The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Starbreeze Studios is best known for its first-person action games like The Chronicles of Riddick and The Darkness. Now, with the help of Swedish filmmaker Josef Fares, the company has created Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, a game that’s more akin in spirit to arthouse games than Starbreeze’s past work.
As the title suggests, the core is the familial bond between two siblings. The tale at hand is simple, and simply told; the story is revealed largely through the physical actions of the protagonists. Dialogue is used sparingly – and even when present, it is in an incomprehensible, made-up language inspired by Fares’ native Lebonese. Thankfully, it’s a story as pure as any folktale: the brothers’ father has fallen sick and they must retrieve the “water of life” to save him. This minimalist approach has worked in the past for games like Ico and Journey, but here it has mixed results. While the game – largely through the excellent animation and art design – achieves a transporting atmosphere, the actual storytelling falls a bit flat. The arc is fairly predictable and the climactic moment of Brothers seems like a bit of unearned drama. However, quiet power comes from the beauty of the world that Starbreeze created, and many of the small moments shared between the brothers and the other characters left an impression on me.
The gameplay draws from an old favorite of mine, the Adventures of Cookie & Cream. Like that title, Brothers allows the player to control two characters at once – one assigned to each analog stick. At first, it feels like trying to pat your head and rub your belly, but you begin to see the strengths of this gameplay design over time. It allows for unique action puzzles and interesting boss battles, and Starbreeze’s design expertise shines throughout the experience.
Though each character only has one control input (the corresponding trigger, which serves as an all-purpose action button), the designers concocted a nice variety of environmental puzzles and platforming sequences. The solution is rarely obtuse – you just need to use the environment and the characters in the correct manner. A lot of the puzzles are variations on things you’ve seen before, based around the dynamic of older brother being able to pull heavy switches and the younger being able to access certain areas. While it’s hardly revolutionary stuff, the fact that you’re controlling both characters at once adds a lot of challenge and fun to the experience. I particularly enjoyed a long sequence in which the brothers were tethered together with a rope, which led to some clever platforming puzzles.
In all, it’s a good game that feels like a bit less than the sum of its parts. While I appreciate Brothers’ languid storytelling, I can’t help but feel as if the game had pretentions of being a much deeper experience than what has actually been delivered. It’s far from the next Journey or Ico. However, if you accept Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons for what it is – a varied and well-made platform/puzzle game – it’s well worth your time.
To see more of the game in action, watch our full episode of Test Chamber.