Brothers makes sense as a whole product in a way few games do. There’s little separation between gameplay and narrative here as, more often than not, it is the gameplay that is conveying the narrative (or at least part of it). This is an impressive feat and Brothers should be celebrated for a unique approach to gameplay, which is fun in its own right but also adds a lot of thematic weight to the game. It’s a fine example of a product that takes advantage of being a game, and that uses things unique to the medium to tell its story.
As far as gameplay goes Brothers is rather unconventional. Left and right sticks control movement, but not in the way you would expect. The control scheme consists of just the analogue sticks and the triggers, but you use these to control two characters. Brothers is a co-operative game, but it is one you play by yourself. You play as both of the eponymous sons, and each belongs to one side of the controller. The left stick and the left trigger control movement and interaction for the older brother, whereas the younger brother’s actions are determined by the right stick and right trigger. Getting to the end of Brothers involves controlling both sons at the same time through a series of puzzles and obstacles and This unique control scheme hammers home the sense of co-operation. Alongside this, it also allows Starbreeze to create some interesting encounters that take great advantage of the gameplay.
On top of this the control scheme links in wonderfully with the storytelling, and with what the game is trying to convey. Brothers tells a very good story, but it does it without any real dialogue. The characters talk, but they talk in a nonsense language that is just there to make encounters feel natural rather than awkwardly silent. This puts the onus on other elements to deliver the story, which is part of why the game is so cohesive. You can’t single out any element of Brothers as the part that is telling the story; it comes through the amazing visual design, through your actions, through smaller interactions and through the controls themselves. The story is always told with great clarity, as the game manages to put a great deal across with visuals alone, but it is the other elements (like the controls) which enhance it. One example of this is how the older more capable brother is tied to the left stick (the one often used for player movement) while the younger less coordinated brother is tied to the right stick. This makes him slightly harder to control and mirrors the nature of the character that the game is trying to put across.
Innovative storytelling aside, Brothers shines equally brightly in other areas. The most obvious of these is in the visuals, which are utterly stunning. The creativity on show is always wonderful, while the style itself is just beautiful. This is twinned with an impressive sense of scale, and clever camera work, which rivals some of the better moments in the God of War series. As far as visual design goes, Brothers is really rather exceptional. The same is true of its soundtrack. The music does a great job of matching up with the narrative, and helps to further elevate the emotional responses the game elicits. It’s a stunning score that perfectly matches the brilliant world of Brothers.
Brothers is by no means a flawless experience. One could argue that the characters are underdeveloped, but this kind of complaint isn’t really merited as Brothers isn’t aiming for a deep character portrait. Even without this Brothers manages to achieve exactly what it intends to, and will leave the player with an experience that will stick with them. It’s very emotional and it manages to hit on a wide range of emotions; it can be completely devastating but also utterly joyous. One more notable detraction is that the controls can be a bit ungainly at times. Part of this is down to a forgiveable learning curve, but in certain places they could be more refined. The game usually does a great job of building its puzzles cleverly around its controls, but occasionally it gets away from this and creates a couple of scenarios that highlight some of the limits of the control scheme.
The puzzles themselves are great though. None are particularly taxing, but that doesn’t mean the game is overly easy. The puzzles are clever and require real coordination and cooperation to complete. A lot of them tie into the story or the themes wonderfully, while others are just great examples of how to use an excellent gameplay mechanic. This means that Brothers is a joy to play, and once again the variety of puzzles and obstacles on show displays the immense creativity this game has. It’s a short experience (weighing in at two to three hours), but in that time it pushes its mechanics really far. There could be more room for further puzzles or other gameplay, but Brothers tells its story perfectly well over its short run time. It doesn’t outstay its welcome and the shorter length helps it to remain consistent. There’s no fat here, but I wouldn’t object to a bit more meat.
Brothers is quite simply a fantastic game that stands up as one of the most creative and innovative games of the year. It’s a refreshing example of a developer who have really thought about what they are trying to do with their game, and have tailored every element towards one well realised vision. It’s a game you can dissect and discuss, and one that manages to be profound in spite of its limited exposition. It truly does more with less and focuses on what is important to the overall package. It’s a must play for those that are interested in what you can do with games, but outside of this it’s also a great puzzle adventure game with a beautiful art style. It’s innately appealing and utterly wonderful. You should play it.