Giant Bomb Review

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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Review

5
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Starbreeze's fairytale adventure is so finely crafted, you'd be hard pressed to find many better games this year.

Large stretches of the brothers' journey are less than friendly.

The airy, heartfelt Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons isn't the sort of game you'd expect from Starbreeze, the purveyors of grit and grime that previously brought you sordid fare like Syndicate and The Darkness. Unlike those grimly onerous games, Brothers operates with a beautifully spare efficiency in every aspect of its narrative and design, propelling you through a striking storybook landscape in which gameplay mechanics and thematic storytelling thread together more tightly than most games can manage. The resulting journey is so singularly devoted to creating a specific tone and atmosphere that you won't likely be able to stop thinking about it until long after you've seen it through to the end.

The simple premise has two brothers traipsing across a brilliant fantasy world seeking a mystical cure for their ailing father. The characters speak in a made-up language, allowing the game to paint its emotional hues with a broad brush. That makes it easy to get caught up in the nuances of the individual personalities; the younger brother was present for the drowning of his mother, for instance, so naturally he's afraid of swimming himself and relies on his older brother for help. But his size comes in handy in places only he is small enough to fit. The moment-to-moment journey revolves around the ways these two use their relative strengths to support the other through each of the obstacles their quest subjects them to.

It's the game's uniquely simple control scheme that makes you fully appreciate how much the two characters rely on each other while navigating the harsh landscape in front of them. You move each brother with one of the analog sticks, and perform a single context-sensitive action with the respective trigger. Brothers is a puzzle-driven adventure game, if you want to pigeonhole it, but this isn't a game about brainteasers. The solutions to any given scenario are usually pretty obvious; the challenge comes in managing two distinct characters at the same time. You might find your hands refusing to obey your brain on occasion, but even then, this isn't a difficult game to make your way through. Rather than challenge your manual dexterity or puzzle-solving abilities, it's a game that asks you to focus on the emotional context of the actions you're performing, and you won't be able to play for long without doing exactly that.

Though the core of Brothers is its character-driven story, the game would have lingered in my mind for no other reason than the incredible design of its world. You start your journey in a sleepy seaside village, but before you end your quest you'll have encountered numerous, fantastically imagined landscapes and characters plucked from all sorts of classic mythology. And you never linger in one place too long; the game moves you so expeditiously from one location to the next, showing you so many marvelous sights, that it assumes a dreamy, fairytale quality. There's an incredible mastery of distance, scale, and perspective in the way the environments are built and framed; though it naturally looks better on a PC, it's also one of the best-looking games I can remember on consoles as well and performs perfectly fine on those machines too. For a "small" downloadable game, it's stunningly impressive.

(It's tempting to rattle off a dozen specific examples of memorable moments in this game, but this feels like one of those rare games where the less you know about it, the better a time you'll have. Discovering each new environment, and all the imagination and detail contained within, is one of chief joys of playing it.)

The world is so rich, it's tempting to sit down and just gaze at it from time to time.

Given the economy of its pacing and storytelling, Brothers is another of what I've come to think of as single-sitting games. Similar to short, emotionally charged experiences like Journey and Gone Home, Brothers isn't especially long but packs such meaning and quality into each scene that it never feels like it's wasting or padding out a single minute. Like those other games, it's designed to follow a specific narrative trajectory, and build up a certain emotional pitch, such that you'd get the most out of it by absorbing it holistically from start to finish. And this is coming from someone who never, ever marathons their way through video games.

Brothers isn't necessarily an uplifting game; to compare it to a fairytale is to evoke the original meaning of that term, the one designed to scare small children. Some grim things occur in the course of the brothers' quest. But the brothers' commitment to their goal and to each other is so strong, the various parts of this game so superbly crafted and woven together, that it's hard not to feel deeply touched when you finally reach the end of the road and see how deftly this game marries its gameplay to its themes in a way few have before. If you're the sort of person who thinks video games are capable of not just entertaining us but also making us think and feel, you owe it to yourself to play Brothers.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
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Edited by CitizenCoffeeCake

One of the best this year you say?

Posted by Pacmanlh

Brad Shoemaker's 2013 Game of the Year.

Posted by Kaiserreich

Name 50 better games from this year.

Posted by Pie

Bit late for this now isn't it?

Online
Posted by Wicked_Wumpus

Brad's 11th favorite game this year.

Edited by ILikePopCans

Hey guys, I heard this is one of the top 10 games this year.

Also pigeonhole

Also also, this was a great review. Thanks Brad.

pigeonhole

Online
Posted by Jayzilla

Everything I keep hearing about this game sounds so great. This may be one of those games at the end of a generation that people cite for years to come as an inspiration and what not. Solid review Brad. Thanks!

