Not Really Broken Age
So... I saw the trailer for Broken Age about two weeks ago, when my better half reminded me that Tim Schafer's Kickstarted game was coming out soon. My immediate reaction could basically be summed up as HOLY FUCK WHERE IS THIS GAME CAN I PLAY IT PLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE awwww, not out until the 28th! My better half gifted it to me, my friends, and lo I did verily install that sucker and play it through in one sitting last night.
This game, guys. THIS GAME. There I was, trawling through fucking legions of clones and sequels and boring, boring, BORING crap on Steam, lamenting to all and sundry that I just wanted to play a good game with a female lead and decent writing. Something that I would like. Something that wasn't tragic or overly sexualized.
Something, in fact, that wasn't going to make me accept some small, niggling bullshit in order to play it.
Let me explain this.
When I play video games, I have to make compromises. It's usually a case of "It's a good game, but..." Like the following:
Mass Effect - it's a good game, but goddamnit the Asari as a whole are overly sexualized for no good reason
Gears of War - it's a good game, but the main character is still a grizzled white dude with brown hair and I am really getting sick of that
Borderlands 2 - it's a good game, but that fucking Mercy Kill trope (no spoilers, you know what it is if you've played it) is problematic as hell and I hate it
Rift - it's a good game, but the supposedly badass female leader of one of the factions wanders around in a fucking metal bikini
Team Fortress 2 - it's a good game, but why can't I play as a female mercenary
Look, these are some of my favorite games ever. These are still the ones that get it right in other ways, and that's usually enough. I take what I can get, more or less. So I can play as FemShep, and enjoy the fact that Queen Myrrah is a total badass, and be happy about there being at least a few interesting female characters in Borderlands 2, and use Rift's costuming system to fully clothe my character, and read TF2 comics where the Announcer is clearly in command and absolutely terrifying. No game is perfect (with the exception of Portal), as we all know, and just as male gamers have to overlook weak gameplay or unbalanced mechanics to enjoy the hobby, I have to overlook this kind of stuff in turn. The alternative is not playing these games at all, and restricting my video-gaming to stuff that has little or no narrative, or the rare indie title that I manage to dig out of the aforementioned legions of clones and sequels.
And then Broken Age just fell into my lap out of nowhere, with the promise of nothing but pure, simple delight. I'm just going to leave the official description here:
Broken Age is a point-and-click adventure telling the stories of a young boy and girl leading parallel lives. The girl has been chosen by her village to be sacrificed to a terrible monster--but she decides to fight back. Meanwhile, a boy on a spaceship is living a solitary life under the care of a motherly computer, but he wants to break free to lead adventures and do good in the world. Adventures ensue.
If you've ever played a point'n'click adventure game, then Broken Age will be familiar to you. It's a matter of figuring out the puzzles in order to advance the plot. I will say this much - these games can sometimes follow crazy moon logic when it comes to puzzle-solving, but Broken Age's puzzles were pretty tight. There was always a clear goal at every stage, and I didn't hit anything that I couldn't figure out with a little patience. I suspect some people may say that the puzzles are too easy, but I'd prefer them to be too easy than too hard in a game that is AAAAALLL about the story.
My gods. The graphics.
To say that Broken Age is beautiful is an understatement. It's the kind of game that you point to when you want to argue that video games can be art. Every character is uniquely defined in a fantastical painted style, on top of environments that you wish you could walk through in person. I'm just going to post one of my favorite environments, which is from the inside of Shay's spaceship:
Seriously, there are triple A titles that wish they were this distinctive.
Can you play a female character?
Yes! There are two parts to the story. One is Shay, who's a white boy, and the other is Vella, who's a black girl.
I'm just going to repeat that - you can play as a black girl. Not sexualized. With the biggest afro you've ever seen.
Something else I should point out, because my jaw damn near hit the floor when I saw it, is that the first thing you see in Vella's story is her family, and her father is white. Her mother is a black woman, and has a slightly different shade of skin. None of this is any big deal, it's just there. A happy interracial family. How often do you see that in ANY medium, let alone video games? (Answer: not very often.)
Are the women sexualized?
Is there a similar level of customization for the female characters as for male characters?
Yes, that is, none. This is a point'n'click adventure game after all.
Are the numbers of NPCs balanced between males and females, and do they have a similar overall level of power?
I certainly thought so. The balance of men vs. women seemed pretty stable.
As far as actual romantic relationships go, none for the player. Not relevant here.
I suspect I will be writing an entire thesis on why I love Broken Age so much. I haven't been so completely charmed by a game in years. Everything, from the gameplay to the graphics, serves to draw the player into the narrative above all else, and it has so much depth and nuance and true feeling that I just can't really put into words how much I am in awe of Double Fine's storytelling skill. This is where Tim Schafer excels, and I think Broken Age is a game where Double Fine played heavily to that excellence above everything else. Believe me when I say that most big budget games don't even come close to this kind of quality.
I can't even describe the plot. No spoilers or whatever. Please just trust me when I say that it's GOOD, the kind of good where you get to the end and you're desperate to know what happens next.
I don't think everyone will like it. But I adore it, and if I have any criticism about it, it's that it's too short and now I have to wait for the next part. In the meantime, I will likely be gifting it to all my friends and then buying as many of Double Fine's other games as I can. I finally have a games studio that I really want to support, any way I can, so they keep making games like Broken Age.