February 24, 2014
This game first got my notice when Totalbiscuit declared it as possibly the best video game he has ever played. That’s a tall order alright, especially coming from a small indie production like this from a company called Starbreeze located in Sweden. It’s a bit of a Scandinavian story, this game, oddly reminiscent of The Brothers Lionheart to me, one of my favorite Astrid Lindgren novels in my childhood. Which incidentally I would very much love to re-read right now. Much like the book, Brothers is a colorful fairy tale that deals with dark themes. There’s always an underlying darkness once the Brothers have moved on from their village. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The two nameless brothers have recently lost their mother who drowned in the sea. Their father is raving with fever. The beginning of the game finds you loading the father onto a cart and beginning your voyage, to get him to a doctor. It is there that you learn the very different control scheme of the game. While you can use the PC version with the keyboard, I think the game dramatically improves if you use a controller. I used an Xbox controller. The left analog stick and the left button are your controls for the older, taller brother. The right stick and button control the younger brother. The Eurogamer review compares it to rubbing your head and patting your stomach. It takes some time getting used to moving the two brothers in sync. That’s the only tutorial you will get, and outside of learning how to change the camera angles you are on your own from that point on.
Early on, the landscapes are still rural, and the two brothers have to figure out how to get past this fierce watchdog.
Once you have figured out the first control puzzle, the brothers receive a mysterious map of a tree from the doctor. Only reaching this tree can save the father. There is no real dialogue or subtitles. The characters of this fantasy world speak a language that sounds like Scandinavian Simlish. The two brothers begin their voyage, moving on from their village, and from there on out the areas they travel through get more and more fantastic. A slightly steampunkish underground factory full of pulleys and levers. Mysterious towers that you need to fly to. The land where giants waged a terrible war. Snow-capped mountains and frozen villages. It’s utterly gorgeous. Wherever you go, you will find benches that you can sit down on, just to enjoy one of the many gorgeous vistas. Hidden to the side, there are little side-stories that you can try to figure out, to get the achievements of the game, like saving a man who is trying to hang himself.
There’s wallpaper material throughout the game. Beautiful vistas wherever you go.
Brothers is a very short game, about four hours, maybe five if you chase all achievements, which I didn’t. Every hour is worth it though, packed full of brilliance and meaning. You never even know the brothers’ names, but you get attached to them, for sure. The puzzles are all easy, the only times I got stuck was when I hadn’t figured out a new mechanic, like the section of rope swinging. But the puzzles don’t need to be difficult. It’s satisfying to move on and just enjoy the ride. There are thrills like drifting along wild rivers or flying a glider. It’s a joy to travel.
Above all, this game is the most moving story I have ever played on my PC. I thought The Walking Dead was the biggest sucker punch, but it did not make me bawl my eyes out the way Brothers did. One word though. If you hate spiders the way I do, it’s not easy to finish this game. Whoever designed that particular encounter is a big meanie. I shuddered with revulsion throughout. Gross!
The landscapes up north are just as vivid. It’s easy to gawk a lot.
Seriously, go buy this game. If you like story-telling in games and enjoy fairy tales, this is one that you must play. Big steaming pile of awesome. Can I have more games like that now, please?