Developed by Starbreeze Studios, Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons is a swift departure from the company’s more well-known and well-received properties like The Chronicles of Riddick video game adaptations. Rather than blockbuster action and large scripted setpieces, this game offers a deliberately paced adventure and an intimate and emotionally driven narrative.
The title may seem awfully generic and longer than it needs to be (why clarify that the brothers are also a pair of sons?), but playing through the game shows that, while this emphasis is not necessary, it proves that neither familial aspect is more important than the other. The title is directly and crucially in line with how the main characters relate to each other in the face of their incredibly adverse surroundings.
You never forget that you are controlling two characters. In fact, many NPCs react differently depending on which brother you approach them with, and in certain cases, you can only glean information using one of the two. The latter part of the title sets an important emotional backdrop. These are young boys, after all, who are dealing with extraordinary loss, and that innocent-perspective is what makes this game shine.
Naturally, as their minds are not yet completely developed – rather, they are much more imaginative – the video game medium is perfect for capturing and allowing the player to experience how these children’s psyches deal with haunting situations and unimaginably critical responsibility.
The game opens up with the younger of the two kneeling at his mother’s tombstone while haunting memories of how she passed – specifically of how he was there but incapable of saving her – flash through his mind. Even with that distressing background, the ordeals do not let up for this young pair. It turns out that their father is gravely ill and the only cure for this particular malady is the mythical Tree of Life’s healing waters. Having no intention of losing both of their parents sets them on their personal journey.
You will need to get your bearing right with the controls. As this is a story of two distinct characters – each with differing personalities, abilities, and character weaknesses – each brother is controlled by a specific side of the controller, with an analog stick and button exclusively assigned to each. It is a cooperative game designed to be controlled by a single player. It takes some time getting used to as keeping track of each brother’s movements and actions can get a bit confusing. However, rather than being cumbersome, the controls actually make for fresh gameplay in terms of puzzle solving, exploring, and just generally interacting with this varied world.
Most games nowadays offer quests wherein some random NPC makes and odd and inconsequential request. If you complete it, the situation is decidedly win-win with both parties getting precisely what they want. Sure enough, in A Tale of Two Sons, the pair comes across folks in need of assistance. However, these are not your basic fare of "collect X amount of items to receive Y prize." The folks you help are in terribly distressing situations themselves, dealing with heavy themes like death, suicide, imprisonment, and sacrifice.
It is a constant and brilliantly presented reminder that, even with everything that the main protagonists are dealing with, the world does not center on them and their journey. It certainly does not stop for them. It is a narrative aspect often missing from modern storytelling. What makes it so chilling is that, even if you are successful in helping someone, the end result is not always rosy. A major underlying theme is that, in order to obtain one thing, something else must be lost in the process.
One of the great qualities in video games is that they provide outlets for audiences to experience and explore fantastical worlds and partake in incredible adventures. True to form, this game contains mystical creatures, beautiful otherworldly architecture, and stunning vistas that just belie its somber atmosphere. However, getting players to question whether or not certain facets of the journey are worth its completion is what makes Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons so outstanding.
GameDynamo's Score for Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons (PS3)
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