Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons review – Beautifully problematic

I really didn’t know what to make of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons when I first saw it, I had heard nothing about it. All I knew was that it was developed by Starbreeze Studios, the team behind the remake of Syndicate, and The Darkness. I didn’t think it would be a FPS; despite the developers history. Instead of their more traditional approach to game making, Starbreeze has gone for something a little more innovative.

The game is kind of like a solo co-op game – we always have two characters and one side of the controller controls each character, a little like the principle behind Twin Caliber. Yet this game has an emphasis on something other than gameplay, and puts a lot of energy into telling the story. But at what cost does the story come?

Story:

In essence the story is simple: your father is sick and you, along with your brother, have to go and find a rare ingredient – which happens to be found pretty damn far away. As you can imagine, the plot thickens and deepens in a strange way as you progress through the quest.

The brothers don’t really have names – the game has no real language and is more that kind of weird talk from The Sims – so all the communication is done with pointing and shouting. But this makes us ask the question – do we really need language and dialogue to be told a story?

We travel across some beautiful places and an immersive world in which we can interact with pretty much everything; people, benches, plants, animals…everything. This interaction allows us to bond with the characters much more, and we discover the younger brother becomes very obviously mischievous while the older brother seems to want to help people.

What is interesting is that Starbreeze throw in the heavy hitting theme of death. But the lack of philosophy and metaphysical questions about death during the game mean that we don’t consider it, we just watch it happen. By the end of the game the whole death idea feels…dated.

It feels like they’re trying to use a controversial subject but don’t really understand what to do with it – and ends up being controversy for the sake of controversy.

Yet, looking at the bromance side of things – it’s never been better. By forcing us to play as both characters at once we don’t get attached to one or the other, but rather to both fairly equally. We feel sympathetic to them and happy for them, in that aspect I’ve never seen a game tackle it so well in such a short amount of time.

Gameplay:

The gameplay was my biggest issue and what I felt was the biggest downfall with Brothers. I thought that after awhile it would pan out and become easier, but to be honest it stayed awkward as hell. Having two characters controlled on the same controller is really difficult, and quite frankly, it’s annoying too.

But this is where we hit a real issue. If we remove that game mechanic, then half of the story collapses and we wouldn’t connect with the characters as much. So this is where the dilemma of story over gameplay begins.

There’s no real combat in the game, it’s more just simple puzzles, which is a nice change of pace. We do have moments of action like falling down waterfalls and boss “fights” which are really more like fast paced puzzles than fights. However, there wasn’t any real point in the game where the puzzles were particularly hard, and the game is more about the journey than the puzzles.

We explore a lot of rich places, and this is where the heart of the game is – in the exploration, which is why it can get away with being so short. There’s almost definitely something you will have missed on your first playthrough, probably even on your second!

All in all, there are some really fun segments to break it up a little so you’re not just running around and climbing rocks.

Presentation: 

As I hope you’ve noticed from the images above, the game is simply beautiful. The mystical land where Brothers is set is breath taking, and travelling around it is a real treat. The music had very little impact on me though; in fact I can hardly remember any of it.

The game world has so much we can interact with that we never really get bored of exploring around it, it feels as if it’s almost breathing. One thing that really stuck out for me is the point where we’re in a giant’s castle, and it makes us view the world in a very different perspective. For once we’re not on top of the chain, we’re at the very bottom.

There’s a real sense of danger around every corner, and it’s great to see this in a game.

Conclusion:

This game is beautiful in so many ways, not just graphically, but it does feel as though Starbreeze got lost trying to cram in a meaningful story. The subject of death, while shown isn’t really explored enough to warrant the inclusion.

The gameplay mechanic is one that is rarely used, but mostly because it’s not very good. It’s just too frustrating. That being said, I still enjoyed playing the game right up to the end. This game will go down well with people looking for something a little different, but it won’t go down too well with people looking to explore and experience deep, meaningful subjects and themes.

6/10

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was given to me from 505 games, it took me around 6 hours to finish. I explored a lot of places and shouted at a whale. It is available now through Xbox Live Arcade, and is soon to be released on the PlayStation Network and Steam as a digital download.