Until now I could have safely said that a video game had never made me cry. Magical and sinister all at once, Brothers: A Tale of Two sons offers an incredible experience which is well worth your time.

The game tells the story of two sons – incidentally, also brothers – who must adventure across the land to retrieve water from a magical tree in order to save their dying father. The story is steeped in the flavour of fairy tales; a tale of mythical beasts, incredible countries and a lesson learned.

These are not the sanitised fairy tales of Disney but the darker, original yarns collected by the Brothers Grimm. It is not the sort of tale with a fairy godmother and happy songs, it is a tale where the ugly stepsisters would cut off their toes to fit the slipper and wishes are granted by a tree born from a grave. The story, although magical, is not pleasant and death, grief and sorrow are the main themes, running like blood-gorged arteries throughout the entire experience.

The first thing that struck me, apart from the grim introductory cutscene, was the control scheme: the titular brothers are each controlled by a thumbstick which can be very confusing to begin with and I spent more than a little of my time ramming one of the brothers into a wall. But when I did get used to it, getting the brothers to move in sync was super satisfying and made me feel like some sort of ambidextrous puppet master. It’s also not a decision taken lightly: the controls are worked into the narrative of Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons to an extent that I haven’t seen in a game before. Later in the game this aspect is used to devastating effect and had a lot to do with the aforementioned emotional wobble.

While we’re on the controls I’m going to say: this game isn’t very hard, but that doesn’t matter as it’s far more about the journey than the challenge. Though it may not be very difficult, the various puzzles presented are creative and hold real weight. There were a few times when I was genuinely tense, as well as disgusted (and not in a bad way), due to the way the puzzles were presented.

Just... Ewwww.

Just… Ewwww.

The art direction and presentation also drew me in straight away. The fairy tale quality is perfectly apparent from the get go, starting off in a lovely little town with surrounding farmland and mountains. The calming and beautiful surroundings, twisted into sinister contortions as the brothers travelled farther and farther from home, reminded me a lot of the original Fable: praise I would not give to many games. The amount of detail worked into the backgrounds is impressive, having been given the same care and attention used on the level itself. It gives the game a satisfying sense of adventure and the unknown, as well as completeness; roads stretch off and rivers wind away, potential secrets hiding just around the corner.

Although the fantasy staples of rural countryside/ mountain pass/ forbidden wood are present, the game is peppered with innovative environments which offer some brilliant interactions, both visually and through gameplay.

The benches scattered throughout offer a great indicator of how enrapturing the environments of the game are. They offer nothing other than letting the player just take a moment to enjoy where they are. If there is an achievement for it, I didn’t get it, and I don’t care. I sought out those benches just for the opportunity to just be in the game and appreciate what I was seeing.

That mine entrance in the distance serves no purpose, and I love it for that.

That mine entrance in the distance serves no purpose, and I love it for that.

The story is a masterclass in the show-don’t-tell school of storytelling. It’s a clean and simple tale which has great emotional impact. It gives a reason for adventure and sets you off on it but, apart from that, it’s almost an entirely character-driven experience. There is no actual dialogue, people merely mumble to set the tone of their exchange, but the game uses small interactions and details in characters’ actions and movements to convey their information.

It’s not all magic and wonder however, checkpoints are sometimes handled poorly and I would often have to retrace my steps for what seemed like a pointless distance, which just hammered home the slight failure and frustrated me. The handling of gender was also disappointing. There are three female characters throughout the game who are all reduced to archetypes: the sacrifice, the damsel and the siren. They feel like fuel for the story and are given no development in their own right. Although the story is in no way antagonistic in its handling of gender it is far too traditional. Especially considering the calibre of the rest of the game.

Wrap Up

Despite these errors, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an incredible game and one of the best I’ve played all year. I would urge anyone to pick it up and play it regardless of preference in genre or platform. There is some untapped potential; some risks which perhaps should have been taken in the story, but ultimately this is a stellar game.

score of 9
Please read our Reviews Policy here.

About The Author

Contributor

Ben is pretty damned nerdy. If he isn't playing video games, then he's probably rolling some dice to hit goblins and thugs or designing, running and crewing a host of LARP systems. He lives in Brighton, because it's nice there. You can follow him on twitter @benrlmeredith

Related Posts