This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Broken Age: Act 2.
Blimey, I've been making a bad habit of reviewing games for the second time these last couple of weeks. But I'd argue that it makes sense for Broken Age. We might as well make an amount of fuss roughly equivalent to the amount of Kickstarter money that was sunk into it, and to that end, I hired a team of royal buglers to play a suitable fanfare as I pressed the download button with a rhinestone-encrusted glove on the end of a stick made out of all the money in the world. You'd think $3.5 million would create enough motivation to get the game done swiftly in one go, wouldn't ya, rather than released in two bits a year and a half apart, but what the hell would I know about adventure game development? And if you think that was sarcasm, let me know, cause I haven't decided yet.
Maybe the money was the problem, cause I know if I'd humbly asked for a few grands to make a funny little adventure game and had ended up with four million, my first thought would not have been, "Wow, I'd better make this game fast." It would have been, "I'm just going to keep inhaling cocaine until you could put me in a paper packet and call me a Sherbet Dip Dab."
In the first instalment, we had our two characters: Shay, the boy trapped in space with a hairdo that looks like a KitKat doing a Mexican wave, and Vella, a girl on quest to kill the giant scrotum monster she was supposed to be sacrificing herself to. I'll drop a spoiler warning here in case you were too busy being the president of the United States to play first half of Broken Face in the last year and a bit, but it turned out at the end that Shay's spaceship and Vella's scrotum friend were in fact one and the same, and the two protagonists then switch places for the second act, Shay running free in Vella's world and Vella nestled comfortably in Shay's scrotum. I'm going to keep saying "scrotum" until it gets a laugh, you bastards. Consequently, most of the characters and situations in the second act we encountered before as the other protagonist and a lot of the dialogue depends on us remembering them, which is a lot to ask after a year and a bit, and illustrates how splitting Broken Plot in half did it no favours. Still, now we know why the second part took so long: it takes a lot of effort to make no new rooms or characters whatsoever. That was sarcasm, I decided that time.
The thing everyone knows about adventure games is that they're story-driven. They don't hold up so well on gameplay because the gameplay is the equivalent of hanging out with the four fussiest eaters on the planet as you try to decide where to have dinner. But the story of Broken Nose I find lacking, largely because I struggle to describe what exactly the plot is about. I thought from the first part that it was a game about culture clash: the boy from the science fiction spaceship and the girl from the unspecific pseudo-fantasy world style arrangement type thing, connected by a mutual desire to escape and eventually getting trapped in the world of the other. But there is no clash. Neither hero has any difficulty adjusting to their new world, probably because there's only about three distinct personalities in the entire game and all the NPCs have to share. Eventually, the plot becomes about a sinister scheme by an elitist cult to kidnap girls, a scheme that hinges on using elaborate stagecraft to convince a young boy that he's on a spaceship and then encouraging him not to do the thing that makes the ship kidnap girls, thus ensuring that he will do through reverse psychology. Who came up with this plan, Heath Ledger's Joker?
The trouble with an intriguing mystery is that eventually you have to explain it and the mystery can easily become dysentery. Maybe it would have helped if we'd actually seen any of this evil cult society type thing that orchestrated this extremely contrived arrangement. But I guess that would have meant more background art than the budget would stand, 'cause when we do arrive in the headquarters, we don't even get out of the ship, we just drop a big bomb and fuck off again. "Hey, wanna come out and do some world building?", asks the plot. "Nah", replies the game, "we'll just wait in the fucking car."
Actually I think that finally determined what the plot is about: it's about how all the problems and diversity in the world can be conquered by bumming around on a ship. Vella uncovers the sinister global conspiracy while bumming around on the ship and then foils it by bumming around the ship some more. Meanwhile, Shay's arc involves acquiring a list of tools and resources to repair another ship so that he too can unlock the power of bumming around on it, just in time for a climatic finale in which Shay and Vella realize their true potential as they engage in synchronized bumming. Wait, that came out wrong.
As for the puzzles, it's more of the great adventure game chain of, "Get the thing to give to the dude in return for another thing", the dude standing stock-still in his designated spot who will steer all attempts in conversation to the thing that he needs. This reminds me of children's television. "Hello Mr. Fisherman, my name's Shay." "Hello Shay, I'm a little bit sad." "Why is that, Mr. Fisherman?" "Cause I don't know how to fish. If only I could learn, I'd be less of an inherent failure with a very ironic surname." "Well then, let me give you this book about how to learn fishing." "Thank you Shay, I'm glad we're friends!" And then they sing the song about how much they like sharing.
It's like all the NPCs exist purely mechanically, passive observers of the story rather than participants in it, each one assigned a role that begins and ends with temporarily obstructing the protagonist for no adequate reason. In fact, the final puzzle involves both Shay and Vella being obstructed by an ally and needing to construct elaborate distractions to avoid having to resort to speaking to the bastards. It's like me at a convention.
I also want to get some special hate-on for a puzzle I was stuck on for a while whose solution was to do nothing and wait. That shit's bollocks, and furthermore, that bollocks is shit! A point-and-click game drills into you from the word go that clicking on stuff is how things move forward. I have no reason to think I'm supposed to stand with a thumb up my butt waiting for the solution to materialize, if only because all the NPCs are fulfilling that niche quite adequately. Credit where it's due though, the knot-untying puzzle was alright. And you remember how in the first act it didn't make sense to let us go back and forth between the protagonists cause they never affected each other? Well now there's one or two crossover puzzles, where Shay needs information from Vella's environment, and vice versa. It does, however, raise the question of how the characters discover this information in the context of the plot, unless all along this was the story of the founding of a new race of telepathic super-spergs.
Without being able to read the developers minds, I'd hate to make unsubstantiated claims that Broken Kneecaps was made up as it went along or thrown together to fulfil an obligation. So let's just say that it bears an uncanny resemblance to something that was!
- The point, and furthermore the click: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Bumming around a ship is also the best way to swab the decks if you attach a duster to each buttock
- Please give me all your money