August 10, 2017

That's A Wrap: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

warning: may contain spoilers

A much talked about game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons first came to my attention shortly after its release. Everyone remarked on the unique use of the game's dual controls - that is, you must control one character with one half of a single controller, and the other with the opposite side - which honestly made me groan. 10-year-old me wouldn't have thought twice, but not-so-10-year-old-me is noticing a distinct loss in fine motor skills as I age, and everyone knows patience isn't my best feature... so a game that requires both sides of my brain to work simultaneously didn't appeal to me that much. But that wasn't the only thing people were talking about, many discussed the emotional story, the acute sense of adventure and the somewhat complex puzzle design of the game, and those are all dead ringers for a game I'd like to play. So I thought I'd give it the old college try, and see if I could handle two brothers. Historically speaking, having one has been a pain in the ass...

I actually came to own Brothers after it was given away for free ("free") to PS+ members some time ago, so I'm plum out of excuses!

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (stupid subtitle) is a unique dual-control adventure game made by Starbreeze Studios and originally published in 2013 for the Xbox 360. It popped up shortly thereafter on PS3 and has since been ported to PS4 and Xbox One as well, among others.
My own first impression of the game was led, in spades, by the graphics department. The graphics for this game are what I can only describe as shockingly beautiful. I did not expect this level of saturation and refinement from a smaller PS3 game. Even their lighting pass is impressive! Unfortunately, its beauty is hindered by the slow load times of the various layers; it's a little distracting, watching your cinematics build themselves as they go, but nevertheless, stunning environment design by the art department.
The character art is a little less stellar, but still unique enough that you can identify every individual character (unless you're me, and you mistake a lady troll for the nice troll who helped you out a bunch).

As for the sound, the game makes use of one of those stealth scores. That is to say you hardly notice the music while you're playing, but it's there, in all its orchestrated minimalism. When you take a moment to stop and actually listen, the score is rather fitting. It matches the beauty of the game and adds a little something fantastical... like something from Lord of the Rings perhaps. Makes plenty of sense when you play the game.
Brothers also sports some voice acting, but rather than using any given existing language, it has its own. I understand "hey!" so I'm gonna go ahead and label myself 10% fluent in this language. No real complaints about the miscellaneous sound from the game - except maybe the over use of grunting noises, but honestly I barely noticed them on my initial playthrough - everything came together well.

The story is centered around a family of four. Mother is lost long ago when she tragically drowned after falling from her boat - it should be noted that nobody knows how to swim in this game except for Big Brother - and in present times, Father has fallen ill with a virus that can only be cured by the water pool of a rare plant, so Big Brother (henceforth known as BB) and Little Brother (LB) must journey to find it and save their father.
You can probably already tell Brothers has a very dark, emotional tone and pulls on your heart strings every chance it gets. This game is not for the faint of heart or the non-cemented souls of the young.

BB is brave and strong while LB is small and rambunctious. This gives BB the ability to do the heavy lifting and LB can slip through small spaces, so it's crucial that the two work together on their expedition.
Additional characters include Ma and Pa; the doctor, who looks like something Lemony Snicket made up; various townsfolk, including one little pissant who needs a beating, pronto; sweet and not-so-sweet trolls; and some squawking bitch that may or may not be sacrificed by a tribe of witch doctors. Discovering and interacting with other people/creatures in this game is so rewarding. It's rare to find a game that handles interaction quite like this.

In terms of gameplay and controls, they go hand in hand. BB is on your left stick, with your left trigger as his action button. Conversely, LB is on your right stick and trigger. This got to be annoying real fast because... ya girl's got tiny hands, y'all. It's actually really difficult for me to hold down the D3's trigger buttons - or worse, release and reengage - while trying to comfortably manage the thumbsticks. There were times when I'd have to hold the controller against my knee for support so I didn't lose my trigger and drop one or both brothers to their doom. Many tasks in this game require longterm holds and you also have to manage both characters at the same time, so... it got a little messy for me. That's really not the fault of the game though, it's my dad's fault. Fuck you, dad.

