Do you like co-op games? Most people do, right? The different characters are pretty cool, eh? The different choices. But have you ever been annoyed by the people you play with? Then I have just got the game for you, the one that occupied me during a sickness-laden day last weekend. Once again an adventure game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was released for Xbox 360 by Starbreeze Studios in August 2013 (available on Steam and PS3 as of September). Driven very much by its narrative, the game tells the story of two brothers who go on an adventurous, fantastic journey to find a remedy for their sick father. On the way, they encounter many dangers and dive right into a beautiful world with trolls, giants, and other creatures.
An unspoken narrative
Brothers tells a beautiful fantasy story; a story of affection, love and grief that shows how even the most impossible hurdles can be taken if you have someone by your side. In its essence, it’s quite a simple but effective narrative, appealing to the kind of love that everyone first encounters in life – family bonds. Aside from the beautiful cinematics, though, it is fascinating to see how the story is told. There is quite a bit of drama every now and then – the whole game is based on the dramatic premise of a possibly fatal illness, after all – and therefore our young heroes, despite the many obstacles they face, have a burning determination to find the place that holds the right remedy. Of course that is hard on them, and the game communicates this well. Communication is the key here: the brothers speak to one another and other characters, but they speak in a made-up language – maybe Sims-ish, if you like. It is really interesting to see how you can follow the whole story without actually understanding a single word. After a while, you recognise some distinct words because they are constantly repeated (like, the names of the brothers), but that is about it. Just by using body language, gestures, facial expressions, the story becomes surprisingly personal and immediate. And a huge advantage is that it is extrapolated to other creatures as well. Since you don’t understand their words anyway, you train yourself to watch and decode the typical, sort of universal gestures and piece together the story – at least in so far as it is told. We also don’t know anything about the world as such; is it normal that there are these other creatures, or have they stumbled into something extraordinary? What is the history of the war that has evidently been going on in some parts? We just don’t know, and we won’t have a chance to. In fact, I thought this was quite a refreshing experience as opposed to the common ‘everything is exposed’ attitude – Skyrim comes to mind with its endless books about the world and the background, really detailed stuff that you can just get lost in. Not knowing what’s going on – well, that’s a nice change from all the information overload you can normally choose to receive.
A single-player co-op experience
The gameplay is something I had not really seen before, and I found it took some getting used to. I’m still not sure what to think about it. You play both brothers at once – how? By using the left stick for the big brother, and the right stick for the small brother. Same goes for the triggers. (It seems you can’t play this without a controller; if you want to buy it on Steam, it specifically says that a controller is required to play this game.) Now I’m sure it is a nice idea and all. It actually gets you involved with both brothers at once, trying to function as a unity, which is of course a necessary aspect in the narrative as well. However, I found it confusing and it took a really, really long time until I got it somewhat right. For someone who is not very good at multi-tasking, this was so difficult. I constantly kept running into things with one of the brothers, and coordinating took quite a bit of practice – but maybe that’s just me and my horrible coordination and short attention span in general. It’s a nice concept though, and it was an interesting experience indeed.
One thing that I was disappointed in was the diversity in the gameplay. There are some things that you actually need the brothers to cooperate for; for instance, helping the other up a tree or something. Some of these incidents were incredibly well done in the sense that the story called for it, too, and it just seemed logical that you would need two people for such situations. But most of them seemed a little too forced, especially the ones that got repeated over and over again. So I got annoyed at this after a while, but it didn’t manage to dampen my fascination with the game in general.
A beautiful epic fairytale journey
To end on quite a positive note, the landscape was stunningly beautiful as well, I found. Very diverse throughout the different levels, and there was ample opportunity to do nothing and simply observe nature’s beauty. Just seeing all this relaxed me immensely – the openness of the space, the beauty of it all. And although I may have had my issues with the gameplay, I can definitely recommend it – it is a beautiful narrative and emotional experience in (roughly) 3-4 hours (unless you fail at the gameplay really badly – also, there’s achievements and stuff). And being so immersed in the game as it was, I did not see the ending coming – nope, did not expect it at all, I was too much a part of the brothers to see the bigger picture, or even put on the analytical mindset that comes from my studies of narrative. A very refreshing experience.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is currently available on Steam for €13.99.