- Completion Date: January 2020
- Platform: PC
- Completed: Main Story
- My Completely Subjective Score: 6.5 out of 10
Spoiler warning! This post contains spoilers for the game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Good thing for you, the game is only a few hours long, so you can beat it quickly, and then come back here and read what is very likely (almost certainly) the best review for the game on the planet.
Okay, on with the show!
THERE’S NO WAY AROUND IT, THIS GAME IS OBSESSED WITH DEATH
When talking about Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, there really isn’t any way around it. The game is about death. Straight and simple. It starts with death (when the boys’ mother drowns and the younger boy is helpless to save her), it continues with death (when the boys go on an adventure to find a cure for their dying father) and it ends with death (when <spoiler> the older boy dies at the end after confronting a spider-lady(ish) thing </spoiler>).
SOME STUFF ABOUT THE SHORT GAME GENRE
Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons is one of the shorter games that have been popping up over the last few years (maybe longer). Some other titles in this category that you might have heard about are: What Remains of Edith Finch, Gone Home, Journey, and Firewatch, just to name a few. I’m not sure if these kinds of games have a strict category, but I have heard them called “walking simulators”. Although some people would probably have an issue with that since that name might be only applied in its strictest sense to games that have no puzzle-solving elements in them whatsoever. The name implies that – for the most part – your only job is to move the analog stick in the general direction the main protagonist is supposed to go. The story unfolds before you as you walk through the game. Generally there is no combat, and sometimes there is some light puzzle solving. Also, these games can usually be completed within 3-4 hours, some of them even less. The idea, I think, is that you are not so much playing the game as you are experiencing the game.
I have mixed feelings about these types of games. On the one hand, they are generally very short. And for someone who no longer has hours every day to pump into a game, it’s a decent way to feel as though you are still churning through your gaming backlog. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel as though these games could have just been made into smaller films. After all, games like Edith Finch have pretty lengthy story-telling elements where you are just watching a movie. When a game is as short as 2 hours, if you are watching as much as even 60 minutes of video, then you are watching as much as you are playing. And when you are playing, you are only moving the analog stick in some already pre-defined direction to advance the story bits.
CAN A SHORT GAME DELIVER GREAT GAMEPLAY?
Keep in mind, I feel that there are a few things that make a great game. Allow me to list them for you: 1) A great story with convincing characters, 2) An immersive world, 3) Satisfying gameplay loops (i.e. crafting equipment so you can slay monsters so you can craft better equipment so you can slay bigger monsters, repeat, repeat, repeat). If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll notice that I’ve tweaked the list a little bit. That’s due to my recent post, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion & The Problem With Value, where I had to admit that, although the combat and the story weren’t amazing, the immersive world did end up being impressive. Keep in mind, please, that this list is completely subjective, and will probably change… often (you didn’t want boring objectivity anyway, did you?).
The tricky part with games as short as these is that you are lacking a pretty essential component required to tell an immersive story – that component being time. The reality, as far as I can tell, is that it takes time for a person (a gamer in this case) to become attached to characters in a story and/or the world they live in. I think this is the reason why we can become so attached to long-standing television shows and/or ongoing game series. Any Friends fans out there? How about The Office? The truth is, after watching 9 or 10 seasons of these shows, it’s nearly impossible not to become completely invested in these people. We are convinced that these people are in some way real (even though we know they’re not), and we genuinely care about how their lives turn out. We really, really want Ross and Rachel to end up together. We’re ecstatic to see Michael move to be with Holly (even if it means he is leaving the show). It is simple human nature. People (whether real or imagined) plus time equals a strong bond. With a very short game, it has to do some very impressive things for us to become emotionally connected to the story that is being told to us.
WHAT’S THIS GAME ALL ABOUT?
In Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the game offers a very unique mechanic. In the game, you take control of both brothers simultaneously. You control the older brother with the left analog stick and the younger brother with the right. The triggers L2 and R2 act as a generic “action” button for each brother, respectively.
As previously stated, the game opens with a clip of (sensitive readers move on) the younger boy watching his mother drown. I’m not really sure how the mother drowned when she was so close to the boat she was previously in, but there you have it. Then, you control the two brothers as they wheel their dying father to the… town healer, I guess (?). The healer is not very good at his job, because he apparently can’t do anything to help their father. But, he does tell the brothers that there may be a magical herb / medicine / elixir / thingamabob in a land far, far away. Since this is the boys’ only chance to save their father, the two brothers begin their trek to the faraway land in search of the herb / medicine / elixir / thingamabob.
I was surprised to find that, on your way, you end up meeting some pretty fantastical creatures. There is a very nice troll who helps you up a mountain, there are griffons that help you fly up another mountain, and there are giants that you have to “leverage” in order to get further up another mountain (if you’ve played the game, you know what I mean by “leverage”). The previously mentioned mechanics where you must control two brothers with each analog stick are, at times, very clever. In fact, I dare say that even a video game veteran will have some trouble performing the mental gymnastics required to complete certain challenges where you have to move one brother with the analog stick while toggling the action button with the other.
