Everyone likes a good adventure game. Unfortunately, very few games in the genre manage to truly feel like a real adventure. Excessive gunplay, one-liners and heroics often get in the way of two important elements; a sense of wonder and exploration.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a solid attempt at making the player feel like they’re on an adventure. One of the game’s unique selling points is that it is ‘single-player co-op’. What this means, is that there are two characters that are controlled in unison. These are the titular brothers, with each one controlled individually by the left and right analogue sticks (a gamepad is a necessity for this game). It feels a bit strange initially, but the controls are well implemented and it can be a thrill to pull off a particularly tricky coordinated action.
Brothers makes use of a series of platformer-esque puzzles in order to progress. They generally aren’t big headscratchers, with the difficulty coming from being able to successfully make use of each brother in unison, rather than racking my brain for the solution. They are good fun though, with many taking place in impressively imaginative locations and scenarios. It’s always satisfying to progress as well, though this is due to the emotional connection to the brothers and their journey, rather than the satisfaction of overcoming a difficult task. This is a game about poignant storylines and wonderous locations though, and the gameplay offers enough to justify it being a videogame and not some other form of media.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons succeeds on all fronts with regards to story. I haven’t experienced an emotional journey in a videogame like this since, um, Journey. The two brothers are on a quest to save their dying father, by travelling through hazardous mountains, dark castles and wolf-infested forests. Dialogue is minimal, and everyone speaks in a jibberish, Sims-like language. This is one of the key strengths of the game’s storytelling, with everything told visually. I won’t spoil anything, but there are some real emotional highs and lows in this game, all without a word said or written. Most of all, it left me hoping with every fibre of my body that the two brothers would succeed.
The game has been developed with the help of an award-winning Swedish film director, Josef Fares, something touted heavily on Brothers’ press releases. And it seems that working with an experienced film director has paid off for indie devs Starbreeze Studios. The ‘camera’ swoops and glides around the action, allowing for some striking cinematography while allowing for a comfortable viewing angle with regards to gameplay. The player is able to adjust the camera, although I rarely found myself making use of it. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has some of the best automated camera work I’ve seen in a game, and it often feels like the player is being followed by an experienced steadicam operator.
The environments in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons range from calmly beautiful, to breathtakingly epic, to darkly menacing. A lot of people have compared the game to the incredible PS2 adventure game Ico. This is true in some regards, with the connection of two characters on a quest with no dialogue. For me though, the game evoked comparisons to the works of Hayao Miyazaki. The young protagonists, the introspective journey against bright, epic backdrops, and the often dark, dreamlike art design all reminded me of the likes of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. It’s high praise, and fans of Miyazaki’s work will find a lot to appreciate in Brothers.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a game for anyone that enjoys a good story, well told. The game covers a lot of themes in its four or so hours, from love and courage, to sorrow and loss. It’s a game for mature children and mature adults alike, a dark fantasy with a lot to think about. I actually enjoyed that, while told in a minimalist way, the story is clear and complete. I do enjoy the ‘open to interpretation’ style seen in games like Limbo and Journey, but it’s nice to play a ‘deep’ indie title with proper characterisation and development, in a world that feels real.
As a puzzler, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is average at best. As a platformer, it isn’t bad. But as an adventure game, this is a total success. I defy anyone not to get completely caught up in the world of Brothers, and find themselves praying that the two sons can succeed. It’s not a perfect merger of story and gameplay, but this is a tale well worth your time and money.