Play Brothers, A Gut-Wrenching Game Where You Control Two Characters Trying to Save Their Dying Father
Starbreeze Studios' Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons turned plenty of heads when it debuted on the Xbox 360 back in August, and its recent release on Steam means it will likely keep turning them for a while. The past year has been quite good for story-heavy games that pluck at the player's heartstrings, but even among those titles Brothers manages to stand out thanks to an exceptionally beautiful world, and the unique way you're required to navigate it.
But even though this game does so much right, it still makes some serious missteps.
You control the titular brothers, who are on a quest to find a cure for their father's mysterious illness. If you're playing on an Xbox, PS3, or PC using a controller, the game has you moving and interacting as the older brother using the left joystick and trigger, while the younger brother is controlled simultaneously using the right joystick and trigger.
This is a story about working together, and as such there are many things that one brother is unable to accomplish without the other. Big brother is the only one who can operate heavy levers for example, while younger brother is the only one able to slip into tight spaces, and both need to work together to push heavy gates and obstacles out of the way. The way you use these controls fits in tightly with the story and the relationship between the brothers, and it's used very effectively at key moments that... Well, I can't really elucidate on it any further without spoiling some of the most meaningful segments. You'll just have to take my word on this one. I will say that since I use a third-party controller (which is slightly more resistive than a first party 360 controller) I found some of the more intricate manoeuvres a bit uncomfortable. Even in calmer moments, controlling the pair can be like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. Though that was certainly frustrating, I didn't find the game any less enjoyable for it.
Each brother will also interact differently with certain objects and people around them, and its these incidental interactions that unlock the game's achievements. There are no progress-related achievements, nothing for killing X number of goblins or finding the +500 sword of light. Every achievement is rooted in interactions that have less to do with epic quests and bravery and more to do with two brothers out on their own. These little interactions and seemingly trivial events help to characterize them and give you a much better sense of who they are as people, and who they were before you arrived in their lives.
The world of Brothers is also utterly gorgeous, and running through it is a delight. I'm not sure how many other games manage to make even their rocks and boulders look like art, but that has to be a rather short list. Everything in Brothers is soft and painted and just... a fucking marvellous environment to find yourself in, and even when the world itself is at it's darkest (and it does get very, very dark) it manages to be breathtaking. It just never lets up. Every corner you turn leads you to a new set piece, a new moment that makes you stop in your tracks to soak it in. Conveniently enough, the scenery is peppered with benches that offer the brothers (and the player) a chance to just sit and take in the view; some of these benches even trigger special perspectives and events that make the world that much more striking.
I loved this game, and I loved its cruel, bloody, and beautiful world.
If you're already sold on Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, please stop here to avoid spoiling yourself on the story too much. Go, play, enjoy. It's a phenomenal game, but unfortunately some of the characters just aren't.
There are 3 notable female characters, and they are all unsurprising and unoriginal as hell. Woman in a refrigerator: Check. The brothers' mother is dead, and her death is a significant motivational factor for the youngest brother. Damsels in distress: Double check. The two other significant women in the story, a female troll and a human girl, are both rescued by the brothers, even though the girl seems suspiciously capable. But that brings us to the third trope, the black widow. Literally. She's a spider-woman. Her dress is even black and red. There are some visually interesting moments as the former damsel slowly divides the pair, but the ultimate pay-off for all of that is just disappointing. Incredibly disappointing.
This game never tells its story using an explicit language. Everything is demonstrated or telegraphed in a fairly straightforward way through actions and images that make the game easy to follow without any subtitles or narration. I suspect this is part of what made those tropes so tempting to the game's developers, because they're very easy to convey. We all recognize those story beats, so they're quick and effective and don't need to be spelled out. Yet the developers manage to walk us through so many complicated situations that I'm confident they could have had more complex and challenging women in the game without the story or the flow of the game suffering for it.
I had high expectations, and even though I still enjoyed the game it was disappointing to see it use some of the oldest and laziest tropes in the book as crutches when they likely would have done just fine without them. I still highly recommend Brothers, but I don't think I'll ever be able to shake that feeling that it fumbled its chance to be something really special.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.