Broken Age: Act I – Half of a Dream Come True

So this is NOT a review of Broken Age. You may be wondering why not. That’s because Broken Age, as a game, is not yet complete. Act I is just that, part one or half of a full game. So I will be saving the final review for when Act II is released. However, this does not mean that it is not satisfying or worthwhile. In fact, quite the opposite, the first half of Broken Age is a satisfying and compelling experience, well worth both monetary and emotional investment backers have made in Double Fine. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Let’s start at the beginning.

Weaving the dream of adventure.
Weaving the dream of adventure.

The Dream

So if you’ve been under a rock these past two years, you may have missed why Broken Age is so important. Make no mistake though, Broken Age is an import game. Let’s examine why.

Double Fine, the developer of Broken Age is a company whose developers have a history of trying quirky and innovative games. Founded and run by Tim Schafer, there is definitely a lot of history associated with both Tim and Double Fine. Games like Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Psychonauts, Stacking and Brutal Legend have established Double Fine and Schafer as an imaginative and quality independent studio. However, imagination doesn’t always equate to profits. In recent years, Double Fine’s games had not been exactly setting the market on fire and they were in some dire straits. If they didn’t figure out a way to make money soon, they’d be forced to begin laying off staff. It was time for a gamble…

Broken Age Vella

The Kick

So, with funds and time running low Double Fine and Schafer decided to go back to their roots. They decided to make an Adventure game. A genre of game that had largely been abandoned by mainstream development studios and publishers. Clearly, they weren’t going to be able to pitch this to a publisher, so they turned to the Fans.

In February of 2012 they launched a Kickstarter for a modest adventure game dubbed, Double Fine Adventure. With a budget of $400,000 dollars requested, they didn’t expect to make the funding by deadline. They met the goal in less than 8 hours and went on to receive a grand total of $3,336,371 from 87,142 backers. They’d just gotten more than they had ever dreamed of.

Broken Age

The Breaking

With great success came great ambition, but also a lot of attention. As the funding grew, the scope of the project inflated astronomically. So did the media coverage, bleeding into even the mainstream press. Double Fine had proven that with a good enough reputation and the faith of your fans, you could achieve great things, independent of big publishers/producers/infrastructure. Kickstarter blew up overnight and tons of classic franchises, developers and even Hollywood got in on the action. However, there was one problem. No one had yet to see prove if this model even worked. That’s where things got hairy.

I won’t detail all of the development of the project, however, it’s important to note the general issues. As the scope of the project inflated, so did the budget and it soon became apparent that the Kickstarter funds would not be sufficient. As time passed, other projects from Kickstarter had already begun failing, and the future of Double Fine’s project was becoming dubious. Would they finish the game? Would they deliver a substandard product?

In a risky move, Double Fine and co. decided to split the game into two pieces. Part 1 would be released first, to backers and free of charge, in January. The game would later be released to the public, and here was the risk. The proceeds of the first half, would be used top fund the second half of the game.

The New Age

That brings us back to today and the current release of Broken Age. It is half of a game, but was that enough? Would it cover the costs of the second half and satisfy the backers?

The answer to both is a resounding yes. Tim recently announced in an interview with Gamasutra that the second act has been funded by the sales of the first half of the game. The risk paid off.

As for the game itself. It is clearly half of a full game, with the expected cliffhanger ending. Despite that, it’s a compelling purchase. The art direction is simplistic but endearing and fits the world really well. The actual environments and visuals are impressive and spacious. The voice acting, featuring such noted actors as Jennifer Hale, Jack Black and Elijah Wood is excellent.

However, where the game should excel and does, is in the writing. One thing that has always been crucial to Adventure games is the writing. The dialogue in Broken Age holds it’s own with the great entries of the genre. It’s witty, it’s funny, it’s heartwarming and sometimes just downright weird. It makes the game and you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not selecting every text option possible.

In addition to this, game features an excellent score. Featuring classic adventure game composers who have worked on their previous efforts, the score captures all the fancy, wonder and whimsy of the games environment and moods. It will definitely be considered on of the more classic game scores.

The only places where Broken Age might be said to fall a bit short are in length and the puzzles themselves. Coming in at about 3-4 hours, the length is to be expected as it’s only the first half of a game. The puzzles on the other hand, aren’t as challenging as classic fans of the genre might expect. That’s not to say they are pushovers, but if you’re expecting some real brain busters, you won’t find them here. That said, they are sufficiently enjoyable to the experience and none of the feature the absurd adventure game logic that turned so many people off to the genre. Also, Double Fine has promised that the first game was meant as a form of “training” for new players of the genre, and the second half should have significant improvements in this area.

Ultimately, Broken Age delivers on it’s promise. Not only in Double Fine keeping faith with fans. Not only in proving that Adventure Games aren’t dead,  but in the idea that someone with a dream, imagination and the love of fans can keep great products alive in what has become such a jaded gaming industry. It’s well worth your purchase, not only as a game, but as an expression of hope for the future of the industry and imagination.


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