Posted: March 20
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. With a title like that you must be in for a heartwarming story of brotherly love, right? Joke's on you friendo, this game comes from Sweden, where even the furniture is stark and depressing.
Admittedly I came to this game with a bit of an "okay, game, wow me" attitude, having heard nothing from gushing love from everyone around me. So to get the snarky negativity out of the way, I have some issues with this game, mainly relating to controlling both brothers at once. I see that the frustration is part of the game's storytelling, but there's a fine line between compelling storytelling through game mechanics and constantly having to adjust logistics because of the wonky keyboard mapping (admittedly, I should probably have played this with a gamepad, but I likely would still have to make the conscious choice to move each brother to their respectively mapped side of the keyboard to keep from disorienting myself). The worst moment came in one section where I literally was incapable of progressing due to overloading my keyboard with the number of keys I was pressing down at once, and had to remap them entirely. BAAAAAD. On a more nitpicky note, I also found the game a little manipulative in points, as if the story wasn't emotional enough without having to punch it up with histrionics.
But that stuff aside, I actually really, really liked this game. It tells a really engaging mythological narrative with absolutely no coherent dialogue or even text. There isn't even any kind of complex facial animation to show the emotions of the two protagonists through the journey, it's all pantomime and gibberish. The harrowing A-plot aside, you have a variety of little b-plots to get lost in, and what's fascinating is the lack of dialogue forces you to interpret the contexts for these stories by yourself.
The other big strength of this game is its absolutely incredible environmental design. If it seems a little bland and fantasy preset-y at first, don't worry, the imagery gets progressively more fantastical and surreal as you journey into the wilds and come across the castles of giants and crystalline ice lakes. The world itself tells stories that range from wonder inducing to downright horrifying (the valley of giants is one especially nightmarish moment with some gruesome puzzles to be solved). It may not be a world you have much freedom to explore, but nevertheless its one to be lost in.
It's perhaps best that the game's puzzles are all incredibly simple for the most part. You have enough on your plate managing two brothers, so complex puzzle mechanics are out. I have to say I wish there was more of a gameplay challenge if only to lend a bit more payoff at the end. However, there are some surprising moments toward the game's conclusion that make more sense of the decision to play as both brothers at once, both in terms of what tasks you will be controlling and what buttons you press to accomplish those tasks. Quite brilliant! Emotive even.
If you're an "always gameplay, never story!" sort of gamer, stay away. This game is linear and entirely based on narrative. If you don't mind that sort of thing, though, and I love it, then Brothers is a real treat. If you can get past the frustating elements, it'll win you over in a big way.