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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (Games)
/ Sony Computer Entertainment
/ Starbreeze Studios
September 03, 2013
List Price: $14.99
($20 Sony Playstation Network Card)
Reviewed by Bill Braun
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
'Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons,' is the latest game from Starbreeze Studios. Much of what Starbreeze Studios has developed over the years has focused on high intensity and over-the-top action. They attempted to breathe new life into the highly regarded 'Syndicate' franchise, took four player co-op to the next level with the 'PayDay' series, and gave us a taste of what hell may be like with 'The Darkness.' 'Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons,' has a much more subtle air to it compared with these past games and is an obvious break from a development formula that many may have identified as the developer's comfort zone.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
The game's story forms the foundation of 'Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons' and is by far its greatest strength. The opening moments of the game set the tone and mood for what develops over the course of a few hours, and is the reason gamers – both young and old, and with various play styles and preferences – should find the time to experience it.
A young boy mourns for the loss of his mother after losing her to an unfortunate accident. He weeps gently at her grave as her apparition – whether in his mind or in reality – comes to comfort and embrace him. He is quickly pulled from this peaceful moment as his older brother hails him from below with more grim news. Their father has taken ill and the brothers must set off on a journey to obtain the medicine needed to cure his ailment.
At first glance, the premise of 'Brothers' may not be considered very original. However, the developers at Starbreeze Studios have taken it upon themselves to tell this story without the use of dialogue – or, at least a form of dialogue that you can understand. The brothers converse in a language reminiscent of Elvish from 'The Lord of the Rings,' and partake of an adventure befitting 'Grimm's Fairytales.' But where interpreting these conversations may yield a variety of results, it is the character's exaggerated animations when speaking that tell the bigger story. The old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words" is uniquely appropriate when playing 'Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.'
Along their journey the brothers encounter and interact with a variety of fantasy-like creatures both big and, ... well ... very big. Being strangers in an exceedingly strange land, they cross paths with trolls, giants, and wolves, just to name a few, all while traversing the tallest mountains and deepest caverns. But it is the mechanics of the game that are worthy of both unique gameplay accolades and considerable frustration.
Played primarily from a bird's-eye view, each brother is controlled using their respective analog sticks: the older brother on the left, and the younger on the right. Additionally, the younger (right analog stick) brother interacts with the environment using R2, while the older (left analog stick brother) interacts using, you guessed it, L2. This can be counterintuitive since the game often asks that both bothers be controlled at the time. To put this into perspective, try rubbing your belly while patting your head. As ridiculous an example that may be, it's not far off from the extremes that 'Brothers' requires of you during its brief three-hour story. It feels odd, and just when you think you have it mastered you inadvertently switch the characters positions and that counterintuitive sensation asserts itself all over again.
Thankfully, 'Brothers' never demands regular exacting precision from the player and the action is slowly paced, exploratory, and platform-like. Had the reverse been true, frustration may have reared its ugly head. What the player is given is an interesting take on a single player co-operative experience. Something that, until getting my hands on 'Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons', I never thought could exist. Justifiably, this is where accolades for creativity and ingenuity come into play. Whether it was the younger brother clinging to the older brother's back while crossing a river, or swinging side-to-side from a rope tied between them to reach greater heights, these experiences were usually simple in their execution yet rewarding when completed.
By journey's end you'll have experienced an array of emotions that even the best video games have trouble delivering. It is a story of faith and redemption, love and loss, and a family bond that is both beautiful and tragic. Odd control schemes aside, 'Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons' is that rare downloadable title that satisfies on a variety of levels and is likely to leave a lasting impression.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Although that the bulk of 'Brothers' is played from a bird's-eye view, the lavish imagery of the environments often shines through, and exhibits exceptionally crafted detailed. Starting out from the comforts of your village you will quickly come to feel that the world is a vast and punctuated by examples of grandeur. This becomes especially apparent throughout the game when park-like benches positioned at key observation points allow the player to rest both characters while overlooking the sizeable vistas they have yet to explore.
When sitting atop the highest mountain or looking down into what appears to be a bottomless trench of the underground, draw distances are impressively rendered and exhibit an appropriate sense of height and detail; enough so that should the player possess a tremendous fear of heights (as I do) a moment may be needed to convince the brain that seeing is not always believing.
Still, as impressive as the environments are, the up-close-and-personal character animations consistently removed me from an otherwise believable setting. While all of 'Brothers' was developed with a cell-shaded art style, the character cut scenes often reflected a more cartoonish look and feel. This seems to be an unfortunate side effect of the cut scenes that are needed to further develop the characters and push the story closer to its resolution.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Much as the game's visuals are used to develop an engaging story, music is easily just as important. With the decision to dispense with conventional voice acting, (and voice acting altogether), the game's music becomes an even more important part of the experience. The game's soundtrack is the vehicle by which the developers at Starbreeze Studios display emotions in the characters of 'Brothers.' Whether it was a sense of wonderment and awe from the dizzying heights, or the fear of the unknown when interacting with the magical creatures they encountered, the musical score was spot on in every scene.
That's not to say the limited amount of sound effects didn't deliver in deepening and complementing the experience. On more than one occasion my powered subwoofer received a substantial workout from the likes of a giant stomping across a snow-covered village, destroying everything that standing in its way. Similarly, the quieter stretches of exploration delivered a nice even surround sound quality. Birds could often be heard from around and behind me, and sudden gusts of wind were pushed from left to right as the brothers traversed some of the higher elevations.
'Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons' is purely a single player experience meant to be consumed in a single sitting. Its roughly three-hour play time does not include any multiplayer component (as it truly shouldn't) and there was no additional content that was unlocked after completing the game. Aside from quelling your inner trophy hunter there is little in the way of replay factor.
As short as 'Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons' is, its potent content satisfies where a lengthier game would lose resonance. Its focus was on delivering its story, and the game thoroughly accomplished what it set out to deliver. While I never fully grasped the unique control scheme, it was certainly an exercise in creativity, and for that I applaud Starbreeze Studios. For a developer know for its action-heavy titles and addictive multiplayer, 'Brothers' is a surprising success that serves to prove the merits of creative freedom in video game development and potential for such freedom to result in a memorable gaming experience.