If you’re a fan of the old point-and-click adventures games from the Nineties (or if you read my review from last year), then you probably know all about the hype surrounding Tim Schafer’s Broken Age project. This modern puzzle-adventure game was notable for its surreal premise, its brilliant colors and animation, and its origins as a wildly successful Kickstarter project, connected to Scafer and other veteran developers.
It took longer than expected for Act Two to finally come out, so now we can talk about the game from start to finish.
Needless to say, I don’t think the hype was worth it.
In Act One, we get to know our two teenage heroes: Shay, a boy kept coddled in a spaceship who wants to break free, and Vella, a girl who escapes her sacrifice at the Maidens Feast and pledges to destroy the evil creature Mog Chothra. At the start of Act Two, we learn that Shay’s “spaceship” was actually the interior of Mog Chothra. With Vella trapped in the belly of the beast and Shay roaming the outside world for the first time, our two heroes struggle to collect their arsenal and put a stop to the alien conspiracy that connects both their worlds.
So what does the second installment of Broken Age have to offer?
Some great voice acting.
From Elijah Wood’s snarkiness to Jennifer Hale’s shifts in emotional tone, this game has some solid actors attached. Even celebrity cameos like Jack Black and Wil Wheaton are fun in their own way. I’m also proud that I recognize the name and voice of Richard Steven Horvitz, who plays the Space Weaver (mostly because I can totally hear faint hints of Daggett from Angry Beavers when he reacts to things).
An elaborate plot twist.
We finally learn what happened to Shay’s world of Loruna and how it takes into the sinister forces behind Marek, Mog Chothra, and the Maidens’ Feast. I thought it was clever (at first), but overall, the plot development didn’t seem too relevant to a series of endless puzzles and backtracking.
Which brings me to my main gripe…
A sharp difficulty curve for puzzles.
Compared to what we had in Act One, the puzzles in Act Two were a lot more difficult to accomplish. I can tell that the developers wanted players to switch back and forth between Shay and Vella, which meant digging through obscure little hints and background details in one world to solve a problem in the other setting. But even then, there were puzzles that jumped up in difficulty, from rewiring robots by trial-and-error to guiding another robot across a room with lights that had to go out in a precisely timed sequence.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to rely on one or two walkthrough guides in order to solve some of these puzzles—and in some cases, the solutions they offered didn’t even match up with the solution that my puzzle needed. Of course, I didn’t find the knot-untying puzzle as hard to solve as others claimed, so I suppose there were a few small victories.
What got me excited about the first half of the game was how Shay and Vella were two kids trying to break the status quo of their lives, asking questions and sabotaging their families’ plans. It made for a great coming-of-age story, told in two different ways. But all that gets lost in Act Two, when their adventurous natures get diverted toward a bizarre conspiracy with a clear antagonist. Neither Shay nor Vella really grow up because of their adventures; they just keep fighting monsters and solving puzzles until they win and that’s it. No satisfying growth or change between their families.
If you’re a fan of the classic puzzle games from the 1990s or Tim Schafer’s work in general, then you might enjoy this game for what it’s worth. But as with all things, don’t believe the hype unless you’re also carrying a grain of salt in your inventory.
Bibliography: Broken Age, Act 2. Written and directed by Tim Schafer. Produced by Greg Rice. Developed by Double Fine Productions. Published by Double Fine Productions. Moai (engine). Original release date (Act One): January 28, 2014. Act Two release date: April 28, 2015.