Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a haunting fairy tale about family, adventure, and bravery
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
It’s easy to lose sight of how homogenous the world of gaming has become until a game comes along and tries something a little different. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons gives you direct control of both lead characters using only one controller; one brother is moved with the left analog stick, the other brother is controlled with the opposite stick, and you’re given a single action button for each.
It’s a simple, innovative control scheme that works well, although you’ll want to keep each brother on the same side of the screen as their respective sticks in order to help keep things straight during the first hour or so. The puzzles are simple at first, but soon you’ll be asked to use one brother to distract an animal to allow the other to sneak past, or anchor a rope with one brother while the other swings to the next safe place on a rock wall.
The game’s story has remarkably low stakes: Your father is sick, and you must go with your brother to find medicine. The world does not seem to be teetering on the brink. The game is almost completely free of violence, although you’ll deal with plenty of living things that want you dead. There are no guns, and you never pick up a weapon. The characters speak in an invented language, although it’s always easy to tell what they’re saying through tone, body language, and context.
The game is nearly devoid of text as well, with only one or two very simple menus at the beginning of each play session. Brothers does an amazing job of teaching you how to play the game by slowly introducing ideas and allowing you to experiment with the controls in safe spaces, long before the game puts you in harms way. The first hour is a master class in how to get players invested in a world and used to a game’s controls without resorting to anything that looks like a tutorial.
The game puts both characters on one controller becuase they're brothers, and as such are used to working as a unit. This isn't a quest as much as it's an adventure, and that's something we rarely see games pull off without resorting to killing endless numbers of bad guys. You'll spend as much time thinking about the facial expression that ends the game as you will about the lack of combat as we recognize it.
You can finish the game in around three hours if you simply want to see the ending, but I didn’t earn a single achievement during my first run through the game’s story. It’s worth your time to slow down, explore the many side stories and small bits of interactivity that are sweetly sprinkled through the game. Putting children in harm’s way is already harrowing, and Brothers never lets you forget that these are children. They explore, play, goof off, meet people, and sometimes help out around the village.
The game’s environments grow darker and more threatening as you venture farther and farther away from your home, and there are many moments of beauty and wonder to be found. You’ll meet fantastical creatures on your quest, and see amazing things. The game’s ending is something we’ll be talking about for quite some time, but the journey itself is just as spectacular.
“Let me know when you get done,” a few other critics have said to me via Twitter or e-mail. “I want to talk about this game.” They were wise not to discuss a single concrete detail, and I’ve tried to do the same, but this could be a new front runner for one of the most inventive and satisfying games of the year. I finished it in one sitting, and my brain has been crackling with the experience since the credits have rolled.
This isn’t one of those games where I’ll trot out the old “If you’re a fan of the genre” game review cliché, because this is a game that everyone should play through to completion. It so clearly and effortlessly shows off what video games can do well, while avoiding so many things that games often do poorly that it’s worth studying, but even the most casual fan can play it purely for enjoyment.
Every now and again a game comes out of nowhere to show everyone else how it’s done, and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is one of those games.