just roll with it. 

Act 2, on the other hand, is complicated to the point of being convoluted. The game tosses so many new concepts at you that most end up feeling underdeveloped. There isn’t nearly enough dialog given the amount of stuff going on. Several times you’re given information that changes everything you thought about the world, and then you immediately go off to solve puzzles instead of talking about it with someone. So much of the dialog revolves around practical matters to advance the plot to the next stage, without having any character to it. This made the character arcs so vague that I’m not convinced there even were any. I’ve watched the documentary series made during the production of the game, and they were well aware of character arcs being important. But in the final game, I’m just not seeing it. When the credits rolled I thought back to where the story started, and at the end, it just hadn’t gone anywhere.

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I’ve seen varied reactions on the puzzles in Act 2. I thought they were horrible, to the point where  I began to question the entire premise of “hard” puzzles in adventure games. I don’t think they have a place in Broken Age. They didn’t fit thematically, and they didn’t even make logical sense. Like there are several puzzles about wiring robots where the direction of the cable produces different results. I had to shout down parts of my brain in order for this to make sense. At that point in the story, there’s a sense of urgency. But those 30 minutes spent wiring robots deflated all the tension from the scene. Too many of the puzzles are like that in Act 2. There are a few exceptions to this, like one involving a camera helmet. That puzzle did everything right because in the process of solving the puzzle you learn about how the world works just through looking and experimenting on your own. Gameplay and story exposition in perfect harmony. But toward the end, the puzzles became like a sadistic joke. Several of them are randomized, so you can’t even bypass them using walkthroughs. Clearly, a lot of effort went into designing these things, and I just have to question why anyone would subject human beings to this? In Act 1 I got the impression story got precedence over the “game” parts of the game. In Act 2 it pushes the game aspects harder, and it almost makes both story and game fall apart.

But even with all that said, I still recommend Broken Age. I had a reasonably nice time with it, even in Act 2. The art is great, the voice acting is as good as it gets, the music is excellent. It's full of fun creative characters and ideas. There's almost nothing else like this. I don't mean point-and-click adventures, as there's plenty of those. I mean stylistically. And despite the disappointing last half, the sheer originality of the style made this feel worthwhile. I wish it'd been better executed, but I'm happy it exists, even in this form.

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