The lights are on
It’s been a few days since I completed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. I’ve been playing several other games since then, but I keep getting distracted. My mind keeps drifting back to Brothers. The beginning. The ending. It’s wonderful. I would describe the experience as akin to that of Journey or Ico.
Two brothers set out on a quest to retrieve a liquid called the “Water of Life” that will supposedly cure their father’s illness. That’s the setup, and it may lead some people to believe that Brothers’ story is yet another predictable and forgettable one. But to those who actually make an attempt to forget it I say this: good luck. Starbreeze Studios (The Darkness) has crafted a tale of such haunting beauty, of such natural grace, that it’d be foolish of anyone to write it off as “just another game”. Brothers is so much more than that. It’s one of those rare games in which the narrative and gameplay perfectly cohere to create a life-affirming adventure.
In Brothers the older brother is controlled with the left analogue stick and left trigger and the younger brother is controlled with the right analogue stick and right trigger. Those are the controls. Controlling two characters in a single player game takes some getting used to, but once it clicks, it sticks. Brothers is meant to be played alone. If a co-op option had been included in any form it would have transformed Brothers into a lesser game.
The controls are in place to serve the story. They flawlessly achieve that goal. Players can feel the struggle these brothers are going through during their journey. The controls also show how much these brothers depend on one another, as all brothers should. It took me quite some time to get used to holding down the correct trigger for each brother, but I loved every second of Starbreeze’s ingenious and original approach. Once the game was over I appreciated the mechanics even more so.
The triggers perform every action in Brothers. For example, the younger brother must sometimes drop a rope down to the older brother so he can reach a ledge. The brothers in Brothers commit no acts of violence up until a boss battle at the end of the game, and then it feels necessary. Brothers mostly relies on puzzles, and hardly complex ones at that. The most complicated thing players will be doing in Brothers, other than learning the controls, is turning a handle.
It’s the small stuff in Brothers that really matters. Helping a woman sweep her porch or goofing off and annoying her. Attempting to play a harp. Skipping rocks across water. Brothers features many easy-to-miss moments like these that are well worth seeking out. Starbreeze has created a world of immeasurable wonder, and missing out on any part of it is a mistake.
Brothers is a gorgeous game. The art style is reminiscent of Fable with some goofy-looking characters, but they all fit in the world. The storybook setting makes way for some breathtaking vistas. I encountered no framerate issues and maybe two bugs during my entire playthrough. The soundtrack is barely noticeable as it fades into the background noise, which is to say it suits the game pretty well.
No discernible dialogue exists in Brothers. The characters speak a gibberish language and there are no subtitles. Even so, the story gets told, and told beautifully. It relies on the players’ interaction with the two brothers and its setting to get its point across. It proves that games nowadays don’t need a 2,000+ page script to do what they need to do.
The puzzles in Brothers all come across as a little too easy. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more depth along the way. The game is short, clocking in at around three hours, which isn’t really a problem except for the fact that it costs $15 and offers no extra content. It wasn’t really an issue for me, but it will be for some people. Also, Brothers‘ story relies on the damsel-in-distress trope a little too heavily as it nears its ending. The damsel in Brothers is flirty and may as well have “idiot” written on her forehead, though the story does turn a lot more sinister soon afterwards.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is absolutely one of the best games of 2013. It caused me to break down into tears and genuinely sob, which is a feat no other game this year has accomplished. It made me appreciate and love my brother more. When a game can accomplish stuff like that, it’s truly a special occasion. Brothers is a must-play.