After five years in development, Broken Pieces was released on PC earlier this year. This is the first game created by French game development studio, Elsewhere Experience – a team of five people, and was recently released onto consoles. After a successful PC launch, I decided to give Broken Pieces a go on PlayStation 5 as I am a big fan of the psychological thriller genre.

Broken Pieces is set in the small French seaside town of Saint-Exil in the 1990s. We play as Elise, a young woman who is investigating a strange occurrence that has happened in the town and left it frozen in time. Broken Pieces is not only set in the 90s (though Elise is more dressed for the 2000s), but it also feels like you’re playing a classic 90s survival horror as it’s taken inspiration from the likes of Resident Evil with its fixed camera, inventory puzzles and item management.

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Broken Pieces is set in a fictional French coastal town called Saint-Exil.

A paranormal anomaly has happened, and the town’s people have disappeared, including Elise’s fiancé. For some reason, only Elise remains, and she’s trying to find out why and how she can restore the population of Saint-Exil. Elise isn’t entirely alone; stalking the streets are mysterious ghosts, who are preventing Elise from leaving the town.

The gameplay in Broken Pieces consists of exploring the town and unlocking new areas via inventory puzzles. You will have to manage your limited inventory and also be resourceful with ammo and healing items as you’ll be facing some enemies. Elise has the ability to control the weather using a bracelet that her fiancé gave her before he vanished, which can also be used to access new areas.

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Elise can control the weather using her bracelet.

The aim of Broken Pieces is to investigate the enigmatic event that has caused the town’s people to vanish and frozen the area in time. You’ll pick up witness accounts, tapes left by a cult that once terrorised the town, and also find out more about Elise’s past and her relationship with her fiancé by traveling through time portals which take her to a dimension made up of her memories. Broken Pieces also has some optional side quests to complete, such as unlocking certain buildings to learn about who lived there.

To begin with, Broken Pieces’ plot was mysterious enough to pique my attention, but I felt that this was short-lived as the game only gives you crumbs of information at a time – so you spend most of it absolutely clueless as to what is going on. From the start of the game, until around the third act, you still have no knowledge as to what has happened, why the town is stuck in time, and what the cult’s ambitions were. You’re just wandering from place to place, hoping that you’ll pick something up at some point. The third act, however, was quite impactful and had a twist that I definitely didn’t see coming. However, this wasn’t enough to save Broken Pieces from an otherwise, quite frankly, boring experience.

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Elise keeps track of any relevant clues or ongoing side quests in her notepad.

For one, the gameplay doesn’t have enough edge to make Broken Pieces stand out. The inventory puzzles and area exploration do reminisce Resident Evil, which I liked. But, the fighting in Broken Pieces seems like somewhat of an afterthought. There’s no variation in enemies or combat, just the same point and shoot mechanic with the usual unchanging ghost enemies. There are gun upgrades, but these don’t really improve things as there are no boss fights or progression in the actual difficulty.

There is a sense of urgency to your exploration which I found intriguing. At night, the streets are deadly and filled with ghosts, so you need to keep an eye on the time and make sure Elise is home by 8pm. I felt like the days were a fair length in this aspect and I never felt as if I didn’t have time to do what I planned to do. If you know exactly what objective you’re going to work on at the start of each day, you’ll always have time to travel to where you need to be and get back before the sun sets. Elise’s watch will also prompt you to start thinking about heading back at around 6pm, giving you enough time to drop what you’re doing and work your way home.

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The fighting in Broken Pieces feels really underdeveloped.

The reason why Resident Evil ditched the fixed camera style in later installments of the series was that it just doesn’t work for fight sequences. Broken Pieces clearly doesn’t want to stick to the fixed camera. You’re given the option of changing camera angles and you can stand still and switch to first person if you want to take a closer look at something… why not just have a moving camera if the same fixed position isn’t going to work? It just feels like a choice that was included for style purposes rather than functionality. The fixed camera also throws your sense of direction off a lot, as you’ll often watch a cut scene of Elise entering a room that’s at a completely different angle to the gameplay camera – there’s a reason why the 180-degree rule is a thing in filming.

Speaking of cutscenes. These also often feel like an afterthought, as many of them don’t really reveal more than what you’re seeing in the usual gameplay anyway – just simply a shot of Elise walking into a room – and they’re not animated well. For one, Elise’s mouth doesn’t move when she talks. I believe this is because her narration is what she’s thinking, rather than saying, but it still makes the cutscene look very odd. As this is a small developing team, I wouldn’t expect anything extraordinary from the cutscenes and some of the core ones are fine and are required to show what’s happening in the story, but a lot of them could be cut. I think this is the type of game where actually some still art appearing on screen to go with the narration would have fit in better.

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Despite being filmed in a free hand style with motion capture, I felt like the custcenes weren’t well-presented.

Unfortunately, the dialogue writing was what really put me off Broken Pieces. Elise is written in a way that reminds me of Max in Life is Strange, a type of forced quirkiness to make her likeable that actually does the exact opposite (I like Max in Life is Strange, but she does have some cringe-inducing lines). We begin the game with the classic ‘going around the bedroom and making comments about irrelevant objects’, and as we progress through the game, Elise will come up with some pretty dreadful catch phrases when picking up certain objects, like ‘Axellent’ when she finds an axe… prompting me to really regret picking the item up. There are also a lot of pointless comments to be made when examining certain objects, which tend to feel like the writers were just trying to fill space. Such as Elise looking at her fiancé’s music collection and sighing about how he ‘insisted’ on bringing it with him when they moved… so, your musician fiancé wanted to bring his hobby with him when you moved house? How odd! Maybe you should have left your beloved tape player behind too, Elise. I noticed that this could also be present in item descriptions. I found a board game in the church, and when examining it, the description says ‘how could they throw such a gem away?’. Er… they didn’t throw it away, Elise; you’ve just found it in a storage room.

There’s not really a score in Broken Pieces, but there are some original songs that you can play on Elise’s tape player that were recorded by her fiancé, a musician. Obviously, we’re supposed to be playing the game with this music on (Elise even puts on the music herself when we leave the lighthouse for the first time to make you aware of its existence), as when the music isn’t playing, the environmental sound effects are… annoying. In fact, I ended up turning them off. Saint-Exil is a coastal town, so the sound effects consist of seagull cries… lots and lots of seagulls. In fact, it’s the same seagull noise repeated over and over again, and for some reason at a much higher volume than any other sound in the game. So yeah, I turned it off. In fact, I felt like this suited the game better as this town is supposed to be devoid of life, which is why Elise relies on her tape player so much for some company. It actually seemed like the sound volume in the game as a whole was all over the place. I noticed that some tape recordings were much louder than the rest of the game and right at the end, I ended up turning my TV volume right down as one recording in particular just blasted through the speakers.

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The scarecrow doesn’t do a good job of keeping the seagulls at bay…

The dialogue mostly consists of Elise’s lines, however, there are some side characters that can be heard on tapes. Elise’s lines are mostly delivered in a whimsical, audio book style-tone and don’t really express any emotion beyond sounding pretty. The cult leader’s voice actor is really good and performs well as this deranged leader. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear Bryan Dechart in Broken Pieces too; although his part is only brief, it holds a lot of significance.

Broken Pieces promised an enigmatic narrative that’s full of mystery and depth – which it certainly has, but unfortunately, it remains enigmatic until it’s too late and you’ve already given up trying to understand what’s going on. It’s filled with awkward dialogue that will make you cringe at times, and the uninspiring gameplay is tainted by its underdeveloped fighting mechanics.

Jess played Broken Pieces on PlayStation 5 with a review code. Broken Pieces is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.

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