Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons gets a re-release on the PS4 and Xbox One with a slightly shinier coat of paint but ultimately is the same experience again. Even if you’ve not played it before, is now the right time to dive in?
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons proved to be a critical smash when it launched in 2013, with the unspoken story of brotherly bonds proving to be an emotional focal point amongst most critics and gamers. With nary a word of English spoken throughout, many commented on how Brothers managed to squeeze out more emotion from them than the entirety of 2013’s “guns ‘n’ ‘splosions” lineup combined. I must admit that it was a game I’d picked up on PS+ when it was out, but after hearing all of the hype I felt a bit let down by the control scheme initially, and put it on the back burner, never to return to it until now. Boy, am I glad I did.
Brothers centres around, well, two brothers, both who remain unnamed throughout the game. There is speculation that they are both named due to the noises that they make to attract attention to one another, but it’s never actually confirmed, and the game refers to them as “bigger brother” and “little brother”. The game opens with the little brother mourning the loss of his mother, and reminiscing about times past. Memories haunt him of his mother’s death by drowning, and this plays into elements later on in the game. The bigger brother rushes over to him and you very quickly realise that the pair’s father has fallen ill, with the only cure being an elixir that is found atop an enormous tree.
At this point, the brothers’ journey begins, with a control scheme that starts off infuriating, but grows to become intrinsically linked with the emotional resonance that A Tale of Two Sons puts out. Each analogue stick controls one of the boys individually. The right stick controls the little brother, the left the bigger brother. It takes some getting used to, and there will be many a point where there’s a massive disconnect between your brain and the positioning of characters on screen. There are puzzle based moments in the gameplay that will initially challenge, but after a few seconds of logical thinking or basic hunting, a solution will appear blindingly obvious. For the most part, Brothers is a straightforward gameplay experience with not much to write home about other than the aforementioned dual stick controls. However, it’s the emotional connection that’s made through the tale that leaves the lasting impression.
It is set in a world of fantasy, with the duo encountering trolls, huge sea creatures, giants and more, with an art style that wouldn’t look too amiss from a Pixar creation. Whilst its whimsical appearance remains throughout, however, Brothers takes some unnerving twists down some really dark paths, at one point invoking some of the darkest and most talked about moments of one particular AAA franchise set piece located in an underground cave. It’s a twist that really pushed me to keep going, and a welcome departure from games that try to play to their aesthetic too much. Sure, it may be uncomfortable, but that’s to Starbreeze’s credit. Some of the mechanics that are relatively straightforward in the majority of the game suddenly become the most macabre of actions when put into a new context, and it really hammers home the gravity of the situation the two boys are in.
It’s not until the game’s final third that the emotional gravity really starts to hit home, and when it starts to creep up on you, it’s a truly breathtaking moment. You begin to suspect that things are coming from a mile or more away, and one key moment in particular isn’t necessarily treated with the respect it would deserve in my opinon, but the fall out and the subsequent moments are heart wrenching. One particular moment will stay with me for a very long time, underlining the story as one of the most poignant in games for years. When I got to the end and realised what I had to do to continue past a certain point, I was utterly captivated, tying together everything that happened in the game together and distilling its essence into one simple motion.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a simple game, yet at the same time an incredibly complex coming-of-age story about fraternal love, loss, the conquering of fear and the importance of family. It’s the kind of game that will leave you wanting to go and find someone you love, hug them and never let go. It’s not perfect, and the control system will irritate at first, but it’s worth persisting with it for the chance to roll with the punches that get thrown all around at the end of it. If you’ve yet to play it, it’s impossible not to recommend it, and if you have then it all comes down to whether you want to experience it all over again.