Our Brothers: A Tale Of Two review explains what Starbreeze did next.
Published on Aug 1, 2013
Brothers will undoubtedly be compared to thatgamecompany’s masterful Journey, and with good cause as they do share similarities, including a form of communication that is completely alien to the player, which somehow doesn’t create any kind of disconnect whatsoever.
In fact, it’s that communication along with the emotive experience that makes Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons so endearing, even to someone without a sibling to relate to.
Starting with a horrifying cut-scene that shows the brother’s poor mother drowning, the scene is set right away. The younger brother is clearly scarred from seeing his mother’s arm descend into the blackness of the dark ocean, feeling a horrible burden of guilt that no young man should ever experience – this is powerful stuff.
But our pair of brothers’ poor fortune doesn’t end there, as it turns out that their father is also poorly, and while the visual style (looking like a slightly cartoony fairly-tale world, but real enough for the player to identify with) settles with the player, so does the quest: you, playing as both brothers must travel across the land to find a medicine for good old pops, to save his life. Those poor lads…
All About The Journey
Whilst Brothers isn’t a hard game, the main difficulty will come from the control method. It’s a minimalist approach, with only a few buttons on either the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 controller being utilised. You control both brothers at the same time, using both analog sticks, and this is exactly as awkward as it sounds - at least, to begin with.
It works, and after some time with A Tale of Two Sons, you’ll quickly acclimatise to the idea of moving two characters at once. In fact, it’s been done before, and experienced gamers will get used to it pretty quickly. The only other option really would be to have made it a co-op game – and indeed, if you want to you could share a pad and control a brother each – but that would have killed the immersion dead.
Of course, there will always be moments where you lapse and find one brother running into a wall repeatedly, while you put the other brother to work, or where you mix up the two and think you’re controlling one, when in fact you’re controlling the other.
The triggers are used for interaction and as an action button, with the bumpers rotating the camera, and that’s it – simple and functional. It’s not perfect, but that’s mostly down to how conditioned we are, as gamers, to moving with the left stick, and having camera controls on the right stick.
The difficulty is another area that similarities will be drawn to Journey. Clichés be damned, but Brothers is a game that is all about the journey. Puzzles themselves aren’t ever very taxing, and sometimes it’s more about the emotional resonance caused from the resulting solution to a puzzle, than the actual act of puzzle-solving, that gives that gratifying feeling.
One puzzle sees you have to free a good-guy troll from a bad-guy troll, and the solution came to me quite obviously. However, it was a solution that felt incredibly natural, yet somehow alien to video games – it isn’t contrived; nor stupid, it actually makes sense in the real world, too.
To go into detail discussing the puzzles and key moments would be of serious detriment to anyone’s first play of the game. However, there are some puzzles that require the team work together, operating machinery to allow the other to pass, and vice versa, and other times that a specific skillset exclusive to one brother is required – the older brother is stronger and can lift heavy items, whereas the younger brother is small and can squeeze through the grates in a gate. It’s a pretty easy game to get through, but that realisation doesn’t stop it being an enjoyable experience.
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
Heart-warming moments litter the narrative of Brothers. They are tiny, insignificant moments in the grand scheme of things, but they melt the heart and allow you to feel emotionally invested in these plucky young adventurers. It’s easy to forget, when hanging from a cavernous pit, shimmying to safety that these boys are trying to save their father from dying.
The brotherly love on show is also done very well. Learning that the younger brother is (naturally, due to how his mother died) afraid of the water, causing his big bro to have to carry him on his back when crossing deep streams is a touching, beautiful moment.
But the details of how the game looks, and acts, are most definitely worth discussing. Playing as siblings a few years apart, means that there is the natural big brother/little brother relationship. But it extends far beyond big brother being strong and confident, even as far as how either sibling interacts with the environment.
At times, these interactions form solutions to smaller puzzles, but otherwise they are just additional moments to add colour and character, for you to enjoy. For example, very early on, there is a harp that you can interact with, but big brother is cumbersome with his awkward teenage fingers, and plays a horrid tune full of bum notes. Up steps little brother, his nibble, innocent fingers flick across the harp and get a cheerful reaction from the surrounding townsfolk – it’s wonderful.
Brothers is not a particularly long game, clocking in at around the 3-4 hour mark, but it will stay with you for a while afterwards. It’s not a game you’d ever expect from a studio that has most recently developed incredibly violent first person titles, but it’s a game that is absolutely worth a look. But beware, this one is probably going to make you want to go and hug your sibling.
Version Tested: XBLA
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Proof that a leopard can change its spots, Starbreeze have made a lovely adventure that is worth experiencing for pretty much any gamer, young or old.