Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a beautiful and emotional journey about two sons on a quest to save their sick father by retrieving water from the Tree of Life. Starbreeze Studios crafted a deep and well-realized world that shares vibes with games like Journey and Fable while being able to stand apart from the two. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is far from perfect, but provides a solid experience that deserves the praise it has received and easily makes it one of the better games of 2013.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons does not pose a challenge. The layout of the land is pretty linear outside of some divergent paths that ultimately force you to backtrack to the main road, or end in the same destination regardless of route chosen. The puzzles found throughout the game are simple and straight forward, but fortunately differ just enough to avoid being too repetitive. To traverse these lands, each brother is controlled by an analog stick: the older brother by the left stick, and the younger brother by the right stick respectively. Each brother has a unique interaction with the world that is used with the corresponding trigger buttons on that side of the controller. These interactions help distinguish the characters throughout the game as they give the player a better grasp on the character and the personality of each brother. For example, early in the game you can find a woman sweeping. As the older brother, you can maneuver him over to the woman and use the trigger to use her broom and sweep her porch for her. On the other hand, when you select the younger brother, he decides to show his playfulness and chooses to instead balance the broom on his hand. It is instances like these that flesh out the characters without the need of dialogue or needless cut-scenes. And cases like this are scattered over the entire game.
As simple as the controls were, I found myself repeatedly incapable of handling both characters at once. They constantly crossed over and got in the way of one another and it was partly due to me mixing up the characters on screen with their placement on the controller. For example, the older brother is on the right side of the screen, so I try to use the right analog stick to control him although it’s for the younger brother.The only other method of control was the interaction triggers, and too often did I hold them down even when they weren’t needed. But aside from being in an exact spot at times, the triggers didn’t have issues prompting the actions with the environment. Though it all pales in comparison to trying to steer the canoe in the game. That was horrid.
The game truly shines in two areas, one of which being the story presentation. As already mentioned, the story revolves around two sons trying to save their father from a deadly illness. The game begins by showing that the family has already experienced one loss which helps explain why they are wiling to go on this journey to save their father. What Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons does so well is that it displays the story, it doesn’t tell you. The language used by the characters is indecipherable and on par with The Sims, but it never causes a problem as to what is happening. They present the love between the brothers, the story at hand, and the world itself so well that the player never has to question what is going on even without a narrative clue. It’s so apparent and well done, and not many games are able to excel in that regard. The influence by film director Josef Fares, who collaborated with Starbreeze Studios on Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, shines through in those examples and more.
For instance, some of the most emotional moments in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are things witnessed before in games or other media. The magic of those moments don’t lie in the story beats, but how those story beats flow. Too often in media are the actions the main attraction as the viewing point. In Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the consequences are what stand out. When something happens, there isn’t a quick cutaway and flash forward to everything being fine again. Moments are drawn out and the player experiences it all. It feels natural, and that is one of the biggest praises this game can receive.
The second area that Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons really left its mark is the world itself. I wanted to know more about this world as I played through it. I wanted to know the history. I wanted to know the cultures. I wanted to know how everything could coexist together. The village was quaint enough, and after traveling through the cliff-side with a troll, that was when I knew that there was more to this universe than previously believed. Every new scene had a character I was curious about and a setting that I wondered how it came to be. Did the people in this village know what lies not far from it? Are they perhaps some of the few people left remaining in a world that makes them look so insignificant in the grand scope of things? It would be far easier to spoil what makes this world so interesting, but discovering it was what made me fall in love with the game. More so than the characters,and definitely more than the controls, it was the world that stood out with its gorgeous array of scenic masterpieces that I want to continue to dive into despite having finished the game.
And yet, it’s that world that also put the finger on the technical problems this game had. Not enough to ruin it, but just enough to remind you that it’s a game. Texture popping was noticeable and happened at numerous points, but the most frustrating part was the controls not responding. Several times my input didn’t register in the game. It seemed to “freeze.” There’s a moment later in the game where you must escape a threat that is capable of launching a house into the distance. One of the brothers ran without hesitation. The younger brother, ignoring my attempt to flee, stood in place until this creature grabbed him and beat him into the ground. That was an instance of freezing. Other times were delayed responses such as the interaction triggers. But aside from these cases, it’s hard to point out any major flaws in the game. I have heard an occasional case of boredom from some gamers, and while I can see where they are coming from, I found the gameplay itself the weakest (not necessarily bad though) part of the game.
The past few years have had certain downloadable titles really stand out from the rest of the pack. This year, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is that game. The faults are not enough of a deterrent from the rest of the game as it is engaging, tight, beautiful, intriguing, and emotional. While it may not be able to stand up to some of the bigger games released this year, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is one that everyone should at least experience.