The first act of Broken Age left me wanting more. However, with a wait of well over a year for the concluding second half, the twin stories of Shay and Vella as they struggled against the constraints and artificial limitations of their respective worlds were left on a tantalising cliffhanger for far too long.
Though PlayStation players will never know the division, the second act is delivered on PC as a simple update, letting you load up a save file and picks up exactly where it left off, as Shay and Vella both get their wish and step into new worlds and new and unfamiliar environments. If you’re hesitant of even the most minor of spoilers, I’d recommend looking away now, as the second act is largely defined by that first act ending twist.
Immediately, the difficulty of the puzzles is a major step up from what was put before you in the relatively simple to grasp first half of the game. You’re torn in several directions at once, with the need to solve several smaller puzzles on the way to completing your main objective. Shay, for example, needs to find several parts in order to fix a space ship, requiring that you explore the full extent of the world he now finds himself in.
However, and this is the point where the spoilers come in, while their respective locales are unfamiliar to our two budding heroes, they are still entirely familiar to anyone who has finished the first act. The locations have been redressed in many ways, to reflect what went before, but Shay and Vella simply trade places, leading to a disappointment that Double Fine’s extra development time didn’t extend to creating truly new places for you, the player, to explore or more than a couple of new characters for you to interact with.
What they have created is still simply gorgeous to behold, though. The art style continues to be quite sublime, with it’s chalk-like texture and delightful animations, while Tim Schafer’s script shines with wit and charm through the relaxingly subdued performances from the incredibly star-studded cast that encompasses even the most minor of characters.
That familiarity does help with the puzzle solving to a certain degree. Whether playing through the game as a whole or after a year between the two halves, you know your way around and the people that you will meet, as well as some of the less obvious places that you can get to, and you also generally have rather clear objectives. However, within that greater complexity, there’s also a greater degree of travelling back and forth and experimentation via trial and error – occasionally running against the flow of simple logic – on Shay’s side of things in particular.
Some of that travelling is curtailed automatically in a couple of puzzles that would be overly tiresome otherwise, but there is still a lot more backtracking than before, which is never much fun. Just as in the first act, you can instantly hop between Shay and Vella, which comes in handy if you’d like a change of scenery or if you find yourself stuck.
That is actually the key to success in a few notable puzzles, which require knowledge from one side of the story for the solution in the other side and will likely have you reaching for a pen and paper to jot down a couple of notes and figure things out. Yet, it comes almost completely out of the blue, and such interaction between the two halves of Shay and Vella’s story is made even more integral during a rather tiresome finale, where a very particular sequence of events has to take place as you hop between the two, lest your progress be reset.
As the two sides of the story collide once more, it ultimately leads to a relatively abrupt ending – well, as abrupt as it can be when you’ve spent so long solving the final puzzle. The twinned coming of age stories of the two protagonists are muddied by antagonists that seem to exist only to weave a cloyingly whimsical connection between the Shay and Vella, amidst their evil scheme.
Ultimately, this second act makes Broken Age whole, and it’s more than worth your time to play and enjoy Tim Schafer’s return to the genre in full. Yet, after such a long wait, it’s a shame to see that Broken Age’s second act, while continually beautiful and charming and with much more challenging puzzles, doesn’t quite manage to live up to the promise from the end of the first.
Version tested: PC