Bro­ken Age: Act 2

An­droid, iOS, Ouya, PC, PS4, Vita

EDGE - - GAMES -

Just as her first act did, the sec­ond part of Vella’s Bro­ken Age story opens with a knife. But rather than search­ing for cut­lery with which to slice a cake, she in­stead nar­rowly avoids be­ing shiv­ved by a talk­ing blade from Shay’s ship. Fol­low­ing Act 1’ s cliffhanger, you see, the pair of pro­tag­o­nists have accidentally switched places, and now find them­selves forced to make daunt­ing re­assess­ments of what they thought was re­al­ity. Shay’s story also echoes the be­gin­ning of the game, with his com­put­erised fa­ther from the Bassi­nos­tra at­tempt­ing to wake him from un­con­scious­ness. As you might imag­ine, how­ever, nei­ther sce­nario is quite what it seems.

So be­gins the bulkier, Dou­ble Fine-funded (the devel­op­ment of Act 2 was sus­tained by Act 1 sales af­ter the Kick­starter pot ran dry) por­tion of Bro­ken Age. Act 2 is roughly twice the size of its fore­bear, in fact, but while it might be con­sid­er­ably longer, don’t ex­pect much new ter­ri­tory to ex­plore: the bulk of this episode is spent ac­quaint­ing Vella and Shay with each other’s prior lo­ca­tions. That’s not to say that noth­ing has changed when you get there – Vella’s new stomp­ing ground, es­pe­cially, has sus­tained enough dam­age to make it feel un­fa­mil­iar – but there’s an un­de­ni­able pang of dis­ap­point­ment when you reach the end of the game with only four or five en­tirely new scenes to show for it.

What you get in­stead is the chance to ex­plore well­trod­den paths in a new con­text, and with fresh eyes. Char­ac­ters you’ve met be­fore have been reshuf­fled and many have made amus­ing changes to their work/life bal­ance. There are also a few new faces along the way, none of whom make them­selves un­wel­come. As you would imag­ine, there are also plen­ti­ful ref­er­ences to the first episode’s events and puzzles, along with all man­ner of call­back gags, and hav­ing the lot fresh in your mem­ory will pro­vide clues as to how to progress this time around. It’s well worth play­ing through Act 1 again be­fore you con­tinue the story, then.

Act 2 also rep­re­sents the sec­ond half of the dif­fi­culty curve, ad­dress­ing a crit­i­cism of vo­cal adventure purists, who felt that Act 1 of­fered too soft a chal­lenge. Puzzles here are more com­plex, their com­po­nents placed far­ther apart, and now in­for­ma­tion gath­ered by one char­ac­ter might of­fer the so­lu­tion to a poser blockad­ing the other, a change that had us stumped on a Nav Scarf quandary for longer than we’d care to ad­mit. It’s not quite up to Day Of The Ten­ta­cle’s time-trav­el­ling co­nun­drums – and there’s none of that game’s ex­chang­ing of items be­tween char­ac­ters – but it fur­ther bonds the two worlds and adds an en­joy­able layer to Bro­ken Age that, if any­thing, feels un­der­used. The in­creased dif­fi­culty comes in the form of more oblique head scratch­ers, too, at least two of which func­tion in such a way that it’s easy to frac­tion­ally miss out on the so­lu­tion and go in search of nonex­is­tent items or con­ver­sa­tions.

But such mo­ments are rare, and for the most part puzzles un­furl and then come to­gether in an en­tirely sat­is­fy­ing, sur­re­ally log­i­cal man­ner. You’ll get to re­wire ro­bots, ex­pose a fraud and even at­tempt a cou­ple of se­quences that will re­quire re­ac­tion times as quick as your wits. The fi­nale, es­pe­cially, re­quires you to jug­gle an un­com­monly large num­ber of time-sen­si­tive el­e­ments to suc­ceed, and will prove a steep chal­lenge for even the most click-hard­ened vet­er­ans. But while Bro­ken Age might be a ser­vice to long­time Tim Schafer fans, it’s also go­ing in search of a new au­di­ence. PS4 and Vita ver­sions are flanked by iOS, An­droid and Ouya builds, and the team has built in for­mat-spe­cific con­trol schemes across the board (you can now also play the PC game with an Xbox pad or switch to tablet mode for Win­dows-pow­ered slabs). Pad con­trols work well, with the trig­gers re­served for speed­ing up and slow­ing down cur­sor move­ment, which is con­trolled by the left stick, while the right stick al­lows you to snap be­tween items of in­ter­est, a novel ad­di­tion that en­tirely elim­i­nates pixel search­ing. It’s worth not­ing that smaller tablet, phone and Vita screens prove a per­fect fit for Bro­ken Age’s pain­terly vis­ual style, sharp­en­ing ev­ery­thing up and ap­pear­ing to in­ten­sify the game’s rich colour pal­ette. Bet­ter still, the ex­treme close-ups of scenery that looked a lit­tle fuzzy on PC suf­fer much less here.

All of the first act’s celebrity cast reprise their roles, and while Eli­jah Wood’s Shay and Masasa Moyo’s Vella are ex­cep­tional, it’s again the rel­a­tively small parts that stand out. Wil Wheaton’s lum­ber­jack, Curtis, is hi­lar­i­ous; Pendle­ton Ward’s newly self-con­fi­dent Gus is sim­ply peachy. Marek and Alex, played by David Kauf­man and Alex Rigop­u­los re­spec­tively, get more screen time, and the lat­ter de­liv­ers some timely, thinly veiled jokes about rhythm-ac­tion’s ap­par­ent demise.

But be­yond the co­pi­ous gags, the plot con­tin­ues to be as re­fresh­ing as it is cap­ti­vat­ing right up to the end, and the twists you thought were com­ing af­ter the con­clu­sion of Act 1 might not turn out en­tirely as sus­pected. It’s more than enough to over­power the nag­ging sense of fa­tigue that builds as you con­tinue to haunt the same lo­ca­tions, es­pe­cially when it comes to the hub-like Mer­riloft, which re­quires a fair amount of hik­ing to get be­tween lo­ca­tions. It’s a de­sign choice that can make the world feel smaller than it re­ally is, too.

But with a cast, story and world this charm­ing, and this daz­zlingly orig­i­nal, it’s easy to brush off such con­cerns as you’re swept up in videogames’ most en­joy­able yarn in quite some time. Bro­ken Age is by no means per­fect, but it re­mains a stag­ger­ing dis­play of imag­i­na­tion, de­sign and per­for­mance that makes a pow­er­ful case for what can be achieved with the sim­plest of in­gre­di­ents.

While Eli­jah Wood’s Shay and Masasa Moyo’s Vella are ex­cep­tional, it’s the rel­a­tively small parts that stand out

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