Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Broken Pieces by Elseware Experience, Benoit Dereau, Mael Vignaux and Freedom Games is an intriguing tale about a woman and her quest for answers in the face of absolute loneliness. Trapped in a form of groundhog day in a French coastal village by the name of Saint-Exil, Elise will need to find the answers as to why this happened. And for her own sake, how to fix it and bring back everyone that has disappeared because of it.
Broken Pieces is one of those titles that to me? Has left me with both a sense of wonder and satisfaction for this experience. Set in not one, but two separate points of view that can be toggled between, I think that this design choice not only added to the experience, but added to the challenge. With locked doors, blocked gates and what seem to be impossible passages without knocking something down in order to cross over, there’s going to be plenty to figure out especially if you aren’t looking in the right point of view.
This leads me into perhaps my first major point with Broken Pieces, the style of the experience. While for the gameplay itself you’ll be moving Elise around Saint-Exil with the left thumbstick and toggling the view from one to another with the press of a button, R1 in this case for the PS5, it has a lot in common with a Point and Click adventure. Like Unusual Findings that I had the pleasure to sit down to recently, each area of Saint-Exil will contain hints and items that are needed to solve the final question, what happened here?
So while you may not be clicking around the area for Elise to move and inspect, the spirit of that is present and could have also easily worked for most of the gameplay. Major clues in each of these areas will be written down in Elise’s journal for later reference while physical clues, such as a sheet of paper, will be added to Elise’s inventory. What was really neat about all of these is that even while I played Broken Pieces in English, this is a French town and because of it, the actual writing of these pieces of paper, street and store signs, were all in French.
While this could seem like nothing more than a minor detail for some, it truly helped make the setting that much more believable for me. Maybe it’s because I’m French, but I also think that if you tell me that I’m in “X” part of the world, I want it to actually feel like I’m in “X” part of the world, fantasy or science fiction setting aside. So on that point? Huge shoutout to the developers for these small details. For everyone else, not to worry, the language that Elise will be speaking and the overlay text are all in English so there’s no risk of getting lost there.
Another really neat feature is that Elise does not go anywhere without her tape player. A tape player you say? Yes! T’was the 90s and Elise has a tape player which comes in real handy. The first reason is that this tape player is almost like a lifeline to our lonely protagonist. Spread out around Saint-Exil are tapes that can be listened to for either clues into what led up to the event that you hope to finally solve, or, music from Elise’ fiancé Pierre who is also one of the missing. This music, while not personally my style, was a joy to listen to as it helped smooth out the loneliness that settles into the exploration as there is not another soul around… until there is.
With everyone having disappeared and Elise trying to figure it out, Broken Pieces also manages to infuse a bit of lowkey stress into the exploration as Elise can be attacked by ghosts at a moment’s notice. When attacked, there’s only one way out. Equipped with a gun that can be upgraded, Elise will need to take aim and fire with either a standard unlimited ammo or a more powerful limited one that can be acquired. In either case, ghosts will take a few shots to take out and they won’t stop coming for you so you’ll need to be quick with the dodge button if you want Elise to make it out in one piece.
For the combat itself, it never really gets complicated and fits well within Broken Pieces’ mysteries. Feeling a bit like combat that we would have seen from the 90s, which fits into the overall theme, it could also feel a bit dated. Taking aim and firing felt smooth and there’s a bit more low key stress applied in that Elise has to take some time to aim as the ghosts close in. When they get really close and ready to attack however? Dodging feels sluggish at best. Otherwise, I really didn’t mind these moments as they always seemed to happen whenever you closed in on something… either that or I just got lucky and went with it!
Between the puzzles that are needed to solve and the fights with ghosts in between, there’s another level to the experience that blends into both. Mysterious in its origin, Elise has a glowing rock, or crystal, that has the ability to change the weather. Super sunny one minute, and by firing her pistol next to it, it’s almost as if you can feel the crystal crying as it brings upon a torrential downpour that you’ll need at times to knock a few things over. On top of that, it can also be used in combat to clear away the ghosts if they get too close and you don’t have enough time to reload or dodge.
Finally, while there is “one” more gameplay mechanic that will come into play with all of the above fairly late in the adventure, that one I’ll leave a secret as to not spoil the experience! If I had perhaps one complaint though, it may be that Elise doesn’t move overly fast. Generally at nothing more than a jog, moving around each area can sometimes start to feel a bit long as there is no fast traveling. No fast travel does make sense and that is not a complaint as you still have the ghosts to contend with. With only so much time in a day, each area of Saint-Exil will take “X” amount of time to travel to and from, but I had just wished that Elise could move around a bit more quickly while in these various areas.
Otherwise, Broken Pieces was a fairly wonderful experience. There’s never any rush in order to get things solved. You’re allowed to take your time and if it gets too late in the day, or you need to head back to sleep in order to compile your notes, there’s no penalty. You simply do and then start back up at 8am the next morning hoping that “today is the day that you put everything back together.” The other good thing is that some puzzles can either be solved by the clues, or if they are combination based like a lock or a circuit breaker that has to be hooked back up? The good old fashioned write down all of the possible combinations and solve it that way. Just be prepared to input a fair amount of combinations!
Overall, Broken Pieces by Elseware Experience, Benoit Dereau, Mael Vignaux and Freedom Games was a journey that I’ll remember for some time. Well paced and not overly complicated in its puzzles, this adventure felt well balanced as it tells its mysterious tale.Score: 8.25 / 10