It was only a matter of time until another developer tried to replicate Journey's success. Thatgamecompany's mould-breaking and massively successful title is so unique that any game attempting to mirror its praise would simply fail...right? Wrong. Brothers is without a doubt just as fantastical and captivating as last year's critically acclaimed indie hit. Like Journey, A Tale of Two Sons has sidestepped with the issue of feature creep currently plaguing the industry, instead distilling its vision into a pure, unadulterated slice of interactive entertainment.
However, implying Brothers is a direct result of the aforementioned title would be doing Starbreeze Studios a massive disservice as Brothers is, in its own right, a deeply rich and rewarding experience – with enough of its personality to set it apart from the rest.
Perhaps the most welcome and criminally underused idea is how Tale of Two Sons is played. Forgive the oxymoron, but Brothers is essentially a single-player co-op game. You see, as the title suggests, you play as not one, but both of the brothers. Each analog stick corresponds to one brother, with the only other input being the triggers which, likewise, are assigned to Little and Big brother respectively. Don't worry if you think we've forgotten the names of these two protagonists already, that's how they're referred to.
The system is brilliantly simple and intuitive, clearly one of its greatest strengths, as it allows you to absorb the world built by Starbreeze without being distracted by overly complex and convoluted controls. This is an experience that has clearly been crafted with spectacle and story taking priority over intricate mechanical design and this is understandable, as it's a world worth losing yourself in.
Your introduction to the siblings begins with a short and tragic prologue detailing the loss of the family's mother to the seven seas. A quick cut pulls us back to the present day where the boys' father, showing little sign of a successful recovery from illness, threatens to make his two children orphans. The doctor caring for the siblings' sick father bestows them with a scroll detailing the location of a hidden elixir that will cure their ailing parent's health. Setting off to find the wonder drug, the minors start an adventure that is far more mature than the Fable inspired visuals would have you believe.
You would be forgiven for thinking the premise leaves much to be desired, but what begins as a story about rescue is merely a 'MacGuffin' that conceals the true nature of A Tale of Two Sons. The further you progress with Little and Big, the more you'll realise that this isn't just a quest to save your father, it's the process of growing up personified by suggestive and wonderful visuals.
Fear, war, death, love and loss are all themes that you'll encounter along your way and one section that stood out to us saw the siblings enter a huge, war-torn chasm littered with the corpses of giant medieval-themed soldiers. Wading through the crimson tide, heaving lifeless, gigantic limbs out of your path instantly hammers home that the developers weren't afraid to introduce very adult themes into a world that relies entirely on non-verbal, visual storytelling.
Speaking of visuals, the game truly is beautiful; the vistas and backdrops to the locations you'll visit are just a wonderful sight to behold and the world feels alive. Starbreeze clearly have confidence in the fact too, as benches are frequently placed throughout the world for the two heroes to sit and admire the scenery.
Gameplay mostly consists of exploration, platforming and puzzle solving and, whilst the majority of these challenges aren't overly difficult, they never feel arbitrary. One excellent section sees the brothers get attacked by what can only be described as a Cave Troll. Being the older and therefore stronger of the two, Big brother has to hold a cage door ajar by pulling a lever, whilst the younger sibling lures the Troll into the cage by squeezing through the railings to act as bait. Both protagonists have genuinely believable limits and Starbreeze have done an excellent job of making sure you feel and know that the two adventurers need each other to survive.
There are however, a few drawbacks to an otherwise perfect title. Whilst the decision to make both characters simultaneously playable is a marvellous and essential mechanic, it can get confusing to co-ordinate your hands with what's happening on-screen. This becomes especially more noticeable when platforming sections become more elaborate and whilst checkpoints are more than generous, the muddling can be frustrating.
Other than this, our only real concern is replay value, especially considering the short nature and price of the title. Completionists will take pleasure out of revisiting the world for any missed achievements, but for gamers that thrive on hidden extras and non-linear gameplay, they may feel slightly short-changed.
Regardless of these minor shortcomings, Brothers is a fantastic title that we have no qualms about labelling as essential to anyone. It has been hard not to gush about the genuine emotions you will feel upon the end of your journey, but to spoil such a star would be just cruel. This is a game you need to experience for yourself, so stop reading and go play it!
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
It was only a matter of time until another developer tried to replicate Journey's success. Thatgamecompany's mould-breaking and massively successful title is so unique that any game attempting to mirror its praise would simply fail...right?