It’s hard to fault a game for trying its damnedest to break out of the mold. Broken Pieces is a “horror” game that takes a good amount of cues from older titles. With its focus on an interconnected French village and non-standard combat, the game swings for the fences in an effort to shake things up. Not all of it works and some of it seems misguided. But it’s a creative game, with gorgeous visuals and some compelling ideas that’s worth playing through as long as you weren’t hoping for a particularly original story or impactful side content.
Broken Pieces puts you in the shoes of Elise, a woman who moved to the French town of St. Exil with her boyfriend Pierre. But the mysterious activities of a cult alongside strange happenings with the town itself draws the military, which abducts the townsfolk during a festival. You’ll find plenty of tapes that fill in the plot, but you don’t meet any characters other than Elise, which makes the narrative feel a lot lonelier than need be. There are some interesting characteristics here, mostly due to the glowing stone Elise has on her wrist which can summon a storm or change seasons, but even these seem somewhat random.
In the end, the story is extremely typical. It follows the same route we usually see when zombies, ghosts, or demons aren’t involved. I’m not going to spoil it or anything, but you’ve probably seen variations of this story time and again. More importantly, though, the game isn’t remotely scary. The game is marketed as a psychological thriller, but that’s not accurate. There’s nothing psychological about it, and it obviously isn’t a thriller. Still, the tapes you find are somewhat interesting. Details are revealed at a decent pace; Broken Pieces certainly isn’t boring.
Let’s have an adventure
For all intents and purposes, Broken Pieces is a 3D adventure game. Elise has full reign of the empty St. Exil and progress revolves around exploring the place. You’ll find items that you need to use to open doors, solve puzzles to create new pathways and gather information, and stock up on items to help Elise on her way. Whenever she’s outside, Elise can summon a storm that will knock certain things down. Later, interacting with fountains will turn the season to winter, complete with snow, which lowers the water level and freezes water.
The town itself is fairly large and interconnected. It’s fun to learn the layout and open up new places to explore bit by bit. There are a few sidequests that grant additional background info or weapon upgrades for anyone who cares enough to see them.
The combat is easily the worst thing in the game, and feels tacked on. Occasionally, Elise gets locked into an area by barriers, and two or three ghost enemies start walking toward her. There’s only a single type of enemy, and the combat to deal with them is pretty different from any other systems I’ve ever seen.
Aim down sights
But there’s a reason that most games do things the standard way. Elise has a gun with infinite bullets. You can find materials that automatically get converted into higher-quality ammunition if you put them in your item box. But the single enemy is so easy to dispatch, and healing is so prevalent, that you’ll never have to worry about using this ammo.
As enemies approach Elise, you need to lock onto one and shoot them until they die. For whatever reason, Elise is the absolute worst shot I’ve ever seen in a video game. She frequently misses targets right in front of her. The trick is to shoot them right before they attack or just after. You can dodge straight backward or to the side (complete with Elise doing a bizarre twirl). When an enemy’s arm turns red, that means it’ll attack with a jab, which you avoid by dodging to the side. When it’s yellow, it throws a hook, which you dodge by moving backward. This is literally all there is to the combat.
Broad side of the barn
I’m not sure why Broken Pieces even has combat, honestly. There are so few encounters that I can’t imagine that I spent more than half an hour fighting during my entire playthrough. Granted, you could fight more if you really wanted to. The game has a time system at play. Elise has a little crab clock that tells her what time it is and the minutes continually tick down as you play the game. When you travel to other areas, a specific amount of time is used up. The reason for this is that, after 8 PM, enemy encounters become much more prevalent, so there’s an additional element of managing your time. You’re expected to go back to Elise’s house and sleep every night.
When Elise is hurt, she can heal by sitting on a bench and resting. But this eats up two whole hours, so that has to be taken into account. Some objectives can only be completed by going home at night, and sleeping and progress-granting tapes can often only be acquired by checking the tape player by Elise’s bed in the morning. I like this system and think it does a good job of making it feel like you’re really going on a little investigation day by day. Sidequests include getting a high score in an arcade game, finding orbs that teleport you to a strange dream world, and puzzles that reward you with coins that can be used at a museum.
I never got to use any of these coins, though. Elise’s journal told me that I did everything I needed to do to turn the museum’s power back on. But it never turned on, so I couldn’t do anything with the coins and don’t know what the reward for messing with them is.
I completed Broken Pieces in about seven hours and mostly enjoyed myself. The combat might be pointless, but the puzzles are mostly satisfactory, the level design is memorable and offers a believable sense of place, and, again, the graphics are quite lovely especially considering the size of the team that made the game. It won’t knock anybody’s socks off, but the game offers a little French vacation that’s mostly worth seeking out.