I love stories. I love escapism and temporarily living in another world. It's why I love video games; their ability to transport you elsewhere to any world, any time, any place. And as technology advances, the immersion of it all becomes better and better every day. Brothers: A tale of Two Sons is a beautiful piece of storytelling, probably the most emotional 90 minutes I've ever spent playing a video game.
I first noticed Brothers months ago; it was another one of those games that I got as part of a bundle. At the time it was marked as "Requires a controller" (even though it's only on PC), so I pretty much ignored it and got on with life. However, since I bought an XBox wired 360 controller for my PC a couple of weeks ago, I've been making a list of all the games in my Steam library that had full controller support and started working my way through them. Brothers was at the top of the pile, so here's my view on the playthrough!
First thing's first - it is technically possible to play this game with a keyboard, but I would highly recommend buying a wired XBox 360 controller if you don't have one; it's worth it for this game alone. The clue is in the title - you play as two brothers, and this is their story. The mechanic that makes this game unique across all games I've played is that you control both of these brothers (Naiee & Naia) at the same time independently using different sides of the controller. The left joystick controls Naia, the right joystick controls Naiee - and the left and right triggers are their context-sensitive action buttons. That's it - simple and effective. It takes a little while to get used to controlling two characters at the same time, but it's very effective and made me wonder why it hasn't been done before.
I was immediately intrigued by Brothers when I noticed it had a Metacritic score of 90[www.metacritic.com]. That's damn high for any game, in fact it's high enough to earn it a place in the top 100 Metacritic PC games of all time. At less than 2 hours playtime, it had a lot to squeeze into those two hours to warrant a score that high.
The game starts with the younger brother Naiee paying his respects at his mother's grave, whom you see drown in the opening cutscene, Naiee unable to save her. The two boys' father is sick, and the doctor tells them that the only way to save him is to collect water from the tree of life which, conveniently, is located on the top of a mountain far far away. One of the great things about this game is that although it's all about the storytelling, it doesn't actually use words. You need to see this to understand it fully, but in essence the characters communicate with each other in a similar fashion to how the Sims do - they use noises that sound like words, which have emotion behind them, but aren't actually real words. This helps to focus on the characters themselves and how they're feeling. It actually works pretty well.
So off we go on an epic adventure to find some medicine for our sick father. The trail is long and the journey treacherous, but thankfully it's also damn pretty to look at and I found myself taking screenshots pretty much every five minutes. It's built on the Unreal Engine so the game is optimised, smooth and gorgeous.
I found myself smiling for about the first half hour as I got to grips with controlling the two boys, how the mechanics worked and solving the charming puzzles. The first few puzzles in the game I exclaimed "Ah! Clever!" as I started to realise the potential of the dual-control mechanism. It teaches you how the boys have to work together to solve problems, and they're both suited to different tasks. Naiee might not be able to reach a ledge by himself, but if Naia kneels down underneath and gives him a leg up, Naiee can climb up then throw a rope down.
They really explore the possibilities of controlling two characters. Some sections involve a brother jumping off a cart to open doors for the other to go through, controlling both brothers to lift a long pillar through a corridor (much like trying to get furniture out of a living room, working in tandem), or getting one brother to pull a lever while the other goes and turns a handle. One of my favourite sections early on was in a field with a guard dog. Each brother distracted the dog to run after them while the other jumped across to the next hay bale, then shouted for the dog to come after them, working together to reach the other side. It's difficult to talk about the originality of the puzzles too much without spoiling it for you - half the fun was realising how you could get round a problem by getting the brothers to work together. The focus is always on teamwork, and how important the two boys are to each other.
I'm not going to spoil any of the story for you; the journey is the core of this game. Having smiled pretty much all the way through the first half, I nearly cried at the end an hour later. Brothers has some harsh truths buried in there; life is not always easy.
The music does it's job pretty well; it's a lovely background soundtrack, and I noticed at several points that the music had stopped entirely and I was just enjoying being in the world. At key points though, the music really does it's job and helps deepen the immersion in the world Starbreeze Studios has created.
The character development has plenty of depth, even though they never speak a word of English to each other. You learn by playing through the brothers' eyes how important their family is to them, how far they're willing to go to help their father, and this is pivotal to the storyline. I also found myself getting rather attached to a little griffin I rescued.
I can't recommend this one highly enough. You'll probably complete it within two hours, but it was easily one of the most enjoyable two hours I've ever spent inside a virtual world. I was blown away at the end of the game; it's a powerful story with strong truths about life and the journey we take. If you enjoy video games as a medium for storytelling, or just want to experience some unique gameplay in the sea of bland copycat titles in the world at the moment, pick this one up.