We’ve all played extravagant tales of heroism, sacrifice and resolve set in dark and dangerous worlds – they’re nothing new to the video game industry. Everybody loves them and for good reason. Slaying dragons, vanquishing demons and bringing peace to all – visual wish fulfilment is what makes these games so special. But what of the understated and personal versions of these exact tales: emotional sacrifice and intimate heroics – what makes them so special? As we discovered in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, a delicate mix of sympathy, wit and a player’s imagination all laced with wondrous interactivity.
From Starbreeze Studios, the team that brought you The Darkness series and the recently rebooted Syndicate, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is the brainchild of Swedish film director Josef Fares.
The game’s story follows the lives of two brothers whose mother drowned not too long ago and whose father is suffering from a serious illness. And so the tried and true adventure to retrieve a magical cure begins. However what isn’t tried and true is this game’s control scheme. Controlling both brothers at the same time, the player uses the thumbsticks for movement and the triggers for contextual actions.
Initially, your brain struggles through the calibration of the idea that you’re controlling two characters simultaneously, but soon enough it all just clicks. There are brief moments where the seamlessness is lost, but for the most part you’ll find yourself almost effortlessly traversing the environment, the original system shock that you experienced moments ago a distant memory.
One weakness that never seems to fade into the distant memory of gamers is camera issues in third-person action games and platformers. Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, Fable and even the stellar Super Mario Galaxy, are all series that at differing frequencies suffer from inadequate camera systems. Even with two player-controlled characters on the screen, Brothers handles its camera system impeccably well. While the player does have the option to rotate the camera with the bumper buttons, not once did it need adjusting – it masterfully frames the action every step, which is of profound importance given how a substandard camera system could have multiplied the difficulty of the control system.
And it’s a gift that keeps on giving: the beauty of this strange and supernatural world is portrayed magnificently with sweeping landscapes, treacherous cliff faces and dark and decrepit caves never failing to communicate the monstrous scale of the siblings’ daring task. Yet despite its visual grandeur, Starbreeze never deviate from the creative criteria that the player is experiencing this emotional journey through the eyes, ears and hands of two young boys on a very real and dangerous quest. The marvellously simple art style delivers a world filled with wonder and adventure aligning in thematic perfection with the innocence, curiosity, naivety and zeal of the main protagonists.
Simply put, this story could not be told in any other medium. Standing alongside the likes of the universally loved Bioshock, Journey, Limbo and Portal 2, the emotional journey of these two brothers is intrinsically linked to the player through its interactivity. The growth of the characters, the obstacles they overcome, the puzzles they solve and the dilemmas they face are all at the behest of interactivity and it’s that type of player agency – thwart with choice and consequence – that is the most powerful and makes this game shine.
The talented developers at Starbreeze Studios have created an experience that understands its very nature of being a video game. While providing a sensory feast of visual excellence and auditory distinction, the creative vision to deliver human emotion through sympathy, interactivity and simple storytelling is never compromised. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is beautiful, inspiring and simply unforgettable.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is available on Xbox Live Arcade, Steam and PlayStation Network for $14.99.