Posted by ToTheNines

"You'd be hard pressed to find 10 games better this year"

Posted by MeAuntieNora

This game was fantastic!

The balance between whimsy and grimness is handled expertly.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

NAME 10 GAMES THAT ARE BETTER IN THE HISTORY OF GAMES.

Posted by CaLe

I already bought it after you praised it on the weekly audio podcast.mp3. I finished it in one sitting and enjoyed it very much, though I did not feel emotionally invested in the characters I was still able to appreciate what it was attempting.

Posted by reelife

"Hoooaa"

Posted by DawnShinto

Whoa you actually did the review lol

Posted by jimmyfenix

This is on my buy list after i am done with GTA.

Posted by Winternet

I love that the "top 10 games of 2013" bit from the bombcast perpetuated to the review.

Posted by Sunjammer

Bought it on Steam a couple days ago. Can NOT get it to recognize my wired 360 controller :( so bummed out.

Posted by Fat_Tomato

I'm glad Brad embraced the joke in the byline

Posted by Kersplackle

I can't imagine of ten better games to come out this year.

Posted by jiggajoe14

Hey guys I heard this was a pretty good game.

Posted by Fuwano

Definitely one of the top ten reviews of this year.

Posted by Abendlaender

This game is fantastic and I'm glad Brad wrote a review cause I really enjoy reading his reviews :D
I know it's a joke at the moment, but I also can't think of 10 better games than Brothers this year, and seeing how I'm only really interested in Watch_Dogs I don't expect this to change. Also yeah: This game looks amazing. Honestly, it might be one of the most beautiful games this year. To bad they showed the absolute least interesting part during the QL.

Posted by MasterRain

Well played in the byline Brad, well played. Maybe one of the best 10 bylines this year.

Posted by Veovisjohn

The ribbing of Brad on the podcast was funny, but once I finally played the game I was surprised to find Brad was 100% correct. Brothers is easily one of the best games of the year. @brad, my apologies! I'll never doubt you again!

Posted by chilibean_3

Well played in the byline Brad, well played. Maybe one of the best 10 bylines this year.

I don't know. I have faith in the Giant Bomb crew to come up with 10 really good bylines between now and the end of the year.

Edited by StarvingGamer

After all the hype I found this game to be a lot of clever ideas delivered with zero impact. I'd blame my cold dark heart, but I found Gone Home to be incredibly moving. I wonder where the disconnect is, since everyone else seems to be gushing about this game.

Edited by Zornack

One of the top ten reviews of the year.

Edit: I prefer the Mass Effect 3 review, though.

Posted by Stimpack

Best game of the year, and I still haven't played it. =/

Posted by Counterclockwork87

@masterrain said:

Well played in the byline Brad, well played. Maybe one of the best 10 bylines this year.

I don't know. I have faith in the Giant Bomb crew to come up with 10 really good bylines between now and the end of the year.

Yeah, MasterRain, what are you talking about? You're telling me the ENTIRE YEAR there won't be 10 bylines as good? We have 3 more months, new consoles and holidays...all ripe for the picking for great bylines.

Posted by bunnymud

I played about an hour of it and it seemed O.K.

Not my kinda game.

Posted by Firecreed17

This is one of the best games I have played this year, I just want to wonder around that world.

Edited by Sweetz

I saw what happens at the end coming from like 10 miles away, so it's emotional impact was a bit lessened for me (Penny Arcade's Last Guardian comic is apt). However, it's a damn fine game anyway.

The amount of characterization they accomplish in the opening 10 minutes of the game though simple interactions without any dialog is great. For example, you come upon a flower and if you interact with it, the other brother smells it, the younger brother smashes it. Lots of little stuff like that which ends up defining the personality of the brothers more than I expected. By the way, that particular interaction with the flower has a poignant callback at the end of the game, where if you interact with the flower outside his house, the younger brother now smells it.

Edited by LarryDavis

If you could unlock The Darkness and Riddick in this game it would easily be top ten of 2013 material. Without that, I dunno, man.

Edited by whatisdelicious

Everybody says that the game is so incredible and moving and has such an awesome ending. I really liked the concept, and I was really pumped to play it. Then I played the demo.

It was so unbelievably boring. The "interactions" that everybody talks about are seriously just embarrassing: "Watch the big brother sweep a broom responsibly and then watch the little brother balance it on his hand jovially!" It reminded me of Fable or something. I'm all for the idea that "video games are capable of not just entertaining us but also making us think and feel," but all those interactions in the demo seemed seemed like a huge step backward to me. They don't feel organic or natural at all, just big, exaggerated animations designed to reinforce over and over that the older brother is mature and the younger brother is not.

