GAME REVIEW: Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons

brothers1Games that feature some kind of Cooperative Mode (players aiding each other to beat the game) are ten a penny, but when one comes along that enables the player to control two characters at once in a single player game, it is well worth looking into.

Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons, developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 505 Games, sees you take control of the titular brothers, moving and manipulating each one separately on each of your joypad analog sticks.

The rear triggers make them interact with objects, usually entailing the trigger being held continuously as long as you want one to hold something. That’s it! The only other controls are the other rear buttons to rotate the camera left and right.

The game follows the two brothers as they embark on a long journey to find a mystical healing tree that is probably the only thing that will save their dying father. It starts out as quite idyllic, lots of golden sun rays and quaint little villages that loom into view as you crest each hill or mountain. Early puzzles and encounters feature nothing more than angry dogs or smirking bullies, but as the game progresses things become more and more grim. I must admit that I was surprised how dark things became, and how well the game slips onto this gloomy track. It starts insidiously, things just feeling wrong. The characters you meet are more and more troubled and death seems to grow nearer the further the brothers travel.

The controls were surprisingly easy to get used to, although it did feel like the old playground game of trying to pat your head with one hand and rub your stomach with the other. Many of the obstacles and puzzles can be negotiated one brother at a time but a good number need you to move and interact with both simultaneously. This never felt unduly hard but I could feel my dexterity being challenged. There are also changes to the dynamic of how the brothers interact with each other, one might be stranded on the wrong side of a ravine and the other on an easier road. You find yourself having to keep an eye on each one as well as manipulating the thumbsticks. Again, not too hard, but tricky enough to feel a sense of accomplishment when you get past something.

The puzzles themselves are increasingly inventive and toy with the control system nicely. Added to this, each brother has his own strengths and weaknesses which also become a factor. Nearly every puzzle is about one brother helping the other along, or both teaming up to solve a particular obstacle between them. There are moments in the game where one brother is out of action, and it is a testament to the game that it actually feels odd and half-empty to only be focussing on the one thumbstick instead of both.

The visuals of the game are nicely varied, never spending too long in one type of scenery. The art style has a nice simple aesthetic which makes things very easy to see but yet makes them look authentically part of the scene. At intervals, the two brothers can both sit on large benches and take in the view, the camera zooming out to give you a far broader overview of the area. Tactically I never particularly felt the need to do this, but I still sat on every bench, just to see the vista before me.

Complimenting the visuals is a very apt sound scheme. The inhabitants of the world don’t speak English, and there are no subtitles. Meaning is conveyed by tone and gesture, and it is done very well. I think I may have found the game more engrossing due to this, as it forced me to pay real attention to things rather than just skimming through speech bubbles. The music contributes a good deal to the impact of each scene. Earlier on, it is light and a little melancholy, but in the darker parts of the game if becomes harsh and loud, which I really enjoyed.

The game was directed by Swedish film director Josef Fares, and I have a feeling his hand in the mechanics of this is what gives the game and narrative such a pay-off. You can play through the tale in around three hours without rushing, but it didn’t feel short as it was rich in detail. There was at least one occasion where I found myself grinning broadly, which is something that is quite rare for a game to cause in me. It is hard to talk about some of the things I found truly impressive without spoiling the story, but I feel confident to say that you will be amazed at least once on your journey.

If I do have a criticism, it is in the way the game gives you so few control hints. I enjoy that on one level, it is refreshing. On another, there were a few movements and mechanisms that were not that intuitive. I found the correct controller movements purely through my experience of playing other games, and it does concern me a little how someone more casual or new to gaming might have fared. I don’t want to over-blow this, it was on just a couple of occasions, but it is a minor gripe that occurred as I played.

Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons was a very enjoyable game for me. If you like your games to be inventive and your plots on the darker side, I think you will also find much to like about it. My only wish was that it was longer, but that is a little selfish as it would probably lose some of its impact if it became too stretched out.

Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons is out today as part of the Xbox Summer of Arcade promotion (Version reviewed). PSN and Steam versions to follow.

Rating : 5/5
Reviewer: Casey Douglass 

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