Emotional is the new cinematic
Mix together highly irresponsible child endangerment, a beautiful, colourful world and a story full of twists and you’ll get Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.The premise is simple enough, a pair of brothers set out on a quest to find a mystic tree in the hope that it’ll heal their sick father. Little Brother is youthfully hopeful and mischievous, while Big Brother is mature, quiet and focused on the task at hand.
It’s up to you to guide the brothers through gorgeous villages, caves, battlegrounds and castles in order to save their father.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 505 Games, the same team that brought you Payday 2. With a team that is normally more PC friendly, it’s strange how many standard PC features have been omitted for the port.
Annoyingly, the start menu has no mouse support, and while it’s a small gripe, it’s something that would have made first impressions slightly better.
Graphical tweaks are literally restricted to the resolution and gamma, offering you no way to improve or reduce the visuals throughout.
If you can’t run this on default settings, tough. Going through the start and options menus will make the game feel like a lacklustre console port, which it essentially is.
There are no features added for PC to enhance your experience, instead you’ll be expected to take what you’re given and be unable to change a thing.
That said, if you have a pad, make sure to use it. You’ll be told during the initial loading screen that playing with a mouse and keyboard is a bad idea. A message pops up telling you that the game is “designed for use with a controller”. You’ll get a much more fluid feel for the controls with a pad, and they’re not as fiddly as the keyboard. The system is very strange initially, controlling both brothers at once is somewhat confusing, but you’ll soon have the pair on track successfully most of the time.
As alien as it seems, the control scheme eventually grows on you. It’s a fantastic way to make you feel more invested in both characters as you never leave either of their sides throughout their journey.
You’ll be told during the initial loading screen that playing with a mouse and keyboard is a bad idea...
Where Brothers shines is in its ability to craft a gorgeous world. All characters you’ll encounter speak in a gibberish language, making interaction open to interpretation by the player. One player may find Little Brother’s antics irresponsible and irritating, another may find them endearing. Not being able to understand context through language is a risky way to engage players, but the game does so successfully.
The art style is very similar to Fable. Characters and environments are cartoon-like in their appearance and, like Fable, Brothers executes this perfectly, creating picturesque characters and areas to investigate. Music is almost reminiscent of Journey in the way it is utilised, with each area and figure having their own instantly recognisable theme, composed beautifully.
What's my motivation?Brothers isn’t just a light-hearted skip through countryside towns and opulent castles, though. The game gets morbidly dark midway through, and you’ll stumble across suicides, battlefields, torture and, of course, the exploitation of children. Questions must be asked of a world where not one adult bats an eye at two children travelling through the most dangerous of areas for a mythical cure. It may be a video game trope, but it seems to be intentionally highlighted in Brothers that this isn’t normal.
The combination of interpretive character interaction, impressive music and gorgeous art design makes Brothers a beautiful title from far away, but pick beneath that surface and something quite average hides.
You'reasked you to get invested in the characters from the get go; you’re supposed to understand why the boys want to save their father so badly after their mother died. You’re also expected to see the reasons why Little Brother is afraid of swimming. While these points are obvious, it’s difficult to understand the motivations behind character decisions later in the game due to their poor development.
The game seems to create characters with motivations that are wholly unclear and confusing. For example, early on you’ll have your path blocked by a kid with a stick, that’s fine, just show him the map and explain where you’re going and why it’s important. Nope, he carries on blocking the way and shakes his head. He literally blocks the road just because he can, not because there’s any legitimate reason for him to. This isn’t just once, either, it’s at least three times this child impedes the pair.
Accepting that anyone would willingly block the way of a person who’s attempting to save their dying father’s life just for the laugh is hard enough, but Brothers pulls more of these downright confusing character decisions throughout the game, using the fact that they can’t explain them through dialogue as justification.
The level of interpretation available to you ends up being a detriment to the game. While it’s nice that you’re able to almost craft your own story from the lack of character/player interaction, you’re often left wondering why something’s happening. The kid with the stick is a perfect example, maybe he has some vendetta against the siblings, maybe he gets some strange sense of schadenfreude in stopping them from saving their father, maybe he’s just a bit of a knob. The important question is, “who knows why this is happening?” The amount this question pops up is irritatingly frequent.
Puzzles and platformingWhy the brothers care enough to save their father is another key example of this. You’re only shown the father with Big Brother once in a flashback and he never appears with Little Brother. The father has no development throughout the entire game, so how do we know the brothers are trying to save him out of love? What if he’s violently abusive and the brothers are motivated by fear? It’s a dramatic idea that probably isn’t true, but if the character was developed in any way at all that ‘probably’ wouldn’t have to be there. Again, you have to do something ‘just because’, you have to save their father just because he’s their father, not because they love him, not because they fear him, just because.
Puzzles and platforming are the ways you’ll be traversing the impressive world Starbreeze has created. There is a nice variation is puzzles for the most part, however, difficulty for them is constantly very low and they won’t ever come close to challenging you for too long. They are well implemented though, and despite a few instances where a scenario is repeated, the game adds twists to how they work to keep them fresh. They’d almost feel fulfilling, if not for their tediously low difficulty.
The platforming suffers from some poor animation quality but for the most part is acceptable. An interesting change is taken on it towards the end and it manages to stay somewhat entertaining throughout your playthrough. That said, platforming sections are much more repetitive than puzzle sections. Where platforming sees one large alteration towards the end, puzzles are constantly shifting and adapting to what you’ve already seen and experienced, making those portions the more fun of the two.
- Stunning level and world design
- Impressive soundtrack
- Variety of puzzles
- Terrible character development
- Poor PC port
- Heavily reliant on average platforming
- Leans towards melodrama at times
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons PC ReviewBrothers is a frustratingly executed game that could have been so much more. There are signs of promising brilliance throughout, but it’s dragged down by the game tripping up over itself. The hype train may well and truly be out of the station for this title, but there’s no denying that many of its passengers will be left feeling disappointed by the ‘”emotional rollercoaster” they’ve been promised and haven’t received.
This is a game worth a punt in a Steam sale if you already have a pad for your PC. If not, and you want to play this, wait until it’s cheap on console. You’ll get nothing more for your money on PC than you would on console, and without a controller you’ll just be throwing money away.
It may seem that Brothers has been lambasted throughout this, but the game isn’t incompetent. It suffers massively from the hype attached to it, but it is still a functioning, often gorgeous indie title. What it lacks in character development and some story hiccups, it makes up for in its art style. If you’re looking for three hours to spend on an impressive world design and its beautiful musical score, then don’t be put off.
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