Right now, indie game development is at the height of its popularity. Yet, for every hundred released, we only get a handful of somewhat memorable games. The issue I have is that this oversaturation of terrible games causes us to undervalue and ultimately forget some of the good indie games that have been made. At the VGA’s, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons beat out GTA V, BioShock Infinite and Tomb Raider as the Best Xbox Game of 2013. I will submit that video game awards may be about as credible as a FIFA executive on United States soil, but to be mentioned in any fashion with those great games holds a lot of weight.
Get ready to meet the most miserable family in this world! Brothers is a story driven puzzle game about two brothers who need to seek out water from a tree far away in order to save their ailing father. Having already lost their mother, this leaves them willing to do anything to not lose him too. Sounds pretty plain when it’s said like that, I will admit. What isn’t plain however is that the world the brothers live in that is rife with mythological creatures such as trolls and giants. The brothers work together to evade, defeat, or even receive help from these creatures while traversing the incredibly unsafe landscape.
I found myself initially struggling to coordinate the brothers’ movements. Each characters movements and interactions are fully controlled by one of the corresponding analog sticks and trigger buttons; the equivalent of playing with two N64 controllers at the same time. After a little bit of time you will find the daunting task of controlling two characters simultaneously start to fade away. This is when you can start to appreciate the puzzles as opposed to feeling like you could hurt both players if you were to throw your controller against a wall. When a controller is thrown, your character feels pain, don’t forget that! This unique control scheme allows the game to divert from normal puzzle mechanics involving two or more characters, which require solving one part of the puzzle so the second character could advance, and so on. Brothers on the other hand require these tasks to be done simultaneously, which adds more complexity to a challenge. The developers recognize it would be difficult for anybody to just pick up and start playing, and make use of steady pacing to get everyone comfortable. Once you feel good with the scheme, the game ramped up in difficulty. Another small nuance to the puzzles is that each brother has their own passive specialty that you’ll need to use in specific ways to clear an area.
The art style for this game is very reminiscent to Fable. Character models and landscapes are done in a more cartoonish manner and given a nice vibrant gloss that helped take away from minor graphical flaws such as blocky leaves on trees or very uniform rocks. The game’s isometric view both helps show off the games graphics, and frames puzzle content. I am emphasizing this because it seems that Brothers has a bit of an identity crisis in that it wants to look like a high end game, but just can’t manage.
The story is directed by Josef Fares, a highly regarded filmmaker out of Sweden, and is where this game stands above most puzzle games. While my above statement of retrieving tree water to save daddy makes this game sound ridiculous, I assure you there is a very deep and emotional story told here; a coming of age tale filled with conflict and anguish. As you develop an emotional bond for the characters throughout the game, you progressively start to carry more sympathy to their situation. The dialogue in the game is done in a made up language that emphasizes how fictional this world is. We are strictly told the story through gestures and atmosphere; not subtitles. While I did feel the emotional toll by the end of my play through, I feel this game could have completely destroyed me had they used voice actors. While a unique way to tell the story, I found myself wanting a conventional use of dialogue. It would have been a richer experience.
Brothers is unfortunately a rather short game that most people complete in about 4 hours, and that might be generous. It also suffers from having little to no replayability because it is a streamlined single player title. This could have been rectified with a co-op mode. While having a multiplayer aspect would remove the challenge of the controller scheme, there would be a comparable challenge in having to coordinate movements and actions with your partner.
While I don’t feel Brothers should have won over its counterparts mentioned earlier, Starbreeze Studios created an ambitious game that tested some less than desirable mechanics that did work out well after an initial learning curve. With a good emotional story and interesting puzzles, my hope is that this game won’t be overlooked when you open your wallets on an upcoming Steam sale.