Basically, you control both bros on a varied and spectacular adventure through many terrains, from the comforts of your home village, through the caves of the trolls, the ruined lands of giants, across rivers of truly killer whales... I really didn't expect this level of fantasy in Brothers, but it was all most welcome! In each chapter, you come across innumerable obstacles which cannot be conquered by simply walking on. You must climb, sidle, jump, swing... hang glide! and solve puzzles to progress.
I gotta tell you, I was so hung up on the fact that I thought I'd struggle to control both brothers that I
put this game off for so long. That was a mistake. Getting a handle on the controls (especially if you have normal sized hands) is quite easy, and the game isn't so demanding that you can't get by, even with munchkin hands. I find getting around in Uncharted games more cumbersome than in Brothers. I absolutely adore the design of this game. It's not arduous or combat heavy, like most things I play; it was nice just to relax and lean on my puzzle solving skills to get through each level, and not have to sacrifice the quality of the game for it.

There's not much official combat in Brothers, but there are a few bosses (see video), which usually call upon scary puzzle solving challenges to defeat. It's all pretty intuitive and the game often shows you what to do. Pay attention.

There also isn't much of a menu in this game, but you also don't really need one. You can pause the game to access game options, but that's it!

As for side quests, I really only noticed random things to interact with... like bunnies. And sheep. My explorer's nature means I spent a lot of time looking for the wrong path, and usually found something to interact with at the end. I got a lot of trophies for these activities, but they don't add anything else to the game.
I don't know that Brothers is an ideal game to play at four in the morning (my usual gaming time as of late) as it requires cognitive function, but otherwise it's not what I would call a difficult game. The lack of combat and emphasis on puzzle solving - which is also rather easy - means the only difficulty in the game is managing both boys at the same time, and I think you'll get used to that with a little practice.

Brothers is not a long game, and could easily be completed in one sitting. Maybe 3 or 4 hours, tops, which you could probably shave down upon replay.

So what's wrong with the game? I noticed it would sort of "glitch" whenever trying to avoid a loading screen and while saving. It happened quite a lot and got old fast. And when I did get a loading screen it was usually at a really random time, like the middle of a boss. But mostly just between chapters and after doom drops. As you can see in my demo, they aren't quick either.
I had a couple of instances in which the game kicked me out (game over) though I didn't do anything even remotely close to triggering it, but this only happened maybe twice.
And as I mentioned before, the game also struggles to load all its layers of graphics in a timely manner. I can't help but wonder if this is improved on the PS4 port?

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Brothers, leaps and bounds more than I thought I would. I was pleasantly surprised by the fantasy arc, and despite its short length, the game doesn't lack quality content for very moment. The levels are not long, but they're jam packed with things to do; you're never bored. Its short length also means I'm very likely to play this again! Now that I have all the chapters unlocked, I can leave this on my Playstation and boot it up any time I'm in the mood for a softer gameplay title. I'm very excited to have discovered Brothers, and would recommend it to anyone that appreciates story, art and a streamlined puzzle solving aspect to a game. If you're hellbent on shooting things, this won't be the game for you, but if you like a less demanding title, you need to pick up Brothers!
If you already love Brothers, consider checking out another game I've been playing recently, which mirrors the "easy going" aspect of Brothers but lightens up significantly on the interaction, and that is Journey (article coming soon!).

Brothers can be found for the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One as well as Windows PCs, iOS and Android phones... it's pretty much everywhere now! If you're wondering about how it plays on a mobile device, I seem to recall Seigi discussing it on the dedicated episode of Bonus Barrel (BB!), which also happens to feature my internet brothers, the Cartridge Bros! Check it out here.

LOTIPS
  • If nothing happens when you interact with one brother, try the other!
  • If you get stuck, try talking to someone or interacting with something nearby. Sometimes you gotta wake someone up to get help!
  • If you're really stuck, push BB's trigger. He will literally point you in the right direction.
  • Everything of interest on your path exists for a reason. If you can't figure out what to do next, explore the things you haven't used yet.
  • Life is much easier if you just accept the fact that BB has to go on the left side and LB the right.

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