Welcome Back, Schafer
For years, people have been insistent on saying that the point-and-click graphic adventure is a dead genre. And to that, I say “bullcrap.” It doesn’t have the mainstream appeal that it once had, sure – but thanks to the likes of companies like Wadjet Eye Games, Daedalic Entertainment, Telltale and more, the selection of great point-and click-adventure games has been bigger than ever in recent years.
The problem, though, is that there was one person we all really wanted to see make adventure games, and he just wasn’t doing it. That person co-wrote the first two Monkey Island games, gave us Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, and walked away from the genre completely once public interest died off. That man was Tim Schafer.
And now that man is back.
He never really went away, per se – his studio, Double Fine Productions, has been churning out great games like Psychonauts and Costume Quest for the last decade – but until Broken Age, Schafer had taken a 16 year break from the genre that made him famous.
If you’re worried that all that time off might have made him rusty, don’t be. Broken Age: Act 1 isn’t just a great adventure game, it’s one of the best games Tim’s ever created, period.
Broken Age tells the tale of two teenagers from very different walks of life. Vella, a young woman from Sugar Bunting, prepares for her coming of age sacrifice. Literally. She’s to be fed to the monster Mog Chothra to keep her village safe. Don’t worry – I hear it’s quite the honor.
Shay, on the other hand, is a young man being sheltered from the harsh world around him. He lives on a spaceship, more or less alone, with a digital mom and dad to keep him safe. He has pretend adventures with the friends he’s been knitted, yet he just wants to break out of his routine and experience something real. He wants a real adventure.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition – Shay has safety and wants excitement, while Vella has excitement and just wants safety. But scratch a little deeper, and Broken Age becomes a beautiful parable for adolescence. Vella is the child who is forced to grow up too fast. She doesn’t want this; she’s not ready for the responsibilities being placed on her shoulder and fights against them. Shay is the coddled child; the one with the doting parents who aren’t ready to admit that their little boy is growing up. He feels trapped, suffocated – he wants his parents to understand that he’s ready for whatever the world throws at him.
Vella and Shay are rebelling. They don’t want to do what’s expected of them. They want to blaze their own trails and be their own people.
If that doesn’t sound like a teenager, I don’t know what does.
As poetic as the setup may be, it wouldn’t mean much if the rest of the game wasn’t just as beautiful to support it. But it’s all there. The story, the puzzles, the art, the humor – it’s AAA results all around. And the voice cast that has been gathered for Broken Age will knock your socks off. Elijah Wood, better known as Frodo Baggins, provides the voice for Shay. Former Double Fine voice artist Jack Black portrays the hippie cult leader Harm’ny Lightbeard. Wil Wheaton, Pendleton Ward – the list goes on and on.
It’s hard to talk about a game like Broken Age without giving too much away, both in terms of story and puzzles, but I’ll do my very best to deliver spoiler free commentary on the two elements that matter most. As you’re probably expecting from a Tim Schafer production, there’s not a conversation that goes by that won’t put a smirk on your face. It’s a funny game – a very funny game – but the humor never detracts from the sense of challenge you’ll get from pursuing your next set of goals.
The only thing that might lessen the sense of challenge is, well… the game’s lessened sense of challenge. The puzzles are fun and smart, but not terribly difficult. As part of the release of Broken Age, Schafer talked about how these kinds of games make your brain work differently. How adventure game puzzles can leave you stuck until “you have to turn away from it, walk the dog, take a break, a shower, a nap. And then, when you return, you somehow solve the puzzle in five minutes.” Broken Age, at least in my play through, didn’t have this problem.
That’s not to say the puzzles weren’t smart – there were definitely “ah ha!” moments where I felt like a genius- but these were few and far between. For the most part, everything just made sense. You’re given the opportunity to switch between Vella and Shay’s stories at any time, but since it’s unlikely you’ll ever get stuck, it’s a feature I don’t expect will get used much.
Still, it’s easy to forgive the game for its low difficulty when you look at the product as a whole. Broken Age is a brilliant return to form for Tim Schafer, and a reminder that your fond memories of Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango aren’t just a case of gaming through rose-colored glasses. Plenty of developers have been making adventure games since Schafer started his 16 year hiatus, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the best.
Broken Age is currently available to Kickstarter backers only. The game is available for pre-order on Steam, and will be launching to the public on January 28, 2014.