Directed by Josef Fares
Developed by Starbreeze Studio
Published by 505 Games
Platform: XBox 360, Xbox One, PC, PS3, PS4, iPhone, and Android
Time to Completion: 3 hours
What starts as a somewhat sad and standard fairytale grows emotionally enriched by the second chapter and becomes dark and devastatingly beautiful by the end. The characters in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are memorable, the soundtrack haunting, and the story epic. What I originally thought to be a simple but fun game was, in fact, destined to find an unexpected home among some of my favorite classics.
Brothers was a small budget game release in 2013 that delivered gigantic quality. It was film director Josef Fares’ first videogame project and he has not disappointed. Originally from Lebanon, Fares moved to Sweden as a child, where he gained much of his inspiration for what would become the world of Brothers.
The best descriptor I’ve found thus far is that Brothers is a single player co-op, allowing you to control each brother simultaneously as they work together to achieve each goal. This Adventure game takes place in a breathtaking fantasy world strongly influenced by Swedish myth and fairytales. Brothers successfully evokes the nostalgia of games likeZelda: A Link to the Past combined with the 3D emotional experience of Ico.
Brothers begins with a flashback as Little Brother visits his mother’s grave, recalling how he was unable to save her from drowning in a storm at sea. This foundation of Little Brother’s fear of the water and lack of self-esteem is carried throughout the story, creating ample opportunity for his relationship with Big Brother to grow through dependency.
The loss of their mother places extra urgency on the illness of their father, made apparent in the first few moments of gameplay, and the boys set out quickly to find a way to save him. Over the course of their travels, they meet many interesting characters and traverse countless beautiful but treacherous terrains.
I played through Brothers on a PS4. The controls themselves are very simple, with only one button (L2 or R2 for interactions) and one joystick (as movement) to control each brother. Though simple in concept, the execution of the controls was often extremely satisfying in a very challenging way. At times I felt like I was rubbing my belly and patting my head and I greatly enjoyed the challenge of engaging and keeping track of both brothers at the same time.
As an aid to the complicated nature of controlling multiple characters simultaneously, the camera frequently puts each brother on the same side of the screen as his corresponding joystick. In spite of this, sometimes the brothers switched sides. Therefore, making sure that I intentionally kept them correctly aligned helped immensely with the quality of gameplay.
The game itself is divided up into chapters. Each new chapter unveils a fresh and vastly different part of the world of Brothers, creating a strong sense of epic wonder and awe.
Throughout the story, many of the people, animals, and objects are interactive, with each brother reacting differently to various stimuli. All of the available game trophies revolve around this mechanic, using achievements to tell small side stories through interacting with the environment. Some are strikingly subtle: knocking on the sides of cauldrons and attempting to open locked doors. Some moments are funny: sniffing smelly outhouses and pushing the rocking chair of an old woman. Then there are more gut-wrenching interactions that easily render the player speechless; I will leave you to find those for yourself in the interest of both authenticity and avoiding spoilers.
For me, one of the most memorable attributes of Brothers is its striking lack of both understandable language and instructive game markers. Conversations instead use both an Arabic inspired non-language and body language to engage the player emotionally rather than verbally as they navigate and interpret the story. Hints for where to go and how to solve puzzles are cleverly laid out within the environment rather than guided through unnatural markers and waypoints. Because of this, much of the game feels unbelievably organic and authentic. The innovative decisions of Josef Fares, though rooted mainly in budget limitations, had the unintentional side-effect of creating one of the greatest emotional impacts a game has ever had on me. The story bypassed my logical brain, and burrowed straight into the nonverbal part of my emotional heart-place.
For such a small budget with a group of mostly new game developers, Brothers truly delivers something spectacular. I got far more than I bargained for when I picked up this game for my collection and I highly recommend it to any gamer looking to satisfy their need for a short but epic, emotional adventure. Brothers is an odyssey in its own right and a storytelling experience I will not soon forget. 9/10!
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is available on XBox 360, Xbox One, PC, PS3, PS4, iPhone, and Android.