Taking a departure from the FPS genre, Starbreeze Studios’ Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons presents a beautifully crafted story that could easily be mistaken as a lost fairy tale written by the Brothers Grimm. Though it can be completed in less then 3 hours, you’ll experience gripping character development, visit enchanting locations, and interact with your surroundings in completely unique ways.
Written and directed by Swedish filmmaker Josef Fares, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons‘ story is centered around sorrow, death and acceptance. Opening with the younger brother grieving at a grave site, it follows both brothers as they embark on a journey to a faraway tree for a healing elixir to cure their ailing father. Using no written text and containing spoken dialogue that bears a resemblance to the banter from Lionhead’s Fable series, the only way to distinguish each character is through their mannerisms. The older brother is stronger and naturally more mature while his younger brother is playful and agile. Each interacts to situations differently and as expected, the bond between them is strong.
Starbreeze did a wonderful job portraying them as a close-knit unit thanks to the game’s simplistic controls. A single player is in charge of the two brothers–the left analog stick controls the movement of the older brother, the right analog stick controls the movement of the younger brother, and the respective triggers function as each’s action button. The uncomplicated control scheme offers a level of accessibility that is rarely achieved in video games, but the dueling-stick approach never truly becomes comfortable. While running side by side is fluid, once some distance is put between the brothers, it quickly becomes difficult to control them properly. Toss in a camera that lazily swings around and you’ll be left with one of the brothers constantly hugging a wall.
Similar to Papo & Yo, Brothers places a strong emphasis on platforming and puzzles than on combat. The unique control scheme allows the game to present a variety of interesting puzzles that rely on simple logic. With the help of some creative camera work, a majority of the puzzles focus on engaging with the environment by pulling levers, locating a key, or simply requesting the assistance of your sibling. None of the puzzles seem out of place or forced. It’s less about skill, and more about carrying out the predetermined actions to further the journey.
Graphically, Brothers is done very well. All of the characters are drawn in a style that abadons realism for aesthetics. You’re not going to find realistic color shading or overly proportional limbs, but instead you’ll find characters that are visually appealing, even if you’re seeing them from afar most of the time. Animations are fluid, and there are only a minimal number of clipping issues and glitches. What really stands out about the game is the world these brothers will traverse.
They will explore a whimsical world that gradual shifts from a little mountain village to dreary caverns with elaborate machinery to snow-covered Nordic lumber villages and many other wondrous places. Each environment is full of color and detail: pine trees sway amid gusts of wind and butterflies flutter around as squirrels scamper up trees. Each small detail breathes some life into these places. The boys can even seat themselves on one of several stone benches placed throughout the world, just to soak in their surroundings as a tender instrumental score from Gustaf Grefberg plays in the background.
The shifts in environments coincide with tone of the entire story. While starting off somber, it slowly escalates to a more lighthearted nature, only to leave you fighting back tears near the end. From hallucinations to the younger brother’s extreme Aquaphobia, the story isn’t afraid to evoke dread to tell the tale. It’s impressive that little time is spent establishing the story as the game moves along at a well-suited pace. There’s no set of collectibles to search for or pointless backtracking, everything is focused, and while that makes for a shorter game, it also results in a enthralling story.
Though Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a short playthrough, that doesn’t stop it from being one of the richest gaming experiences this year. It’s the rare game that gets better the more you play.
Editor’s Note: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was reviewed using a PS3 copy of the game. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360, PC and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.