It may not have received the amount of fanfare as past releases featured in Xbox Live‘s Summer of Arcade, but gamers can expect to hear more about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons in the coming weeks. Developed by Starbreeze Studios, the brainchild of Swedish film director Josef Fares puts players in control of pair of siblings on a quest to save their family (check out Game Rant’s Anthony Taormina and Andrew Dyce’s thoughts in the above gameplay video).
Without words, names, or overt exposition whatsoever, the developers have crafted yet another entry in the catalogue of video games that attempt to tell a story through interaction, letting drama and conflict make itself known through gameplay, not cinematic cut-scenes. The result is one of the most concise and well-executed adventure games we’ve played in some time, and simply one of the best downloadable title in recent years.
As the name implies, Brothers tells the tale of two siblings on a quest for a miraculous cure to save the life of their father, who has suddenly fallen ill. Since mimicking a real human relationship a challenge game developers still struggle with, some might see the decision to make as bold a claim as the name implies as a risky one. But in the end, the developers’ primary goal – to let players develop a genuine connection between the game’s two characters – is a complete success, achieved not through heavy-handed dialogue or prescribed cut-scenes, but genuinely enticing gameplay and an uncommon singularity of vision.
As is frequently becoming the case in downloadable titles, Brothers‘ gameplay is built on a ‘less is more’ set of mechanics; the player controls each brother with a single analog stick, and their only means of interacting with the environment is the use of their respective trigger – the exact interaction changing in each new context. While both brothers are capable of running, jumping, climbing and carrying objects, each is hindered by their size and strength in differing ways.
Dropped into a fantastic fairy tale world, the Brothers must make their way through various environmental puzzles, defeat strange enemies, and avoid detection as they traverse from one unique in-game region to the next. It’s a bit disingenuous to call Brothers a ‘puzzle game at its core, since Starbreeze has not designed an experience that satisfies through uncovering a solution, but in the execution of said solution.
Certain hurdles crop up along the way, but once players have learned the specific gameplay conceits, there is rarely a time when players will be stalled for more than a minute or two. Again, stumping a player is not the overall goal; but while the player may know how to get around the next corner, what awaits them is a constant surprise.
The less said about the game’s worlds and mechanics the better (to keep from spoiling the more inspired twist and turns), but suffice to say that they are as varied as they are well-constructed and genuinely original. It’s not hard to imagine each of the game’s ‘Acts’ as spawned from a single image or idea, but where the gameplay may be elegant in its simplicity, the environments have been spared no expense.
As a result, the casual pace of the game offers just enough time in each environment to leave players wanting more. Yet the player’s path through the world is so constricted, the developers give the clear impression that there is far more of the game’s many worlds than can be seen firsthand. It’s a risky proposition for adventure game enthusiasts, but the lack of any ‘invisible walls’ – or hiding them behind the least interesting parts of any environment – pays dividends.
Of course, it’s the story that will leave players speechless when the final curtain closes. For those who feel that requiring players to advance a narrative through their own actions can result in investment that simply watching a plot play out can never compare to, Brothers is a prime example. The fact is exemplified by the total lack of dialogue or exposition – the final moments of the game are only meaningful because the player has brought these siblings to them.
By keeping the story tight, the controls intuitive, the gameplay fresh and insipred, and the game worlds as dutifull-crafted as any in the triple-A space, Starbreeze has proven without a doubt that less is more. And by understanding that events can be small and prescribed, so long as the players experiencing them are emotionally invested, the studio has delivered one of our favorite downloadable titles in years.
Whether a fan of adventure games, small, story-focused titles or experiences that will forever be mentioned in the ‘games as art’ debate, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a must-play.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is available now for $14.99 through Xbox Live. It will be released on Steam for PC on August 28, and the PS3 through PSN on September 3, 2013 (Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version).
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.