Broken Age Act 1 feels like the start of something really interesting. It's scene-setting for what's to come, but it's well handled and feels somewhat necessary. Act 1 is laying an essential foundation, providing the requisite intrigue and foreshadowing needed to make Act 2 as good as it promises to be. This first part of Double Fine's new adventure game serves as an excellent introduction to an intriguing and wonderful new world, and though it feels like half a game there's still enough here to make it worth your time.
Broken Age is set up like a conventional point and click adventure game - you use your mouse to navigate the environment, find items and use them. You can examine the items in your inventory and you will have to combine some items to solve puzzles. It's nothing new, but it is this familiarity which adds to the game's charm. It's all entirely purposeful and adds a sense of nostalgia, as well as illustrating that this formula still works in the modern-day.
The driving force behind Broken Age's conception was a return to Tim Schafer doing what he is most known for. That being old school adventure games like Monkey Island. Broken Age harkens back to these but welcomes certain modern tropes that current players take for granted. The end result of this is a game that carries the appeal of an old adventure game, and that plays to the strengths of that formula, but doesn't fall into the pitfalls that the genre often does (or at least rarely falls).
The story centres around two characters, whose tales are split into two separate campaigns. Vella is a native of Sugar Bunting, where tradition demands she must offer herself up to a fearsome monster as food so that the town will not be ravaged. Shay is a bored teenager, he lives on a spaceship that hops around the galaxy and his only companions are AIs. Each character is very different, but there is a connective tissue between the pair. Both find themselves in a way of life that they want to break out of, a situation they are supposed to accept but refuse to. Vella's rebellion is far more interesting and speaks more to her character, whereas Shay seems rather passive - compelled by boredom as opposed to Vella's somewhat moral stance.
The core story of the game itself is off to a strong start, though this is mostly setting the stage for things to come it's all very interesting from the get go. The universe Double Fine have created is enchanting and a joy to be in, full of superbly written witty characters and permeated by darker themes bubbling under the surface. There's a joviality to the game, a whimsy, but this is counterbalanced with sinister undertones. There is a pervading theme of childish innocence
compared to the real world, and though nothing is explicitly revealed yet the undertones and foreshadowing make it clear that there are darker days ahead. The game is headed in a very interesting direction and Act 1 sets it up for this destination perfectly.
Though some may complain about the abrupt cliff hanger ending (which will leave you wanting more in a good and a bad way), the only real issue with Broken Age is in its gameplay. Though the refinements made to an old formula are welcome, this game fluctuates between feeling excellent, obtuse or just too simple. As previously mentioned the game never gets particularly difficult, but some of the puzzles require steps which don't make as much sense as they should. There's a degree of trial and error which could be better handled, and there is a small amount of miss-able content that makes later puzzles seem briefly impossible. Certain items just don't seem germane at the time, and are not obviously attainable, yet are required for use far down the line. This is a rare occurrence, but when it crops up it can be annoying. This issue may not rear its head for all players, but sometimes when you solve a puzzle you feel fortunate that you stumbled across a solution when you did, and are very aware that could not have been the case.
Act 1 of Broken Age is a very solid start. It's an excellent opening that leaves a lot of room for something to really flip the script over and excel all expectations. The story is left in an interesting place, and foreshadowing is cleverly done so as to make you feel that you can work things out whilst still leaving you intrigued as to the real solution. This fairytale start is a wonderful beginning to what could be a modern-day adventure game classic, it's only hampered by some gameplay issues and the fact that it does feel like half a game. The cliff hanger is effective, but with a good amount of time to wait and no solid date for Act 2, the momentum created here may well have dissipated by the time the main course comes. However, don't let this stop you from stepping into the enchanting world of Broken Age.