Of course, you do end up making your way to the top of the mountain eventually and find the magical herb / medicine / elixir / Horcrux / McGuffin / thingumabob that will (hopefully) cure your father. However, the journey enacts a heavy toll (as they say). Along your trek, you meet a girl who eventually invites you to her… uh, house, I guess, before transforming into a giant spider. Of course, the spider tries to eat you. That’s what they do. In the ensuing battle,<spoiler> the older brother is pierced by one of the spiders legs and, unfortunately, loses his life </spoiler>.
SOME NOTABLE FEATURES
Let’s now move on to a few things that I found interesting / fascinating / boring / unique.
First, something that I found odd. The developers decided to make up a fake language that every character in the game uses. Honestly, I found this a little off-putting throughout the game. I sort of get the idea that you didn’t really need to know what the brothers or anybody else was saying, but I also didn’t really think it needed to be gibberish either. Arguably, if the boys had shared some heartfelt words between each other, the bond between them would have been more apparent.
The title of the game suggests that the game is not only about the brothers, but is also about the father. But I don’t think the point is very well made in the game. There really is no clear connection between the father and the sons. In fact, the father seems only to serve as a mechanic to motivate the brothers on their journey to fine the aforementioned magical herb / medicine / elixir / Horcrux / McGuffin / thingumabob.
I have to say, as far as the brothers are concerned, I don’t think I really connected with them as much as I was expected to. Maybe it’s because I’m not a 5 or 10 year-old boy. Maybe it’s because they’re actually kind of bratty to each other and to others, too. And maybe it’s because the game is just too short (about 4 hours) for me to bond with them properly. It also doesn’t help that I knew the ending of the game before I started playing. Either way, the boys were a bit of a miss for me (which is what the game is all about).
The game does manage to create a fairly immersive world. I think it does well by taking the player to many different, varied locations along the short, 4-hour journey. You will find yourself travelling through mountains, flying through the air, navigating through caverns where large gears and pipes serve some mysterious purpose, and creeping through a snow-covered village as you attempt to avoid a frost troll. All of this in a short period of time adds up to the game feeling much larger than it really is, and from that perspective, I think the developers did very well.
THE PERFECT MERGING BETWEEN STORY AND GAME MECHANICS
Honestly, I probably would have given this game a lower score if it didn’t give us what I consider a near-perfect blend between story-telling and game mechanics. I am speaking, of course, about the end of the game (spoilers for the rest of this section).
Near the end of the game, you control only the younger brother, because of… errr, reasons (I told you there were spoilers, right?). The young boy has found the magical elixir to cure his father, but he has to make the trek back to the healer’s house by himself. Up until this point of the game, you have been controlling each brother with the left and the right joystick, as I’ve explained. However, at one point on the way back to the elder’s house, the young brother has to swim across a river during a downpour. The river is fast and the water is intimidating. You push the right joystick forward, and the young brother stops just short of the deeper waters. For a while, you as a player are unsure of what to do. But then you hear your older brother’s voice. He is calling out to the young brother, and urging him forward. This is when you get the idea to try to use the left analog stick as well. Pushing both sticks forward, the young boy starts his treacherous journey across the river, eventually reaching the other side. He then proceeds to the elder’s house where his father is kept. He hands the healer the elixir, and his father is saved. This is the best use of in-game mechanics that I have ever seen to drive home the fact that the older brother is in some way still with the younger, and continues to help him along.
THE PROBLEM WITH LOSS (spoilers here, too. sorry)
Alright, like I said, with a game like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, there really isn’t another topic to discuss other than the one that is given. I can only hope to give a few encouraging words on the subject.
This game’s only goal, it seems to me, is to drive home the fact that the older brother is, in some way, still with the younger. And this is a good point to make. Certainly, the things that we’ve shared with those who have come and gone are useful to us throughout the rest of our own lives. And we can even extend this idea when we look at entire generations of people. Fathers and mothers teach their children the necessities of life, and those children grow up to become fathers and mothers. It is, in some ways, a beautiful cycle of life. However, there is another scene in the game after the very powerful one I discussed above (where the older brother helps the younger one cross the river). It’s a scene where the father and the younger son are looking at the graves of their lost family members. The father weeps uncontrollably. And here is the other side of the coin. Yes, things are certainly passed on from generation to generation, but we can’t stop that cold reality. The people we once knew, we will not know again, at least in this life.
We as human beings cannot bear to talk about death. I’ve actually read a book where the writer suggests that the best way to deal with death is to not think about it. This is an odd thing to say, but I think it serves to show how difficult the subject is for many.
I have always like this quote, a quote from a person I admire.
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.C.S. Lewis
My friend, when we deal with loss, or pain, and it feels wrong to us, I have only one explanation. Perhaps we are made for something greater than this world. Perhaps we are made for a world where these things do not exist. A place where we can really, finally, be satisfied and happy. A place where death, pain, and sorrow is no more. I, for one, am hopeful that such a place exists.
Until next time.