Bro­ken Age: Act 1

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Tim Schafer’s first ad­ven­ture game in 15 years is, in the most lit­eral sense, fan ser­vice. Bro­ken Age has been funded by play­ers with fond mem­o­ries of Lu­casArts’ golden era and built on the prom­ises made to them in what turned out to be a defin­ing, and record-break­ing, Kick­starter cam­paign. The re­sult is that the first chap­ter of Bro­ken Age lives up to its ti­tle: an anachro­nis­tic mix of tra­di­tion and in­no­va­tion that feels some­what out of step in a post- The Walk­ing Dead world.

But that’s en­tirely the point. This a game that prob­a­bly wouldn’t ex­ist had it not swerved around any kind of pub­lisher in­volve­ment, a re­turn to the sort of point-and-click that fell out of main­stream favour even be­fore Grim Fan­dango, Schafer’s prior ad­ven­ture (and com­monly ac­cepted swan­song for a genre). But while Bro­ken Age might be me­chan­i­cally pre­dictable for the most part, its tale of re­bel­lion, self-dis­cov­ery and cow­ardly lum­ber­jacks is as de­li­ciously off-kil­ter as any of its fore­bears.

As in Day Of The Ten­ta­cle, you jug­gle more than one pro­tag­o­nist through­out the game, each find­ing them­selves trapped in their own pe­cu­liar nightmare. Vella (voiced by Masasa Moyo) has come of age and is to take part in the 14-yearly Maiden’s Feast, of­fer­ing her­self up as sac­ri­fice to the great beast Mog Chothra to bring hon­our to her fam­ily. Vella doesn’t un­der­stand why the fel­low res­i­dents of Su­gar Bunting, a once-proud town of war­riors, don’t share her feel­ings about fight­ing the maid­en­gob­bling crea­ture in­stead of feed­ing it. At least her grand­fa­ther’s on side.

Eli­jah Wood’s Shay, mean­while, lives on the in­cu­ba­tor ves­sel Bassa Nos­tra, a kind of lifeboat that car­ried him to safety af­ter the death of his home planet. He spends his days un­der the ex­tremely care­ful watch of a cos­set­ing parental com­puter whose sole pur­pose is to keep him safe. He tries to stave off bore­dom by res­cu­ing sen­tient Yarn bud­dies (knitted for him by the com­puter) from staged dis­as­ters such as ice-cream avalanches and hug at­tacks, but it’s not enough.

Shay can re­late to the world they’ve grown up in, and both yearn for es­cape. By re­ject­ing the ac­cepted norms of their re­spec­tive ex­is­tences, they find them­selves em­bark­ing on two very dif­fer­ent ad­ven­tures. Each is re­lated to the other, but not nec­es­sar­ily in ways you might ex­pect. You can switch be­tween char­ac­ters at any time, which en­sures there’s al­ways more than one puzzle to mull over. But the game does a good job of open­ing its puz­zles out into non­lin­ear triplets as of­ten as pos­si­ble; Bro­ken Age feels supremely con­fi­dent in its story’s worth, so much so that it hardly ever tries to hold you up. We only strug­gled with one puzzle, a prob­lem in­volv­ing fruit and un­der­wear, but that was down to us try­ing to be too clever. Genre stal­warts might be dis­ap­pointed by the lack of chal­lenge (even the place­ment of ob­jects is mostly lo­cal to the rel­e­vant puzzle), but the draw of Lu­casArts’ ad­ven­tures was al­ways their char­ac­ters, not co­nun­drums, and in this re­spect Bro­ken Age doesn’t dis­ap­point. Along the way, you’ll en­counter a self-de­lud­ing cult leader voiced by Jack Black, Wil Wheaton’s afore­men­tioned lum­ber­jack, an in­cred­i­ble turn from David Kauf­man as a mys­te­ri­ous wolf who ap­pears to have mis­taken Bro­ken Age for the Wes An­der­son project he should have been on, and Gus, given adorable life by Pendle­ton Ward.

Dou­ble Fine drew flack for the all-star cast it as­sem­bled for the game – or rather its imag­ined share of the budget – when it was re­vealed that Bro­ken Age would be re­leased in two parts be­cause the stu­dio needed more time and money to fin­ish it. But the celebs’ pres­ence, al­lied to the qual­ity of writ­ing on dis­play, feels en­tirely jus­ti­fied. It’s a joy to lis­ten to ev­ery line (at least the first time), so en­ter­ing into a di­a­logue tree never feels like a chore. Bro­ken Age’s tone feels, for the most part, more sub­tle than that of Day Of The Ten­ta­cle or Mon­key Is­land, its script closer to the amus­ing snark of Full Throt­tle and Grim Fan­dango. But that just gives the jokes more head­room. And don’t panic, there’s still plenty of space for a se­ries of ex­cel­lent stool gags.

Schafer has ex­pressed reser­va­tions about in­cor­po­rat­ing tra­di­tional di­a­logue trees, but they re­mained in place due to the prom­ises made to the project’s pas­sion­ate Kick­starter com­mu­nity. The team has tin­kered with other ar­eas of the game, how­ever. There’s no list of verb ac­tions to choose from for a start, in­stead re­placed by a con­textsen­si­tive cur­sor that han­dles ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion for you. It also helps mit­i­gate any long waits for a char­ac­ter to walk from one end of a scene to an­other by dis­play­ing one ar­row when hov­er­ing over an exit, but then a pair of ar­rows once clicked. Click again, and you’ll in­stantly ap­pear in the next scene. The two char­ac­ters’ ad­ven­tures feel subtly dif­fer­ent, too, Vella en­gag­ing in more con­ver­sa­tions and com­bin­ing more ob­jects, while Shay dab­bles in pat­tern match­ing and even minigames.

Dou­ble Fine’s ad­ven­ture is con­fi­dent and charm­ing, the stu­dio feel­ing its way to a com­fort­able mid­point be­tween the de­sires of ad­ven­ture-game fans and its own mo­ti­va­tion to move the genre for­wards – even if only by a small in­cre­ment. Bro­ken Age is un­likely to con­vert de­trac­tors, then, but for those of us who grew up with Bernard, Ben, Manny et al, it feels like com­ing home.

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