The first game of Xbox Live’s 2013 Winter of Arcade, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a unique and engaging experience. Developed by Starbreeze (the people behind The Darkness and Chronicles of Riddick games) we are presented with a deep, melancholic story, wrapped up in unique controls and beautiful art style. Neither of the games titular characters speak, the story instead progresses through visual cues and a gibberish language allowing for an immediate sense of player interaction and engagement. The game is noticeably short, clocking in at just over 3 hours long, but during that period the game touched on a number of issues that brought me to laughter and tears, several times.
Tasked with finding a cure for your ailing father, you are given control of each brother using only the left and right analogue sticks and the triggers. Not only does this represent the closeness of the characters, it also helps create a unique sense of personality, with each brother associated with a “side” (left or right) along with unique characteristics. Most of the gameplay is therefore derived from this unique control scheme as your brain battles to guide the two brothers simultaneously through even the easiest of puzzles. Starbreeze should be commended for trying something new but the issues are further exasperated by the fact that the game doesn’t have the tightest controls, and things don’t always interact the way they should. It is also normally immediately clear what the answer to said puzzle is, and thus the majority of the fun you will have with the game is through exploration.
This, however, is arguably where Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons shines brighter than any other game in recent memory. From quaint villages to icy tundra’s, Brothers’ world is diverse as it is expansive. Most of the games best beats arise from the exploration of forgotten corners and out-of-the-way monuments, resulting in a nuanced and breathtaking world. The game actively encourages you to step off the beaten track solving the problems of others along the way. Helping a woman sweep, a suicidal man or a scared animal, are just a few of the optional quests set before you and help make up the games “actual” narrative. New mechanics, characters and problems are constantly introduced meaning the game never feels stale or repetitive and despite the games short length you never feel rushed or left wanting more. It feels a bit strange then that Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a completely solitary experience. Despite the unique controls it often feels like this game begs for couch co-op with another person, especially a significant other or close friend. The game manages to get the player to empathise and invest at such a raw emotional level, that it is quite jarring to “resurface”, staring at a television screen, alone in a dark room.
And stare you will because while the characters themselves are somewhat rudimentary in design, every minutiae of the world is packed with a level of detail that is especially impressive for a downloadable title. It’s easy to get lost staring at the background or zoomed right in to a piece of scenery before slowly meandering to the next area. You actually “feel” like two young boys on a journey through a fantastical kingdom, a land that offers both great wonder and sadness.
Brothers: A Tale of is one of those special games that comes every now and again. The game could of easily have devolved into a series of clichés and anecdotal warnings but what Starbreeze have instead delivered is a beautiful, emotional tale of sibling connection that borders on art. I highly suggest you give it a look if you are even remotely interested, you will not regret it.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is available on the South African Marketplace for 1200 Microsoft Points (R159.00).