Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – My New Favourite Downloadable Title

(originally posted May 23rd 2014)

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When ‘Brothers’ was first announced, it quickly grabbed my attention. After all, I’m a sucker for narrative driven games and it seemed to be an interesting experience. Not to mention, download-only titles tend to not interest me all that much. It was released on the Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Steam last year and I was ready to buy it… until I saw its price tag. £11.99 on the PSN. I decided to hold off until I had the money to spare, or it got a price drop. Fortunately, the latter happened quite recently and I snapped it up. Now, a part of me regrets being late to the party.

‘Brothers’ centres on, well, two brothers; they aren’t named but the credits list them as Older Brother and Younger Brother. Their father is currently very ill (no doubt suffering the same illness every single parent seems to get – oh yeah, their mum’s dead as well, just so you know) and it seems the only way to cure him is to take some water from the Tree of Life. Thus begins the brothers’ perilous journey across the land.

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You control both of the brothers at the same time, using the left and right analogue sticks for the older and younger brother respectively. They can interact with a variety of objects and people by using the L2 and R2 buttons, and you use the L1 or R1 buttons to rotate the camera. It’s a very simple control scheme befitting a simple game. Though, controlling the brothers at the same time can get a bit awkward; there was many a moment where I wound up having one of them running into a corner or awkwardly moving left and right. Fortunately, it’s not anything that can lead to unfair deaths – it’s a surprisingly sedate game so there’s no fear of being jumped by enemies (there’s not even any combat).

I also feel maybe the context sensitive actions should’ve been put on L1 and R1; there are many instances where you have to hold down the buttons for long periods of time (like when the brothers are hanging from ledges and need to sidle across) and my fingers always felt a bit sore after moments like that, but this is nit-pick on my part, and probably isn’t an issue for the other versions.

Speaking of context sensitive, there’s a great deal of things you can interact with in the world of ‘Brothers.’ Every new area brings with it new kinds of puzzles and ways of interacting with the scenery, whether it be pulling levers, rotating cranks or holding onto cranes – these are some of the simpler ones but trust me when I say things get a bit more diverse later on.

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There are plenty of moments where the brothers must, naturally, work together. For example, Younger Brother can’t swim so Older Brother needs to carry him across the water. Again, it’s very simple but I love cooperative actions like this and it’s especially nice to see two brothers doing it; it’s a tad touching in my eyes. Bizarrely, though, there’s no co-op mode where you and a friend can play the game. It’s nothing major but you’d think this game would be perfect for something like that.

The brothers can also speak to many of the NPCs littered throughout the world – sometimes they’re just optional, but it’s a nice touch seeing how differently they act towards other people. Older Brother will help a woman with sweeping up outside her house whilst Younger Brother will start balancing the broom on his finger like a circus performer; it adds extra layers to their characters, which is always a plus in my book.

In fact, part of the joy of this game is seeing how the brothers interact with their environment. You see, there’s no dialogue. Well, no English dialogue. All the characters speak in a made-up language and with no subtitles; you’re forced to piece together what’s going on yourself through the actions of the characters, their expressions and the world itself. Fans of minimalist storytelling should fall in love with this game, as many locations raise so many questions just in terms of what they look like – it’s ripe for discussion between players. It’s a nice balance of being subtle enough to make you think but not so ambiguous that you can’t work out what’s happening at all. Same for the puzzles. There were a few tricky ones but I was never forced to look up a guide. I really hate resorting to that sometimes.

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The world itself, while a bit generic in some places, is staggeringly pleasant to look at. I did notice some texture pop-ins here and there but it’s still a graphically good game, though a bit too muddy in places for my liking. Not to mention that despite being a fairly linear game, you are given a bit of breathing space at points to just explore which can lead to optional mini-quests that serve as the game’s trophies/achievements. There are even benches where the brothers can sit and let you admire the scenery, as if they’re a couple of tourists. Um, guys? Dying father, you might want to get a move on.

It’s honestly really hard to praise ‘Brothers’ without going into too much detail, but that’s because this is one of those games that you should really play for yourself; the narrative is ultimately what sells the game and if I revealed any of the set pieces or events that you encounter, it’s going to ruin the experience for you. Just be prepared to feel… a lot. There were a few moments where the game would have a tight grip on my poor heart. I think it’s a testament that this game manages to have that kind of effect without it feeling forced or without having its characters utter a single word of English. Really, the only flaw is that you can’t recreate your first experience with this game (but you could say that about most games really).

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‘Brothers’ is currently going cheap at the moment, so I highly recommend you buy it now, especially if you’re a fan of games like ‘Journey’ or ‘Ico.’ And if this blog post wasn’t enough to sway you, there should be a free demo you can try out. And if that still isn’t enough, it won Best Xbox Game at last year’s VGX Award Show, beating ‘Bioshock Infinite,’ ‘Tomb Raider’ and ‘Grand Theft Auto V.’ Yes, it’s that good.

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