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On the uccessfully raised $3,336,372 on Kickstarter to do something I’ve always wanted Double Fine to do: Make an old-style Lucasarts Adventure game, but with all the shiny graphics and stuff that modern development can provide.

Three years, one and one half months later, we get the final result: An old style Lucasarts adventure game, with all the shiny graphics and stuff. Everything we ever asked for, but not quite what we wanted.

If the whole thing had come out last year, or even half of it came out within a stone’s throw of the original pitch date, this might be an entirely different story. But it didn’t, so it’s not. The first act was a really good adventure game, the graphics were pretty, the sound and voiceovers were well done, even the shear range of the variations of “That doesn’t work” went well. The puzzles were signposted, and – for me – hit the slightly easy side of the magical Adventure Puzzle Line, where you know *what* you should be aiming for, and now you need to work out how.

If nothing else Vella – in the middle – is a black female protagonist in a high profile game, which isn’t nothing. Plus, she punches and blows up more things than Shay does.

The problems I had with it were almost always where it didn’t reach far enough, or didn’t play hard enough, and central to those were the lack of playing with the central premise – that you are two sides of a single adventure. There wasn’t any crossover of puzzles, and while you could see the seams where the storylines touched, until the very end they didn’t interact at all.

Act 2 answers all my problems with those, and rarely has everything I asked for been quite such a hollow victory.

There isn’t a long and storied history to multiple protagonist adventure games. There are, in fact, two. Manic Mansion, and its sequel, Day of the Tentacle, and once you’re treading on the coat-tails of DOTT, you need to have laced up your boots well and tight, because you’re wandering in to one of the most complexly logical sets of multiple-person puzzles seen. Dropping a hamster into a deep freeze in the present to revive it in the future stuff.

Broken Age Act 2 misses the mark in three important respects:

For full disclosure: I kickstarted this project.
For full disclosure: I kickstarted this project.

First, the pleasant and well-crafted locations in Act 1 are the pleasant and well-crafted locations in Act 2. Characters have advanced a scene – often due to events of the first half – but the traditional revisiting of the last Act’s stars to explore new dialogue and new puzzles misses any balance of exploring any new places, or any new characters. I can think of one single character in Act 2 who didn’t appear in some form in Act 1, and their influence is almost zero. Some get expanded, and some locations are modified, but you’re almost always visiting old places from a new angle.

See, I'm in the credits and everything.
See, I’m in the credits and everything.

Some of the puzzles are great and well crafted, but not many. Adventure games have never really respected the time of their players, but some of the puzzles of Act 2 take this to egregious levels. One in particular requires a combination Rorschach test, a conversation with an NPC 5 screens away who you have no reason to suspect might know anything about the subject, who then sends you to find a pencil so they can write down a diagram which you then have to abstractly describe in another three stage Rorschach test five screens away, any single mistake will reset the whole thing back to the beginning. I’m not proud to say I ended up solving that puzzle with a walkthough and a screenshots folder, and it still ended up taking five more attempts.

In addition to the read-the-designers mind aspects of some puzzles, there’s a weird disconnect where a few puzzles cross characters, and there is no in-game mechanism for them to be able to share information. If Shay sees this diagram, and Vella has to use the content to fix a thing, and the whole point of the storyline is they barely ever meet, how do either of them solve the puzzle? And that’s not including the puzzles that rely on a single off-hand line of un-repeated dialogue from the other side. One spacebar to skip cutscene and you’re doomed to guess.

Both main characters have their crosses to bare. Here, Shay only has nine different kinds of cereal. And his spoon keeps talking to him.

In other words, it’s not that far away from some of the more bastardly ends of the old-school Lucasarts adventures, where you had to read the designers mind to get any further.

There are some bright spots, and enough glowy-moments of successfully solved a difficult thing that I don’t regret my time or money devoted to it. The dialogue is well written, and the story well-realised, if not inclined to dig deeply into its themes too much. The voice overs are great, and I enjoyed the music.

All in all, it’s… what we asked for, if not the Adventure Game Revolution we hoped.

Highly worth picking up on the cheap at some point, and going through with a policy of shift-tabbing to a walkthrough if you get stuck for more than your patience lasts..

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