Developer: Starbreeze Studios / Publisher: 505 Games / Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation Network, PC / Release Date: May 2013 / ESRB: Rating Pending
Picture a man too weak to stand on his own, a man who’s barely clinging to the world of the living. Now imagine his two children looking on hopelessly as their ailing father becomes sicker with each passing minute. Desperate for a cure, the brothers set out on a perilous journey for the “Water of Life” to save their beloved parent before it’s too late. This is the premise of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and it’s an experience Starbreeze Studios hopes will leave a lasting impression.
Recently we got to see a near-final build of this top-down narrative-driven action game, where a single player controls two determined brothers simultaneously. The left analog stick moves the older brother and the right governs the younger sibling, which sounds remarkably awkward. Yet as Josef Fares, game director (and established Swedish film maker) made clear during his presentation: the game is a narrative driven journey, it is not meant to frustrate the player. You are to accompany the two children without the constraints of difficulty, though that doesn’t mean the experience is bereft of gameplay mechanics.
Every design detail was extensively thought out in its execution, with each new area having different interactions (be it NPCs, animals or props) depending on the brother you choose to prompt. For instance, if you approach an old lady in a village, the big brother shows her a map to inquire about directions. The little brother on the other hand thinks it’s funny to strongly rock her chair back and forth.
Interactions that may seem insignificant actually portray the human side to the game by acknowledging that the two main characters are unique, and the game hinges on your personal connection to its established world. The brothers’ decisions also have a clear effect on anything they touch, such as freeing some birds locked in a cage they later see have fallen in love. All these actions are aided by the game’s warm colored 3D scenery that serves as a gorgeous yet contrasting backdrop to the protagonists’ dire mission.
The gameplay portion requires you to use the brothers as a team to get past obstacles blocking their path. You may need to get past a vicious dog by distracting it with one brother while the other rushes behind it onto a raised rock, or you have both brothers carry a beam across a bridge. These types of puzzles are supposedly only going to be encountered once; puzzle designs are never rehashed for the sake of game length. The camera always adjusts to fit the two brothers on screen, and the controls are simple enough that even in our short time with the game it wasn’t confusing.
Although one brother may be better at solving a particular puzzle, neither brother has any unique powers that make one superior over the other. In fact, the game even establishes why one brother is more competent at a particular task. The obvious would be their sheer size; the bigger brother is stronger therefore can carry more weight, but it goes deeper than that. The little brother is unable to swim because he witnessed a tragic event in a river that’s made him deathly afraid of bodies of water. It’s that level of detail that alludes to a deeper and meaningful story in Brothers.
Solving the puzzles will be the only intricate part of the gameplay, since you can never accidentally fall off edges or push the other brother off a platform, which the developer considers an aggravation that would detract from engagement with the storyline. For those expecting co-op, you can look elsewhere; the game is meant to be experienced individually despite its premise of controlling two characters at the same time.
The critically acclaimed Journey made headway for being a remarkable story event in game form, and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons seems to be going in that same direction. However, Fares wants gamers to have an open mind when approaching his game; Brothers is a product of its own. Still, it’s always good to be mentioned in that type of reputable company. Brothers is set to release near the end of May, and will be available on the Xbox, PlayStation and Steam.