Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons - Review
Microsoft have kicked off their annual "Summer of Arcade" with something a little different to say the least. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is developed by Starbreeze Studios, responsible for last year's reboot of Syndicate Wars as well as the two Chronicles of Riddick games. Working alongside them is Swedish film director Josef Fares. It's an earnest attempt at working on an art-house game. The end result works too. Kind of.
As the title suggests, the game has you controlling two brothers as they set out on a quest to find a cure for their father's mystery illness. The journey takes them through classic fantasy landscapes, with an art style that is reminiscent of Fable, albeit with an original, Scandinavian twist.
Where things become more interesting is in the fact that you're required to control both brothers at the same time. Each is assigned a stick and a trigger, which is all that is needed. The challenge comes in trying to synchronise two sets of character interactions when solving puzzles. It's a bit like attempting to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time; you know you can do it, it just might take a bit of a warm up first.
Starbreeze introduce the controls at a good pace. This is even more impressive considering the game's minimalism and the fact that the characters only speak in a fictional language. Each brother has some unique traits as well; while the older brother can swim and pull heavy levers, the younger is able to fit through smaller spaces and be boosted up onto ledges by his sibling.
It's a simple but effective system and, if anything, the best differences between the brothers are the ones that aren't game-related but are just ambient interactions you can have. At one point, the pair encounter a child playing with a cat. Whilst the older brother is met with hissing and scratches when he goes to pick it up, the younger one happily cradles the cat whilst it purrs away like a motor. It's these moments that happen to be the game's best, not least because they encourage playing around with interactions and seeing the responses, without there even being any tangible reward for doing so.
The gameplay itself is handled well, but never seems to rise above the initial interactions. It's also not particularly challenging, which may quite well be intentional; this is a game that wants you to get to the end after all. However, it reaches a point where it'd have perhaps have been better to challenge the player a little more, if only to emphasize how the brothers' interactions work. Even the game's final tasks don't really strain the grey matter, or your hand-eye coordination, all that much.
From a story perspective, the brother's journey is an emotional one, and it's ending certainly tugs at the heartstrings. Despite that though, there's always something a little forced about the whole tale. There's moments where, rather than being a little more subtle, the game will take another stab at your emotional buttons in order to provoke a response. By the end, you'll feel a little bullied by the game's methods of eliciting feelings from the player. Occasionally, the game tries too hard to strike a deeper chord with its audience, and in doing so, comes across rather heavy-handed at times.
That's not to say that Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is bad, or that it fails at its aims. The controls work well, and the art style puts a really great twist on typical fantasy clichés. A trek through a giant's battlefield for instance, complete with monolithic corpses scattered against the mountains, is an incredibly memorable scene. It's made all the more impressive too, thanks to the confidence that the developers have with the visual approach, something that can only come from having someone on-board whose involved with film.
The game's runtime isn't exactly huge, taking somewhere within the realm of three to four hours to complete. However, this is a game that might actually be better to complete in one sitting, allowing you to coast the emotional highs and lows of the plot without any stop/start distractions. The end result might be slightly disappointing, and it's unlikely to challenge how we approach or understand art games, but there's still a quite a lot to like in this co-operative adventure. Just keep a tissue handy.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was released for Xbox Live Arcade on August 7th.
The game is planned to be released on Steam, August 28th, and on PSN September 3rd.
© 2013 LudoLogic