Starbreeze Studios’ 2013 effort gets a re-release on PS4 and Xbox One, running in native 1080p resolution but with little discernible difference between this version and the one that preceded it, yet somehow, that’s not even a concern, for this moving, platform-puzzle game warrants as much attention as is at all possible. This release stems directly from the $500k purchase of the IP that publisher, 505 Games, agreed with the game’s developer earlier this year, allowing 505 to maintain their desire to fully own every aspect of the properties that they distribute, and simultaneously, giving gamers another opportunity to experience one of the most beautiful and deeply affecting games of the last generation.
Helmed by Lebanon born film director, Josef Fares (Kopps, Zozo etc), Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons weaves a touching tale of a family torn apart through tragedy, as we witness the drowning of this family unit’s mother in the opening sequence, before the game moves forward to the two titular, nameless brothers carting their dying father to the local doctor. The family live in a small house high up on the cliffs between a restless sea and the magnificent region that stretches out from it, marking an area wrought with dangers, magnificent vistas and myriad creatures both friend and foe.
It is the player’s job to guide these two siblings to a special tree in order to collect the one medicinal property that might save their father’s life, and to do this, Starbreeze have created a highly novel concept indeed, they crafted a single player co-op game. Here, the player is tasked with controlling both characters simultaneously, each one utilising one analogue stick and one trigger each, the left side for the older brother and the right side for his younger sibling. Now, this would appear to be the off-putting element to those gamers that I know didn’t take to the game, but whilst it may appear to be a tad confusing at first, it takes very little time for this control scheme to become as intuitive as one could hope for. From the tutorial section at the beginning of the prologue, the player is forced to manipulate both characters through small puzzles that require the use of the two brothers, immediately making the player confront the control scheme head on, and from then on out, they are left to savour what could only best be described as a Grimm fairy-tale that never was.
Part of the game’s beauty stems from the fact that, without uttering much in the way of discernible dialogue (though the language that the pair speak is directly inspired by the Arabic language of its creator’s home country), each of the two protagonists wears their heart on their sleeve, displaying their unique personalities in their every interaction with the world around them. For instance, when rousing a slumbering man in the opening section of the game, the older and more mature of the two attempts to do so gently, remaining respectful of his elder, whilst the younger brother simply douses the poor man with a bucket of water. It’s a simple yet brilliant way of connecting the player with the characters, much in the same way that the control scheme does, seeing these two unique, yet flawed individuals combine to give them the strength that they need to overcome every obstacle on their journey. Well, almost every one.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons maintains a very laid back approach throughout, never once rising to become a challenge to any gamer, leaving the most difficult aspect of the whole experience as the control scheme. This I suspect was a very deliberate move by Starbreeze, not only to ensure that the experience could be enjoyed by all, but by having the player wrestle these two boys to co-operate with one another, they are effectively manipulated into assuming the role of parent or guardian over them, which only serves to make the game’s dramatic denouement all the more effective.
The world of Brothers is filled with many little puzzles that require the two brothers to work in tandem, pulling levers for one another, reaching otherwise inaccessible platforms or by carrying heavy objects together, but this is also carried across into the two boss battles that make an appearance too. These are certainly nothing to write home about, the first one in particular feels a little ill at ease with the rest of the game, coming across as more of an obligation to the genre as opposed to a genuine means of furthering the narrative. And whilst neither really detract from it, they are undoubtedly the weakest points of the game, yet they remain as mere trifles in the face of the overriding experience which remains one of the most moving ever created.
I remember being rather unconvinced by the apparent quality of the visuals when I first encountered the game, yet that feeling rather quickly subsided as the world opened up, and the beauty of this almost mythical land overwhelmed me. Stunning vistas appear to show a world that stretches out beyond the playable area, highlighting how brilliantly it’s all been realised, for whilst the levels vary greatly they never once feel at odds with one another, as though they all stem from the same place. Given the art style, there are likely to be drawn comparisons with the Fable series, yet Brothers, for all of its charm, never once becomes as quirky and madcap as Albion, instead painting a far grimmer picture, with the cutesy visuals serving to barely conceal a darkness beneath the visage. This is truly a world where nothing is as it seems, and the game benefits immensely from it.
There is very little in the way of new content for this re-release, evidently the game runs in a native 1080p resolution, but the difference between the original version and this is unremarkable to say the least. However, having said that, there are now some extra features, which incorporate art and music galleries and an interesting commentary from the game’s creator Josef Fares himself. This is hardly likely to encourage sales, but at least there’s something extra, right?
Ultimately, given that there is precious little difference between this PS4 and Xbox One release compared with the version that arrived two years ago, it should be nigh on impossible to genuinely recommend this as a purchase, and yet I couldn’t endorse it any more. For those that missed out on this classic first time around, there really isn’t a better time to correct that mistake, whilst for those that have already sampled the sumptuous visuals and incredible world of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, well, I’d hope that like me, you’ll embrace this opportunity to savour this heart rending experience just one more time.