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+
162 Comments
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Posted by mithical

Glad to see you finished the review Brad. It came out great.

Edited by OneFreeman

@pie said:

Bit late for this now isn't it?

Why?

Edited by OneFreeman

@cale said:

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.

Ahh the good old podcast.mp3.

Posted by Wuddel

@pacmanlh said:

Brad Shoemaker's 2013 Game of the Year.

Thats still dota 2 I guess.

Edited by shodan2020

Better late than never, I guess. Man, that Dota 2 is something, ain't it? :)

Edited by shonuff

Name 50 better games from this year.

Ok. I give it a shot.

1. Brothers

2. Brothers

ghhaahh

3. Brothers

OMG

4. Brothers

....

50. Brothers.

Damn!

Posted by Zaccheus

This game really turned from good to great in the last five minutes.

-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.

Perfectly said @brad

Posted by fox01313

Good review Brad, will have to give this one a try. Regardless of how I'll ultimately feel about the game, I wish that more studios looked at the larger games they did (like this one with the FPS disc/dvd sized games) and not only did a smaller XBLA/PSN sized games but also something completely different in style than what they usually do. Based off other studios that have done this in the past (Double Fine comes to mind) it seems like they evolve a bit more than other studios which put out mostly one style of great game but their games doesn't seem to improve much.

Posted by armaan8014

Just finished it... beautiful game.

Play it!

Posted by paulunga

I can think of about ten better games. Half of them for the 3DS, oddly enough. To be honest Brothers really didn't impress me all that much, it is a bit too simplistic for me in a way that doesn't work. Unlike something like Journey that was definitely a GOTY contender for me.

Posted by dreamtheateropeth

This game is not nearly as good as brad makes it out to be.

Posted by MrCHUP0N

How many is "many"? Would you say, perhaps, ten?

Posted by jakkblades

Great review. I'll definitely check it out.

Posted by Arath

Well done to Brad for finally getting this review out. Beautifully written and captures much of the sense of awe that I experienced when I played this game.

It truly is beautiful and one of the best games I have had the pleasure of experiencing this year. If you are looking for a fairy tale in the most classical sense of the word. This is it.

Posted by Zevvion

Wait, when did this happen? I completely missed this review. It wasn't featured on the home page was it?

Edited by hermes
@ninessc2 said:

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

Seriously now, I really have to try this game...

Edited by Davvyk

Is this on PC yet?

Edit: I have no idea why i just asked that. TO THE GOOGLE!!

Edited by Pilzi

There won't be 10 games better than Brothers this year!

Seriously, I'm glad you finished the review!

Posted by jarowdowsky

Picked this up on steam and really enjoyed it.

Love me some grim fairy tale and hero journeying and as Brad mentioned, the mixing of the theme and the mechanics comes together delightfully by the end. Not a pleasant delight but a delight none the less.

Posted by jarowdowsky

And just to add quickly, one thing I really loved about this game was the innovation. It reminds me of how often new board games will play with little mechanics to see what they can create whereas video games often seem more interested in narrative experiments.

There's absolutely a place for both as Brothers shows off with panache.

Posted by Redhotchilimist

@maped said:

I wholeheartedly agree with the review, but I guess Brothers can be a bit of a a hit and miss since it relies so much on your emotions being the defining part of the experience. I, for one, was a sobbing mess by the end of the game and even got goosebumps reading the review, even though it's been a week since I played the game. That's something a game (or a movie or a book) has never done to me before and for that it deserves all the praise it's getting.

However, looking at it objectively I can see that without the emotional payoff it can end up being a pretty empty experience; at worst you're just left with some gimmicky gameplay, simple puzzles and a few nice vistas. But then again it's fifteen bucks and three hours and could very well be an experience that stays with you for a long time so there's really no reason not to try it yourself.

Agree with this. It didn't give me any emotions the way it hit you and Brad. So while I never felt bored while playing it, Brothers is definitely not GOTY for me. Like the way the games move really quickly between locations that aren't all that connected to one another, for him that gave it a dreamlike quality, for me it kept my interest beacause of the change in mechanics and scenery but kept me from having enough time to care about the plights of any locals. Stuff just sort of happens.
Still, I agree. Anyone who's interested from hearing Brad's review should pick it up. It's cheap, it's something I haven't played before, it's actual gameplay in a game about emotions, it's never boring and it looks very pretty. Even if you get nothing from it emotionally, it's a good Sunday morning.

Posted by koolaid39

I love Brad's written reviews. Great read for a great game.

Posted by machinerebel

I disagree with this therefore you are wrong!!!

(game looks cool, thanks for the review, Brad)

Posted by Ltwood12

Thanks so much for writing this Brad! Always love to read your reviews. I downloaded this the day it came to PSN. This rainy weekend sounds like a perfect time to go through it.

Posted by alwaysbebombing

Wow Brad, you really have a way with words.

Edited by GiantLizardKing

I'm a couple of hours in and so far I'm finding the game to be very repetitive and lacking enough challenge to keep me interested. The mechanic of having two characters each controlled separately by the two thumb sticks is pretty brilliant in concept, but due to the lack of interesting things to do with said characters, was reduced to little more than a gimmick for me. The game just doesn't feel very meaty.

