Brothers: A Tale of Two sons – review

  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PS3, 360, PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: 505 Games
  • Developer: Starbreeze Studios
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://www.brothersthegame.com/
  • Game code provided by the publisher

Brothers originally launched back in 2013, and you can read our original review here. Now, it’s been released again in extra-shiny flavour for PS4 and Xbone. In terms of emotional intelligence, is it Band of Brothers or Bros?

We would ask ‘has it stood the test of time’, but two years isn’t much of a test. More of a brief questionnaire. The game itself remains exactly the same, a bittersweet fact that we’ll elaborate on shortly. The gameplay has a foundation of beautiful simplicity, offering controls that are understood in seconds but still not truly mastered after hours. You take control of both eponymous brothers simultaneously. The older brother is moved with the left stick, and uses the left trigger for interactions; the younger brother is moved with the right stick, and uses the right trigger for interactions. That’s it (save for the two tab buttons for optional camera control). It must have been a nightmare designing a game where the player controls two characters simultaneously yet doesn’t spend most of it in utter frustration, but they pulled it off; just about. There are a few sequences where the demands placed on your left-right co-ordination are higher than usual – especially if you happen to have the two brothers on the ‘wrong’ sides of the screen – but generally speaking, you’ll breeze through the game.

Indeed, there’s no option to increase or decrease the difficulty, and it’s rare to find a section where you’ll die more than once; or, to be honest, at all. That’s not a problem though, and actually works to the game’s benefit. All dialogue is in a fictional language derived from Arabic, and not much even of that. The story is shown to the player and, in a few extremely memorable parts, is given a significant emotional boost through actions the player is required to take. The most wonderful examples of this are at the end of the game, which only the heartless would spoil for you.

The overarching plot is fag packet basic; mother already dead, father so sick he even has a cough, father’s sons go on a quest to fetch the magical cure. It’s all about the journey there and back though, and an army of instances where the player is taught that the brothers are very different, but each essential to the other. In gameplay terms, this means that the younger brother can fit through small gaps but only the older brother can pull heavy levers; and some paths and tasks are impossible unless they both work alongside one another. Their personalities come through very well without words too. The older brother will generally stay on-task and take things seriously and is instantly protective of his sibling where necessary; the younger brother tends to take every opportunity he can to be playful – or mischievous. For the full effect, you need to engage in optional interactions at every opportunity, which you’ll soon find yourself doing without overt provocation by thinking “I wonder if I can…”.

There’s no shortage of fantasy worlds in the videogame industry, and most of them – let’s admit it – are a bit crap. Not so here. The atmospheric lands of Brothers are rich and deep, and we ache to explore more than what is on offer. The wonderful art design is given another little boost with the graphical polish this version has received, and the mostly understated soundtrack works together with the very well-designed camera work to suck you in with little hope of escape. Drop in many instances of extremely clever uses of the two-character mechanic, and you have a quest well worth going on.

You’ll have a WHALE of a time playing this! Ahahahaha!! *fetches coat*

But.

In a way, this re-release seems like a missed opportunity. For one thing, as superbly constructed as the whole thing is, it only lasts for 3-4 hours; meaning most people will likely play all the way through in just one or two play sessions. There is no extra content to the main package at all to encourage those who already played to revisit, not even a single brief sequence within a chapter. It’s unlikely most people will feel the need to play through a second time at all. It’s an intelligent journey, an emotional journey, a wonderfully well designed journey; but also an almost completely linear one, with little scope for a different experience the second time around.

It’s not even true, unfortunately, that the game is now entirely bug free. It only took us a few hours to play this in its entirety (two years after the first time); but that proved long enough to encounter several frame rate blips, one crash before we even reached the title screen (and that after installing the patch), and an odd NPC model duplication glitch. Far from game breaking, but unwelcome stains on the experience.

Ask your dad.

The new version gets a few extras; an art gallery, the soundtrack, and director’s commentary. The soundtrack can only be accessed in-game – no mp3s for you! Even the commentary is separate from the game, in the guise of an in-game video of the game (abridged) narrated by Josef Fares. It’s probably the best commentary we’ve ever heard, but how many people are going to put on a game and then sit watching a non-interactive video in it for ages? You can’t even (so far as we can tell) pause, bookmark, rewind, or fast forward it.

So: Brothers remains a beautifully crafted experience, albeit one that feels somehow incomplete. If you’ve yet to play it, then this is certainly the version to go for; just be sure to make sure the play time floats comfortably on your cash flow.

critical score 7

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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