Horror games have seen a renaissance these last couple of years, between multiple high-profile releases and numerous indie titles inspired by classics. Broken Pieces is the latest take on survival horror, with a slight twist to the formula; time management.
Broken Pieces introduces its main protagonist Elise who decided that a nice and quiet life along the French coast would be the best way to live with her fiance. However, the town of Saint-Exil isn’t the dream they were hoping for as she finds herself entering a nightmare.
The most significant system of this adventure is time management. Wandering around town makes time slowly pass. Each new area progresses time by an hour while resting on a bench adds 2 hours, which affects certain aspects of gameplay. This makes knowing your way around town important because being caught running around after 8 P.M can be deadly.
Once the sun sets, a deep fog rolls across the small town, obscuring the players’ vision and hiding ghosts within it. While Elise merely presents this as troubling, I found it to be a nuisance as random encounters become more common.
Unlike most titles where monsters hide around the corner, waiting for the player to step into view before attacking, the ghosts can appear out of thin air. The creatures create a small battle arena that traps Elise until only one is left. You can’t run or avoid any encounters. In fact, ammo isn’t a concern at all.
Ammo is divided into two categories, high or low quality. The difference between the two is straightforward. High-quality ammo packs a punch but is limited to what players can create, and low-quality is unlimited but takes more shots to take down a foe. So, not being able to avoid encounters isn’t a detriment as I never have to worry about conserving ammo, as low-quality ammo is good enough.
Aiming comes naturally, as Elise automatically aims at the nearest enemy. Keeping the gun trained on the foe before shooting makes the shot more accurate and powerful. Aiming is key to dispatching enemies, as wildly shooting will have bullets go wide, leaving players open for attack.
However, Elise doesn’t have just a gun to defend herself. Her protective amulet, Rocky, is always there to lend a hand. This amulet allows Elise to push enemies back when they get too close, giving her more room to shoot. Rocky was my preferred method of avoiding an attack since I found the dodge to be unreliable.
Rocky has limits, though. A bar represents the energy left in the amulet, and repeated uses will leave it drained. I found this mechanic well-implemented, and it added a layer of strategy to combat.
Still, I died a few times, but I blame the dodge mechanic on a few of them. Elise can perform both a side and backward dodge. The problem comes from doing the side dodge repeatedly because sometimes it would register as a backward dodge, which is why I used the amulet more often. I was able to progress without dodging most of the time on normal mode, but the feature may be more crucial on higher difficulties.
The narrative is told mainly through documents, thoughts, and audio records that show us a town torn between the military and a cult obsessed with sending sinners out to sea. Following a series of events, Elise has been left behind with only her thoughts, which she conveniently records on her tape deck.
These tapes give us insight into what she thinks about the cult and how she has survived as long as she has. Otherwise, the game is relatively quiet, having a minimalist score and mostly ambient noise of birds and the sea. This heightened the sense of loneliness and had me wanting to find a new tape.
Most tapes are found either in an answering machine, intentionally left behind by the cult, or by a reporter investigating the small town. Everything has a purpose of why they were left behind, making them feel natural to the story.
The only issue I have is that players can miss plot details if they decide not to listen. This is because none of them play automatically, forcing you to open up the menu. I also noticed that there were times when multiple tapes were deposited into the tape deck. This dump can feel too much as tapes get interrupted anytime Elise takes note of anything in the environment.
The tape will resume after Elise is finished, but interruptions can often happen, especially when solving a puzzle. Otherwise, the narrative was engaging. I constantly wondered what the cult was up to and why the military was deployed to a small town. Each piece of information answers some questions but leaves more. It’s a classic thriller that hooks you until the end.
Broken Pieces has a narrative that entices players to solve the mysteries of Saint-Exil and the cult that has taken residence. While simple combat might make the title a slower play for most, anyone who loves puzzles and riddles will enjoy their time in Saint-Exil and want more. This provides a great experience within the survival horror genre, other titles should take note.