Back in August, 2013, when Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, from Starbreeze Studios, was originally released, it passed me by. It launched at a time when I was busy with work and a hundred other things.
When the timed exclusive for 360 elapsed and it showed up on the PS3 a month later, my interest was certainly piqued, but again – still swamped with deadlines for reviews and such – I had to let it drift on by, as my attention was on too many other things.
Months later, the game finally came into my possession courtesy of Playstation Plus and I got to sit down with a game I felt had been deserving of my time for too long.
I was not disappointed.
Though it may not be the most complex, narratively driven or graphically appealing game you are going to see – there is something intangibly magnificent about Brothers.
The plot is simple, but effective. Two boys set off on a quest to find a cure for their sick father. They are required to work together to overcome obstacles and get to where they need to be.
It sounds like a fairly by the numbers co-op story adventure. However, this game is anything but generic.
For starters, the game has no dialogue. Zero. Everything is done through tone and gesture. The boys speak an unintelligible language to one another, but the player has to use their eyes and ears to interpret the story, clues and guidance the game offers. Despite the lack of language, there are real personalities on show in each of the brothers. The elder being more focused and serious – yet very protective. The younger being full of humour, mischief and perhaps a little reckless.
Secondly, the controls are -at first- bizarre. As mentioned, it sounds like a co-op game – and it is. Sort of. The co-op element of this single-player adventure, is getting your left hand to cooperate with your right hand as you are perpetually in control of both brothers- simultaneously!
This requires some careful thought, suffers occasional frustration – and is ultimately a very rewarding challenge. Even the simplest of the puzzles are never as simple as ‘press button, open gate.’ Instead we get: ‘left hand operate handle to hold gate open; right hand navigate trough gate, climb ladder, release rope allowing left hand to progress!?!’
It sounds baffling and occasionally it is- but in a fantastic way. I was often much more troubled by working out the sequence of events I needed to perform in order to progress than I was hampered by an inability to control two characters at once.
Indeed, after playing a while, I discovered that when it came to the intricate puzzle solving, my hands did a great job of working in tandem. Unfortunately, in the more sedate moments, travelling between locations, I was prone to sending one brother to an untimely death, purely because I wasn’t concentrating. I would absent mindedly let go of the singular ‘action’ button that sent him plummeting to the abyss beneath the beam I had been grappling. The deceptively simple control system of one analogue stick and one action button per character, can get deliciously complex the minute you allow your focus to drift.
Thankfully, due to a surprisingly strong, silent narrative, these moments were few and far between.
Though the graphics are decidedly, ‘smaller budget, last gen’ – there is an alluring visual quality to the world in which the game is set. Colourful landscapes, hazy rivers and friendly villagers all give the world a comforting veneer. There is also a hint of mysterious, ethereal threat that hangs in the air- especially in the interior environments.
At a glance, it may be easy to overlook Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, however – never has a game so firmly grasped the mantle of ‘greater than the sum of its parts.’ It’s a wonderously original and fiercely compelling game that’s as indescribably beautiful as it is undeniably brilliant.
Though I acquired the game through the PS3 Instant Game Collection, I regret not having paid the money to a) support the studio, and b) experience the game sooner! A fantastic game and one that will have me at the front of the line for whatever Swedish developer, Starbreeze Studios, bring to us next!
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is still available for free to Playstation Plus subscribers through May, 2014.
Richard is a father, teacher, gamer and writer. He believes that The Last of Us and Olli Olli 2 are the finest games ever made, feels that the StarWars Saga should only be watched in ‘the Machete order’ and once cleared Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in one sitting. Took him 20 hours, four cups of tea and a sausage roll. You can follow him on twitter @TLOUFactionsMP or @VigilanteSanta and view his occasional twitch outbursts on twitch.tv/spooklebeans.