The game leans heavily on it's art style and charm which ,while I appreciate, can only get a game so far.

Posted by MrPeter

Hi, I dont post that offen, but i have to.....

Brothers is a ...game... im not saying good or bad BUT

Like Books, movies....(The mist), or other games - I hate stories, and media with bad endings, its not even a spoiler, they made a bad ending...just to provoke - not because the story demanded it....

Brothers, worst game of the year...

Only movie, i even seen with a bad ending, that was good, and still is, is the original bodysnathers ....

Edited by StriderNo9

Brad, I've heard you talk about this game on podcasts and now seeing this review, I'm convinced I'm going to play Brothers. Not sure if I should wait until I finish GTA (which could be never since I have a short attention span) or if I should play this when I want a break from it. But I'm going to play this game for sure now.

Posted by abacus

Really surprised how great this was.

I loved how the tone shifted so dramatically after the 1st act. You knew shit was getting real when you came upon hanged kids dangling from trees. Shit.

Posted by Zevvion

Brad, I've heard you talk about this game on podcasts and now seeing this review, I'm convinced I'm going to play Brothers. Not sure if I should wait until I finish GTA (which could be never since I have a short attention span) or if I should play this when I want a break from it. But I'm going to play this game for sure now.

If you're the kind of player that will not continue to play if you've been away from a game for more than a few days, then just power through GTA. It's worth seeing the story through, it's really good.

Posted by Antihippy

I always find it funny how pissy people get about what people include in their personal top ten.

Posted by Brendan

The byline made me embarrassingly shout a single "HA" in the office today. So fuck you, Brad.

Posted by Bholla71085

Good review, glad you got around to it. Going to have to give this a go when I'm done with GTA V and The Last of Us. Thanks Brad!

Edited by Tonetta777

Not to be totally abrasive here but what exactly are you paid for if it takes you several months to slap together a few paragraph review for a supposedly 5 star quality game?

Edited by walterbennet

I bought this on Brad's nearly paints-staining endorsement and was rather underwhelmed after finishing it a few nights ago. I was grabbed from the get-go with that great cinematic, but to me that was the most the game ever really made me swoon. It was smartly designed in spots, though puzzles were a little TOO simple. Overall it felt like a hollow, half-baked experience with a few high points and nothing substantial in between. Reflecting on it days later, it just didn't emotionally resonate with me at all. Maybe I'm dead inside..?

Edited by Dan_CiTi

TWO BROTHERS

Posted by zigx

@walterbennet: I'm inclined to agree with you to a degree. I finished the game and somehow didn't feel like it resonated emotionally with me. The last act just fell a little short for me. Not sure what else it says about me that I did really enjoy Gone Home.

Edited by AssInAss

Thanks for the review, Brad Shoemaker!

It'll be hard for me to order my favourite games of this year:

  • Papers, Please
  • Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
  • Gunpoint
  • Kentucky Route Zero
  • Proteus
  • Zeno Clash 2
  • State of Decay
  • The Swapper
  • Depression Quest

....still need to play Gone Home and finish Rogue Legacy and Metro Last Light, in my backlog.

Edited by RazeEverything

Alright fine! Bought. This year it really feels like i'm constantly looking for the next game to strike an emotional cord.

Posted by Jimbo

I'll wait for the sequel.

Posted by fisk0
Posted by gbrading

Wow, Brad actually got around to writing it. :P

Posted by cthomer5000

I can't even tell if the byline comments are irony at this point.

Guys, this is the byline:

by Brad Shoemaker on September 19, 2013

Posted by Jiddra

@starvinggamer: Funny, I was kind of the other way around :)

Found myself very moved by Brothers and after people talking so much about Gone Home i finally got it and found it to be a "Clever game and cute story ,but a bit dated topic".

Don´t know if that is beacuse of my upbringing and not being from the US, but Gone Home didn't pull so hard on the strings in me and it actually felt very much like a topic of the 90´s.

We have come so far, even since I dealt with finding myself and coming out in early 2000. I couldn´t shake the feeling of being able to date it and compare to modern time, while Brothers story could be set in any time and place.

But then again, I write this as an gay man in a "gayliberal" country (sweden) and a brother. Gone home is about High School love, something I might be a bit too cynical about now grown up :) Brothers is about a strong relationship between family, and as a older brother that just punched me in the gut at the end of the game. Started to think about myself and my brother, my nephews and how they would grow up as brothers etc etc.

These two games are strong storys, what we bring to them makes them just even stronger. They are both high on my list, brothers is just a bit higher.

Posted by golddeathmonkey

But will there be 10 better games than it this year?

Posted by bluefish

@whatisdelicious: I've yet to play it too but I have learned that demo's are rarely representative of great games. I was bored during the Mass Effect 2 and Bayonetta demo both of which are some of my favorite games. In fact, I've been impressed by only one demo in this generation: Crackdown.

Simply, I put no stock in demo's are rarely even play them anymore unless it's to get a sense of how a game feels. I trust reviews and fan response to see whether the experience in general is worthwhile.

Edited by P_Pigly_Hogswine

It's an amazing game. Not a dry eye in the living room when we played it.

We think of these sorts of games as interactive movies of sorts. Not in a Heavy Rain QTE way, but in a single-sitting, it's more about the story kinda way. Packs a punch.

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