A Review of: Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons

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A review of: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons...
Recommended!... A grandiose 9 out of 10

This game was released some time in August / September 2013 for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. It is developed by the Swedish Starbreeze Studios and published by 505 Games. It is also available on Steam. I had a go at it with the PC version from Steam and ran it on a laptop with way less specs than required for the game, on Win 7 and a 19" screen hooked to it without any problems. On a side note, this game uses the Unreal Engine 3.

In brief, this is a game you will surely remember a long time after you've done it once or twice or even more. It has an unique mood to it and an emotionally compelling narrative. The sceneries are very often of breathtaking beauty and are massive in scale. The enviroments are like they are taken from some mythology, fairytales or old folklores.

The Brothers have a rest on a bench... These are found during the games progress. They give a hint on where to go next.

Late summer in the air while passing through a little village.
So don't haste when playing it! I'd recommend to let this take time. Just look around everywhere. Soak in the atmospheres of the different enviroments and seasons, of both summer, warm colours of the autumn and towards the end, the winter...

A brotherly hug after the two have made it through a series of furious waterfalls and big brother has rescued the younger one from drowning.

Some places are tricky to pass...

This is a wonderful tale of life and loss and of friendship, made with visual skills and narrated in a grand style! It's also worth to mention that Brothers won the award for Best Xbox Game at the 2013 VGX Award Show in December 2013.

Before going in depth with all of that, first a bit of the game mechanics. The two Brothers set out on a journey, and they both have somewhat individual charecters that perform a bit differently. The older brother is the stronger one, and can cope with dangers better than his younger brother, who has a fear for water but can get through gate bars and narrow passages. They both need to interact to be able to solve all the puzzles and get over all obstacles in their way to reach their destination.

Some sketches showing how the two brothers interact.

On a PC, one brother moves with the WASD keys and Spacebar key activating an "action". The other brother moves with the arrow keys and the right Ctrl key for an "action". Walking or running is pre-set by the game, but that's just a minor thing I'd wish I could control. On a PS3, you move with the left and right joysticks and the L1 and R1 buttons. It takes some trial and error to get this working on a PC keyboard, but once you get the hang of it and all the combinations needed, it works rather nicely, although I'm sure the gameplay would be smoother on a PS3.

The game's progress is done in chapters. And if you happen to fail at a quest, fall down or get killed (and you will, and have to try several times at some trycky passages) you can't really 'die' but you can retry until you get through. There is only an auto-save, and an option to play chapter by chapter.

So on to the story and the game. It all starts on a sad note. We get to see a sequence where the mother of the family dies in a boating accident (hence the little brother's fear of water) and the father becomes very ill. The two brothers are sent out on a journey to get a remedy. Already here, we have to make the brothers interact properly, and this is essential along the whole of the gameplay. How to push a cart, open gates, climb up the vines on some walls, move along while hanging from thin ledges hundreds and hundreds feet above the ground or using machinery and objects. Although they can not 'pick up' much per se, they have to figure out how to use and manoeuvre things.

A tricky spot! Little brother manouvres mechanical machinery so big brother can get past.

From the start, we get a hint where they should go. The camera pans out to the place where they should be heading. This happens almost every time at every checkpoint along the way or when they sit down for a rest on a bench. Other than that, you have to use your wits, or get the older brother to show his map to people, who also point out the direction where they should go. There is no real in-game speech here, only some words in an unknown language and a few shouts, when the brothers call to each other. Neither of the brothers are even given a name.

Josef Fares, born in Lebanon and now living in Sweden, was the director of the game. He has a background as a script writer and a movie director, with some 8 movies to his name. And the game has a very "movie-like feeling" to it! The cutscenes between checkpoints, or "chapters", are definetly a feast for the eye and could be from the "The Lord of the Rings" movies or "The Hobbit". We get panoramic glimpses of diffrent sceneries so beautiful, you just want to stop and rewind, go back and look around again and again!

Grand views of a rugged nature.

The older brother has the map and asks other characters for the way. The younger brother is the more playful, likes animals and makes fun of people they meet and gets several laughs. There is no time limit, no clock ticking down so you can progress at easy leisure.

Little brother is sometimes making fun of people, or like here, a scarecrow. 

The sceneries at the beginning are very much with nordic influences! Birch trees a plenty, log houses with wood-shingled roofs and almost a Russian "touch" to them and an agricultural landscape with windling gravel roads and roundpole fences along them. And the late summer breeze in the air...the keenness to details and the immense amount of them is amazing and overwhelming sometimes. So you don't want to rush on your way through the game! It seems a wonderful place to live in... And a very subdued soundtrack, most often a vocal "kulning", a scandinavian hearding call or song, or some keyboards or a violin accompanies them on their journey. Less is sometimes so much more!

Let yourself get immersed by the warm colours of the autumn.

But the scenery soon changes. The nature gets more rugged and rocky, with moss grown stones, boulders and cliffs. The brothers travel through this landscape with the help of a sad troll, who looks like the ones John Bauer created.*

The Swede John Bauer created the archetype for the scandinavian type of woodland and mountain trolls. 

Then we get underground, and I had "In the Hall of the Mountain King"** ringing in my mind when going down that path. Here, you meet the real threats first hand. A series of complicated puzzles involving a lot of machinery takes you throught the Mountain Trolls' dwellings. You see them and hear them in the distance so you should step very lightly, although you still get to meet them! After helping the sad troll get his wife back, the dangers gets even more close at hand...

The big troll joined by his now released wife, aiding the brothers on their next part of the journey.

As not to spoil the joy of you finding out the rest by yourself, here's just a brief summary... The Brothers encounter dangerous animals on their journey and even other things of nature try to hinder them on their way. They hike a ride on mountain goats, get helped by an inventor and have to climb on immensly high derelict stone castles that crumble apart under their feet... Their journey is very much perilous! During their journey the brothers get to ride on rivers in boats and without boats, fly a hangglider, rattle away hanging to a monorail track, are thrown by a catapult...

Really, a hangglider? Yes indeed, and it takes some tries to fly it across the rugged mountain range. 

There is also death... and blood...rivers of blood in fact as they come across a battlefield with fallen giant warriors slain in a seemengly pointless fight. But here the blood has a purpose, and help them rescue a captive girl, that is really not at all what they expected!

Slain giant warriors, but no brave heroes has survived to tell the tale of it.

After the long and dangerous journey, they finally reach their destination... and yet again you're taken by surprise...but that I won't reveal here!

I had a most enjoyable time while playing throught this. Doing so in chapters, restarting now and then, it took me a few days to finish. If you wish to rush through it, maybe you can finish it in, say, a short day's session, but there are also some achievements to get along the way. Some things can also be done in several different ways, without really affecting the end result.

So yet again... I'd recommend to proceed at a leisurely pace and let this take time. Remember to look around everywhere. Let yourself get immersed in the atmospheres of the different enviroments and seasons. What you get is a very emotional and wonderful tale of life and loss and of friendship, crafted with a lot of love and care!

Finally, I round this off with some additional concept art below that I found on the web:

* John Bauer (1882-1918). A swedish illustrator and painter, famed for his unmistakenly style and for "creating" the looks for the scandinavian style of trolls. He died young in a tragic shipping accident.
** "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from the "Peer Gynt" suite, by norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.