Working through a pile of shame means that you sometimes get to critically acclaimed titles a little after the fact.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is one such game.
When it was released last year my interest in Starbreeze’s collaboration with Josef Fares was piqued due to its intriguing control scheme and bucolic aesthetics.
Having played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (in one 3 hour sitting) these two aspects certainly contribute to its success, but what I didn’t expect was for the game to affect me at an emotional level. I can’t reveal too much detail about the moments that are so touching, but the interesting aspect is that the way that the emotional punch is tied to the game’s control scheme.
The controls for Brothers are wonderfully simple, but not without complexity. Pitched as a ‘single player co-op experience’ the game gives the player simultaneous control of two characters, one assigned to each thumb stick and corresponding trigger. It sounds simple, and in most respects it is. There are times however when your spacial intelligence can be foxed, giving occasion to moments where you feel like you’re patting your head and rubbing your stomach. It helps to keep each brother on the side of the screen that matches their respective inputs, but for the most part it works very well.
The beauty of this control scheme is that it forges a genuine sense of connection between the player and the characters, and because you are controlling two brothers at once it also creates a tangible (and deliberate) bond between them.
Most of the co-operative elements are used to solve fairly rudimentary traversal puzzles, a bunk up here, a rope-ladder thrown down there, lever pulls and so on. In later stages you have to synchronise the actions of both brothers in harmony to proceed, each dependant on the successful actions of the other.
As a game it’s not particularly tricky, you’ll never be stumped by any of these puzzles for long, but the game provides a steady procession of interesting interactions between the brothers, the environments and some wonderfully engaging NPCs.
The game’s setting and environments are also worthy of note. Although starting in a village that wouldn’t look out of place in Fable it soon takes a turn for the macabre. At around the two hour mark the quaint villages and hillsides have given way to a bleak landscape bloodied by war. It’s a sequence that includes some disturbing imagery as you tip-toe through the remains of the battle’s giant soldiers. The game’s take on fantasy certainly betrays its European origins, being more Hans Christian Anderson than World of Warcraft.
And then, as the game draws to a close, it takes the mechanics you have learned and uses them to poignant and touching effect. The result is one of those moments that you can only experience once. Like the endings to Braid and Bioshock there is a collision between narrative and action that is immensely satisfying on a gameplay and emotional level.
The game’s closest relative is probably Journey. Like Thatgamecompany’s title, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is less interested in testing a player’s abilities and more focused on giving you an experience that makes you think and ponder the world beyond the game. For that reason it deserves to be played, enjoyed and remembered.