The very definition of a “video game” has changed in recent years – evolved even – from the uprise and mass acceptance of indie development. We're seeing developers use video games as a new medium to tell evocative and intelligent narratives without normal, traditional gaming conventions. That exact sentiment can easily be said about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons from Starbreeze Studios. Through beautiful imagery and interpretative storytelling, there is unwavering doubt in dubbing Brothers as an absolute must-play experience. With major story-driven games like The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite already in talks for game of the year, it's easy to dismiss this game as a contender. A grave mistake that would be however, because as far as emotional games are concerned, Brothers is one of the finest storytelling experiences of the year.
There's a lot of beauty to be discovered in Brothers and you'll only fully embrace it by knowing just exactly what you're getting into. At first glance, it isn't out of the realm of possibility to believe that Brothers can be played with two players. After playing through the game twice, it's quite obvious that Brothers would not make a fun co-op experience at all. Outside of a few boss encounters, you would be hard-pressed to find any enemies to fight or treasures to loot. It's probably for the best to throw those notions out the window, because Brothers just isn't that type of game. It's a single player adventure in which you control both siblings on a journey to find a cure for their ailing father's sickness. Similar to past indie titles like Limbo and Journey, Brothers is an emotional investment that beckons your attention.
The core of Brothers' story focuses on the bond between the unnamed boys during their adventure together. Their travels will take them to a series of beautiful locales, ranging from a calm countryside, to dank caves that are filled with trolls and our personal favourite, a haunting battleground scattered with the corpses of large titans that will cause your jaw to drop. Brothers only has time to tell its one story, but as we made our way through each varied location, we knew there were other stories to be told in this fantasy world, some happy and some sad.
"Brothers is an emotional investment that beckons your attention"
The entire tale is expertly told, despite not uttering a single word of English. “Less is more” in the world of Brothers, and the player is often left to interpret the garbled language from the boys and the many creatures they run into. During an early section of the game, you'll come across an old lady sitting in her rocking chair outside of her house. Interacting with her with the eldest brother shows his earnest dedication to find directions on where they need to go next. The lady will simply point down the road, providing a hint for the player. Taking the time to interact with the old lady with the younger brother shows him gently pushing the rocking chair back and forth, as they share a laugh together. It's cute and subtle and can be easily missed if the player doesn't take the time to explore, but it's an effective way to understand these two brothers without forcing a cutscene.
Controlling both brothers independently is what makes Brothers so unique. You move the eldest brother with the left stick and can interact with people and objects with the L trigger; Opposite that is the youngest brother, who is controlled with the right stick and R trigger. This layout is foreign for most modern gamers, especially if they've been playing nothing but action blockbusters like Call of Duty and Gears of War. It's understandably awkward keeping track of the two brothers onscreen and requires more concentration than one would initially think. Remember trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time? Yeah, it's sort of like that. And while we never got used to it during our playthrough, its the clever game design that makes it work.
"The entire game sometimes feels like a cerebral exercise that only gets progressively more and more taxing"
A particular shining moment has you climbing the side of a desolate castle with the two boys connected to one another with some rope. One brother holds on to a ledge while the other needs to swing himself from one side to the other to get to another ledge. You'll repeat this over and over again, utilizing both brothers to reach your destination. The tricky part is remembering which brother corresponds to which trigger, all the while keeping a steady rhythm. The entire game sometimes feels like a cerebral exercise that only gets progressively more and more taxing. And yet, Brothers does a remarkable thing towards its conclusion in which the decision to have such a control scheme starts to make perfect sense. We don't want to spoil anything, but when it happens, you'll have a greater appreciation for it.
Brothers may not be for everyone, but if you're willing to give it a chance, it may just be the title that broadens your gaming horizons. You won't find any collectibles or secrets to unlock since Brothers' sole purpose is leaving you with a single, unforgettable experience that will stick with you long after the credits roll.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons makes its objective clear early on and the resolution is profoundly memorable, but the journey itself is equally important. It lends itself to smart, albeit sometimes clumsy controls that only enhance the clever storytelling in the game. It may not be the longest game, but it tells a more concise and emotionally-driven tale better than most 10-12 hour experiences. There's a lot of quality titles this year that deserve your attention already, and now you can add one more to that list.
Superb. Now I need to find the time to work this into my gaming schedule. Thanks for the fantastic review, Anthony!
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