Starbreeze Studio’s, the development team behind Payday and the upcoming Payday 2 has created something a whole world away from any first person shooter with a magical enchanting adventure on the Xbox LIVE Arcade today – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The game kicks off the 2013 Summer of Arcade promotion and delivers a high quality adventure that follows in the footsteps of Braid and LIMBO with a sense of mystery and adventure in its settings across dark fairy tale landscapes. Having been impressed by the E3 2013 trailer in June I was more than happy to accept a review from the publisher 505Games.
Only once a year do we get to receive such masterpieces on the Xbox LIVE Arcade that make you feel all warm inside as you ponder down a path that tries to take hold of your senses and emotions, where something so bright and fuzzy could be dangerous and deceptive all at the same time. As cute and magical as the world within Brothers’ appears, not everything is quite as it seems and the journey that lies ahead is an art form of the trust between two siblings on the same path. The dark miserable undertone of death is present just about everywhere as the journey begins showing you the drowning of your mother, then the immediate sudden illness of your father who can only be saved with the Water of Life which then becomes the heart and soul of your determined journey. It is presented as an artistic story driven platformer over nine playable chapters. It is a short game but you will appreciate everything it throws at you with some scenes mesmerising and hypnotic to view.
As the main objective of your adventure is to collect the Water of Life from a magical tree far out in the mythical landscape ahead, your adventure filled experience requires you to control both brothers at the same time. This is not a co-operative game that can allow another player to control one brother whilst you control the other, but you must action and interact with both brothers together at almost all times. This includes making them both walk, jump, swing, hold on to ledges, climb and everything else you can imagine from videogame character control. As difficult as it may sound from my impression, and it will definitely first appear awkward in the opening prologue of the game because I felt my brain could only concentrate on controlling one character. However, thanks to the simplistic control scheme where you only use the Analogue sticks and Triggers, it was very easy to get used to and fast became responsive.
Each of the brothers has their own quirky unique ways too despite very little narrative, they do tend to call out to each other and portray a sense of closeness. The older brother is the stronger and braver of the two who you will use to pull levers and manoeuvre heavy objects. He can be controlled with the left stick on the controller whereas the younger brother who is more fearful, shorter and weaker can be controlled with the right stick on your controller. To get an idea of each brother’s personality and traits you can interact with nearby objects that do not form part of the completion process, or just random people that you see standing around in villages by interacting with them; each brother will perform separate actions that will allow you to see how the older brother is less mischievous than his younger sibling. So you might now get the gist with the controls that to walk forward and to progress you must therefore move both the left and the right stick forward at the same time otherwise one brother will not go very far without the other! Interaction and environmental objects to play with or control are managed through the Trigger buttons, where the left Trigger will perform the interaction for the older brother and the right Trigger will manage the younger brother. Throughout the whole game your experience is about moving forward and interacting in the correct manner, it’s as if you have to communicate with the two brothers through your own control pad by mirroring their required action sequences in game.
I often believe that a great game can also be judged by how it makes you feel when you are playing it, how you are hooked into the story, immersed, or simply astounding by visual beauty of the world created by the development team. Brother’s for its artistic scenery and settings will amaze you as one of my very thoughts was that it felt as if PlayDead Studio’s 2010 XBLA Hit LIMBO had been brought to life in colour and 3D. It’s not as if Brother’s resembles the same experience all that much but controlling a child (or children in this case) through a dark world with dangerous obstacles and deathly consequences is a centrepiece of both – and also defeating giant Spiders! Where LIMBO was more challenging by learning the experience through your own death count, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has the better adventure through the genius of controlling two characters as well as an overall memorable journey experience; and additionally in my opinion it has knocked LIMBO off its perch as the most outstanding start to a Summer of Arcade line-up.
As you wonder innocently through the chapters, the overhead 3d perspective views will take you to small villages, underground levels laden with traps and the homeland of Giants, magical owls to free and fly with in the skies, head out on icy rivers with whales and a constant stream of near death experiences as you run, jump, escape, save, salvage, row a boat and become just glued to every in-game moment of the adventure. Backdrops and all the other people within them are flowing naturally as if it’s a living breathing natural world. The art form of the forests and mountains are of an outstanding impression to make the game feel every bit as a magical experience as it is. One of the main highlights was during one chapter where both brothers tied a rope to each other and through interaction and carefully timed movements flees a giant castle and persevere through the destructing environment together where you have to sharply think about controlling both players’ actions. Both brothers’ support each other in different ways, the younger brother can use the length of the rope to swing to another location whilst the older brother is supporting. The younger brother can also slip through bars to unlock and open gates to allow the older brother to distract or pull heavy leavers. The developers have completely made it a game of teamwork and it feels as though two different sides of your brain are trying to work out how to fluidly control the two of them at the same time.
The gameplay experience is definitely enhanced by the requirement of a single player controlling both characters at the same time, by thinking how one brother needs to help the other and work as a team. It also slows down the pace by ensuring you do not rush through the game, even though this weird kind of fantasy fairytale can be completed in around 5 hours. With no multiplayer or co-operative modes, Brother’s only form of replay ability is to revisit the chapters and find your missing Achievements to unlock. All Achievements are unlocked by interacting with objects and environmental set pieces that may or may not seem obvious at first glance. Some will unlock naturally with progression, but others you will need to seek and find if you haven’t managed to interact and play with absolutely everything that is “unique” within a chapter.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an exceptional game that is artistically beautiful and enchanting to play. The adventure takes the player on a journey that will tug at your heart strings in a game that is original and a true experience that will keep you glued to your screens. A game that reiterates quality over quantity could not be a truer word spoken.
One of the best Xbox LIVE Arcade games to date for 2013 and a strong start for the Summer of Arcade this year!