The puzzles are awful and rudimentary and half the challenge of the game seems to come from "try not to let one brother continuously run into a wall because you were focusing on the other one for a second."

So what I want to know is this: Is this game really that good, or does it just have a neat concept and an emotional ending? I've gambled on artsy games before and I'm usually all for them, but $15 is maybe asking a little too much given what I played of the demo.

Online
Posted by RedTentacle

Glad to finally see Brad review this for how much implied he would.

Posted by Duxa

10 games that are better from this year in no particular order:

- GTA 5

- Last of Us

- Bioshock Infinite

- Fire Emblem: Awakening

- Luigi's Mansion

- Tomb Raider

- SC2: Heart of the Swarm

- Saints Row 4

- Ni No Kuni

- Rogue Legacy

Thats 10...

Other contenders:

- DOTA 2

- FC3: Blood Dragon

- M&L - Dream Team

- Metro: Last Light

- COH 2

- Splinter Cell : Blacklist

- State of Decay

- Dead Space 3

- Shin Megami Tensei 4

- AC: New Leaf

- COD (likely to be better).

- AC: Black Flag (likely to be better).

Thats another 12... I am sure I missed some.

Posted by whatisdelicious

@duxa said:

10 games that are better from this year in no particular order:

- Dead Space 3

- COD (likely to be better).

- AC: Black Flag (likely to be better).

Thats another 12... I am sure I missed some.

a) I love, love, loved the first two, but Dead Space 3 was a hugely disappointing game in a lot of ways.

b) You can't be serious about counting games that aren't out yet. I'm going to pretend you were joking.

Just to be clear, I'm not a mega-fan of Brothers or something. Check my post below; I've only played the demo and I didn't really like it. But a lot of the entries on your list still stand out as insane.

Online
Posted by csl316

Cool, now it's officially approved by Giant Bomb.

Posted by tommyk9

I played it, but come on - top ten of all time? I don't think so.

Posted by cooljammer00

That byline...He's trying to change the parameters of the bet!

Posted by McLargepants

I respect the score, and that's cool that Brad and so many others were really into it, but damn I did not enjoy this game. The story was boring and predictable, the visual design (which was praised) didn't seem that unique or interesting. The puzzles/gameplay never became remotely challenging (the ones that did take a few seconds to solve, you just had to solve by pressing A around everything until it worked) or went anywhere and overall the game was just boring.

Posted by Flavbot

@tommyk9: He said top 10 of the year, not all time.

Posted by Sweetz

Everybody says that the game is so incredible and moving and has such an awesome ending. I really liked the concept, and I was really pumped to play it. Then I played the demo.

It was so unbelievably boring. The "interactions" that everybody talks about are seriously just embarrassing: "Watch the big brother sweep a broom responsibly and then watch the little brother balance it on his hand jovially!" It reminded me of Fable or something. The puzzles are awful and rudimentary and half the challenge of the game seems to come from "try not to let one brother continuously run into a wall because you were focusing on the other one for a second."

So what I want to know is this: Is this game really that good, or does it just have a neat concept and an emotional ending? I've gambled on artsy games before and I'm usually all for them, but $15 is maybe asking a little too much given what I played of the demo.

It's great, but you would not like it based on your opinion of the demo. I'm not sure what you mean by the interactions being "embarrassing" though, perhaps there was another term you were searching for? I mean, what are you expecting exactly? Press left trigger to have older brother write a treatise on socio-economic struggles of the medieval fantasy villager, press right trigger to have younger brother rack up an irresponsible amount of gambling debt? The interactions are simplistic, but so are most fairy tales. The game never sets out to be War and Peace; I think it brilliantly accomplishes the tone that it's going for - whether or not you like it probably depends on how much life your inner child has left in him :)

Posted by Haruko

I'm predicting a Limbo situation in the GOTY Podcasts this year because of this game.

Posted by OneKillWonder_

They said it couldn't be done, but lo and behold....the Brothers review.

Edited by Korwin

Some grim things occur in the course of the brothers' quest.

Grim Brothers...

heh.

Posted by steveurkel

One of the things I look forward to the most at the end of the year is the Giant Bomb game of the year awards. They should just give brad a category called "Top 10 games that are my game of the year since I can never decide what my favorite game is since they are all my favorite".

This looks kinda, y'know not fun...

Edited by raiku2012

It's never too late for a good review. I was on the fence before but I've fallen off that fence and into this game.

Posted by Master_Funk

Brothers was great, but I know of 2 games that are better (The Last of Us and GTAV).

Edited by Marokai

I've always gotten a kick out of Brad being the one poo-pooing console war bickering, when he's always the one, more than anyone else, to stubbornly pick fights over what game is better than what other game.

I will give this game a deeper look, regardless.

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