Review – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a 3rd person adventure game with light action elements from Swedish developer Starbreeze studios. Developed in collaboration with filmmaker Josef Fares, Brothers is a game that roots itself in simple, clever mechanics that takes the player through one of the most finely realized fairy tale worlds seen in recent memory.

In Brothers you take control of the two titular brothers who leave their hometown on a quest to find…something that will cure their ailing father. The game is very simple mechanically: the two analog sticks on your controller control each brother independently. The left analog stick controls your older brother and the right analog stick controls the younger brother. The analog triggers on your gamepad act as the action button for each brother, left and right to older and younger, respectively. And that’s all there is to the controls. The game presents little in the way of significant challenge, but even after several hours of play I ran into a few situations of “pat your head and rub your stomach” that mixed me up a little bit. The puzzles are rarely challenging, but I often found myself enjoying the act of executing what needed to be done.

Brothers unique control mechanics lend themselves to make even relatively mundane things – such as rowing – surprisingly fun.
Brothers’ unique control mechanics lend themselves to make even relatively mundane things – such as rowing – surprisingly fun.

In fact, I’d hesitate to call Brothers a game. It’s certainly interactive, but you — for the most part — are simply travelling along a preset path, taking in the sights and experiences along the way. You can die, but it simply resets you back at a never-too-far-back checkpoint with no consequence. In a sense, the game is quite anachronistic: there’s one way through it, one way to do it right, and if you don’t overcome an obstacle the first time you just do it again and again.

This may sound like knocks against the game, but it is far from it. Brothers carries a very clear vision of what it wants to accomplish and what it wants to be. The entire experience has a singular focus and the controls and structure of the game service that goal. Without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say that the way the controls are used end up integral to story, conveying information in a deeply personal way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a video game before.

That’s all I’ll really say about the mechanics or story. The game does both extremely well and by the end of the experience I was moved by the beauty and simplicity of how both work in tandem with each other to tell the story of “Old Brother” and “Young Brother.”

Presentation

Brothers features benches where you can sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Brothers features benches where you can sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Brothers is a ruthlessly beautiful game. The relatively simple design for people and objects is complimented by an amazing attention to detail and some of the absolute best art direction seen in any video game. The developers, aware of the importance of the environment and as a nod to isolated, exploration-based games that came before it, placed couches throughout the levels that the brothers can sit on simply to enjoy the view. The artistic direction of this game is second to none, and there were points where the graphics combined with the cinematic camera nearly convinced me this was made by Pixar or Dreamworks. The game is simply beautiful in motion and the artistic direction supports the story in ways rarely seen in video games.

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Equally impressive is the aural landscape the game creates. A fairly sparse landscape, often filled with only the wind, animals, or the occasional tumbling rocks offers a minimal but engrossing atmosphere. The game’s soundtrack is pitch perfect for the game, offering an earthy base with subtle melodies and occasional punctuation by ancient vocalizations of melody.

Often the compositions never feel quite at ease, lending a foreboding or unsettled atmosphere that permeates the adventure. The orchestration is quite pretty, though, and the music was able to compliment the events of the game better than most games I’ve played.

Youll go many places in Brothers and the scenery never fails to be impressive.
You’ll go many places in Brothers and the scenery never fails to be impressive.

Brothers is like a fine meal: your plate may not be as full because there’s no filler, but every single ingredient has a place and a purpose that work together to make a memorable whole. Brothers has very little of what we come to expect in modern games: it has no co-op or multiplayer of any sort, it has no branching paths and only one ending. It’s ruthless focus on why it exists is stunning, though, and the result is a game unlike any other than will without doubt stay in your memory. Brothers is one of the best games of 2013, but that seems like selling it short. Starbreeze was bold in bucking pretty much every industry trend to make this game, but what they achieved is something remarkable and rarely, if ever before, seen.

Brothers is able to tell a story more powerfully than many movies out there, but in doing so is able to involve the player in a way a movie will never quite be able to. I don’t really care for the “games as art” debate, but without question Brothers is.

A beautiful, moving story that was created with a controller in mind, there is nothing else quite like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and it is entirely worth experiencing.

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