Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an adventure game from Starbreeze Studios, the people that brought us the first Darkness game and last year’s Syndicate reboot, along with award-winning director Josef Fares. With that in mind it’s probably going to be difficult to wrap your head around the fact that when you hear about Brothers, from other publications as well as from us, you’re more than likely going to hear it being compared to games such as ThatGameCompany’s PSN exclusive Journey. They’re not speaking out of turn either, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is as much an experience as it is a game, a story that’s straight out of a fairy tale, but it doesn’t shy away from pulling on a few heart strings on its way towards the goal. It’s brutal and charming, gorgeous and dismal, all in one go. It’s time to go on an adventure; one that you’re not going to forget any time soon.
We join our nameless brothers as the elder brother is reminiscing about the passing of their mother, and the younger of the two siblings comes back to the family house with their father in tow. However, something clearly isn’t right and their father is quickly taken ill. It’s now up to the two brothers to head out on a quest to bring back the ‘Water of Life’, a mystical cure that will hopefully see their father fit and healthy again. This information is all told to the player through exaggerated movements and lots of pointing, as the dialogue and language that the characters are using isn’t something that players will be able to understand – think of it like The Sims. However, each of the characters are emotive enough, and the player will be able to hear the tone in each of their voices, that understanding what they’re talking about, even when you can’t understand the actual words, is never a problem.
Controls in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is something that will take a lot of getting used to for a good number of players. Both of the siblings are controlled simultaneously through the use of the left and right analog sticks, along with the left and right trigger buttons. The left-hand side of the controller takes control of the elder brother, while the right hand side the younger. It takes a great deal of co-ordination to get the movements down to a point where moving around the screen isn’t a lesson in futility, and I’ll be very interested to see how this control scheme translates over to the keyboard controls of the PC version, but if you do take the time to get to grips with it, it’s undoubtedly extremely rewarding. There’s no denying that the controls are the major point of difficulty within brothers, but the added sense of accomplishment when you navigate a puzzle by simultaneously controlling each brother in different parts of the screen, adds to the players overall emotional involvement in the title.
The gameplay takes the form of a series of puzzles which, in any other game, may have seemed a little too easy for the scale of the quest at hand. However, the added fact that players have to control both of the brothers at the same time allows for an extra level of difficulty that takes the puzzles from something mundane to (at times) something rather astounding. One such puzzle has the younger brother leading a troll into a cage – as he’s the only one of the two who can squeeze through the narrow bars at the back – while the elder brother closes the door, trapping the troll inside, allowing the brothers to continue in their quest unimpeded. It’s these puzzles, and the others like it, which add that extra level of interest to the game that’s very rarely matched. There’s no shortage of moments which will invoke an emotional response in the player either, especially those with brothers of their own. Each brother is able to do certain things while the other can’t, they’ll argue with each other, tease each other but, deep down, they would almost literally die for each other. It’s a touching tale of brotherhood and one that constantly shows the extent to which a brother would go to to make sure their sibling is safe. There are moments when you’ll laugh at the pair, and there are certainly moments when you’ll feel like crying, but, at the end of the day, you’ll want to help them get to the end of their quest because not only are you superimposing your life onto one of the characters, you’re superimposing aspects of your own life onto both of them; and that’s a strange and powerful feeling to have, but one that will keep you coming back for more.
The visuals of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are striking from a distance, but start to break down a little as you get closer to the characters during one of the game’s few cut-scene moments. The path to your journey’s end will be littered with benches too – as inexplicable as this may be – so there are no shortage of places for the player to stop and literally enjoy the view. It’s a shame that the main characters are rendered to such a low quality that they genuinely look rather bland when viewed up close, but the majority of the game is played from behind the characters and at quite a distance, so it’s never going to feel like too much of an issue to anyone other than the most discerning of player.
Audio is something that plays its part very well throughout the duration of Brothers, but never forces itself to the forefront of the player’s experience. This is a game about the experiences of two brothers, so the music is used only to emphasise the key moments. It’s subtle and charming and feels just right for the content that’s presented. The fact that the characters never speak in any recognisable language never really becomes an issue either as each of the characters are so emotive, and the tone of the words – whether you understand them or not – are so recognisable that players would probably find themselves making up words to fit the story and the tone; whether they know they’re doing it or not.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a game that should be on everyone’s radar, not because it does anything special in the audio or visual departments, but because Starbreeze and Josef Fares have managed to create a game that’s as much an experience as it is a game. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that sees the player experiencing the highs and lows of both of the siblings featured in the game. It takes a little bit of getting used to, especially with controlling both of the characters simultaneously, but the feeling of solving a puzzle in this strange and exciting new method far outweighs the few teething problems that players are going to have in the first few minutes. The developers have something special on their hands with Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and if it never quite achieves the highs of Journey, I have no doubt that the game is going to be one of the most impressive downloadable games – if not one of the best overall games – of 2013.