It’s Summer of Arcade time again on Xbox LIVE and this year it kicks off with Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The game is developed by Starbreeze Studios (The Darkness, Chronicles of Riddick) in collaboration with Swedish film director Josef Fares and 505 Games handling publishing. The game is out now on XBLA and is also coming to PC later this month and PS3 in September.
As you probably guessed from the title the game revolves around two brothers. Having lost their mother in a tragic accident they become worried when their father becomes sick. After taking him to the doctor his only hope is if they seek out and bring back the Water of Life. They must face the perilous journey together if they are to succeed.
The brothers themselves are unnamed and the game lets you identify them by their appearance. The older brother wears blue clothes and is bigger and stronger. His younger brother wears red and is much smaller but quicker and able to squeeze through tiny gaps. The different coloured clothes really stand out and make it easy to see where each brother is.
This is important because Brothers is a co-op game for solo players. The brothers must work together and it’s your task to control them simultaneously. The older brother is moved with the left stick and the left trigger is used to make him perform actions. Controlling the younger brother is identical but with the right stick and trigger. The camera zooms in and out based on what is happening but you do have limited control to rotate it with the shoulder buttons.
The controls are unique and initially feel quite alien compared to most other games. Moving brothers individually is fine but it can be difficult to get your head around moving them together. We found it easiest to keep the older brother on the left as much as possible as it gets confusing when they are on the opposite sides to their sticks. With practice the controls work wonderfully and we’d be surprised if we don’t see more games using a similar setup in future.
Another unusual thing about the game is that there is no voice acting, narration or subtitles. The characters do talk in a Sims-like gibberish but it’s left to you to work out what is going on. Thankfully the art and animation is superb and it’s very easy to understand. A quick pull of the left trigger usually makes the older brother point or gesture towards where you should be headed next.
Throughout their adventure the brothers visit many different locations and meet some great characters. The brothers constantly face new challenges that can easily be solved through co-operation. None of these challenges are too taxing to solve and the game lets you get on with the experience and the brothers journey. Things like platforming sections are handled simply by moving where you want to go and the game jumps for you.
Puzzles often require one brother to do something such as pull a switch to allow the other to progress. Other puzzles have the brothers working together on tasks such as carrying an item, rowing a boat or distracting an enemy while the other sneaks past. The game also rarely punishes you if you mess up thanks to a generous checkpoint system. This was also useful as we encountered the occasional bug causing us to get stuck on scenery and needed to restart.
Through play the personalities of the brothers shines through and their relationship grows stronger. It’s a powerful tale of love, loss and achievement that is full of emotion. In particular a section later in the game will have many players unexpectedly in tears. We can’t say more but trust us you’ll understand once you’ve played it.
Graphically the game isn’t the most technically accomplished but it does have some lovely environments. Often games don’t allow you the time to see half of what the artists created and Brothers tackles this problem. Throughout the game you will find benches where you can simply sit and marvel at the view which is a brilliant idea.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is enchanting and one of the most moving gaming experiences we’ve ever had. It’s a hard game to talk about without spoiling it and because it’s one that you need to experience yourself for maximum impact. It may only last three to four hours but it’s incredibly rewarding and you’ll definitely want to revisit it in the future.