To put it simply, you’ll never have played a game quite like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. For whatever reason, you may have, at some point or another, plugged in two controllers and tried to play as both player 1 and 2. All you need is the left stick and left trigger, and the right stick and right trigger to simultaneously be in control of two characters at once in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, though. It’s the closest you’re ever going to get to a co-op experience in a single player game (excluding npcs, that is). Although the two two playable characters at once is Brothers’ USP and core element of gameplay, it also proves to be the game’s biggest flaw. And it’s a flaw that, unfortunately, cannot be overlooked or ignored.
A fairly recent complaint from some gamers is that too many games hold your hand. Brothers, from start to finish, most definitely doesn’t do any handholding. You’re dropped into a fairy book-like world, where the language is of no recognisable descent, though everything seems friendly enough. Your task at hand is easy enough to understand, though not an easy one to accomplish. You take control of two young brothers (one a few years younger than the other), who have to retrieve “The Water of Life” to save their dying father’s life. Just like Bilbo Baggins’ walk to The Lonely Mountain is no walk in the park, the journey to the water of life sees the brothers work together in a variety of clever ways, in light-hearted, rural surroundings into more sinister territory.
Friends are made along they way, lives are saved, and the bond between the brothers grows as you progress. No matter how far away the brothers are from home and how immersed you are in the experience, the game doesn’t hit you over the head with a hammer to remind you of the task at hand, but rather it subtly reminds you – via brief cutscenes – of the boys’ ill-ridden father. It should take you no longer than 5 hours to complete, though you won’t be getting the most out of it if you go into it with the ‘race to the finish’ mentality. Much like Journey, you’re going to see and find things you wouldn’t have before if you take your time to explore the surroundings. It’s a fine case of substance over length.
Controlling the younger brother with right analog stick and the older with the left may sound like a simple concept, but it’s one that is very alien – especially at first. I was frustrated even during the opening segment, as I was struggling to perform a basic task. The gameplay will require your full attention and will play tricks on your brain sometimes, though when it comes to controlling the boys on foot, you will pick it up and get used to it. However, when the boys are performing tasks together such as paddling in a boat, the controls feel very sticky and contrived. The paddling of the boat is just one example of many problems with the controls, and not only does it prove to be frustrating, but it takes you out of the experience and stops the game’s momentum and flow dead in its tracks.
I feel for developer Starbreeze, as I’m sure they tried everything they could to make the game’s ambitious gameplay and control scheme work as best as they could, and I can only imagine how much of a headache it must’ve been to design and program. However, patience is a virtue, and the more you appreciate Brothers for the world, story and experience instead of the problematic controls, it’s going to be a game you’re going to get a lot out of. There’s plenty of action and fast-paced set pieces throughout, though it’s the quieter moments that will stay with you after completion. Cleverly, the game’s achievements are all based around optional moments if you choose to do them, and although they don’t directly impact the story gameplay wise, they will affect you, the player, emotionally.
For example, there were three black rabbits and one white one. You have the option to dye the white one black so it doesn’t get bullied anymore. It’s so simplistic yet such an engaging heart-felt moment. The game’s visuals really bring the world alive, and not only because each new setting and area pretty to look at, but also for making new and diverse gameplay challenges. There’s benches that can be found throughout, which you can simply sit on and admire and take in the beauty of the world. The soundtrack perfectly matches each new scenario and setting along the way as well, though the only trouble is, I found myself so immersed in the world and concentrating on the controls, it was – almost – going in one ear and going out the other.
Without going into spoiler territory, I’ll just say that Brothers’ ending is one of videogame’s best endings of all time. Yep, of all time. It’s right up there with the best of them and will be remembered in a long time to come. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons kicks off Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade promotion in the right way, and will be remembered for its evocative ending, charming world, and unique-but-troublesome gameplay.