Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Preview (PS3)

It’s wonderful watching what can be done when free from the pressure of executives chasing the latest trends, or free to create new and interesting IP’s to your heart’s content. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, is an indie game in all but name, and a fantastic example of creativity set free. Brainchild of Joseph Fares, Brothers proposes a fairly meaty and standard premise, but simplifies so much to the point that you begin to question whether it really works. We’ve only gone hands-on with the first level, but so far the premise seems to hold up, and we’ve seen footage of some of the more advanced gameplay concepts that you’ll need to deal with later in the game, so we’ll have to wait and see whether it keeps on working as an idea.

The plot of Brothers is fairly straight forward – an older and a younger brother are on a quest to find a cure for their father, who’s gravely ill, with their journey taking them from the lowest village all the way up this really tall mountain. The kicker is that this is a single-player game where you control both brothers at the same time, which sounds a bit crazy until you actually feel it for yourself. This comes back to the simplicity of the game we mentioned earlier – essentially, you control a brother each on the two analogue sticks. It takes some getting used to, but considering you do a similar thing when playing FPS games (that is, coordinating two analogue sticks to play a game), you’d be surprised how easily you pick things up. Apart from that, the only two other buttons that are used in the game are the two lower triggers. We tested the Xbox version, so in that case it was left trigger and right trigger, with each trigger corresponding to the brother whose side it’s on.

The game is full of moments like this, where you can just pause and admire the view

There’s no XP in Brothers, no levelling up, no skill trees, items abilities, weapons, magic or anything you’d associated with an adventure game. Or a game in general for that matter. There isn’t even a language you can understand in Brothers, with everyone in the world talking in a form of gibberish that’s based on Fares’ native language of Lebanese. The story is told through the images you see on screen, and your progression through the world is essentially a series of environmental and circumstantial puzzles. For example, there’s a bit in the first level where a big Dog is trying to attack you, and you have to manipulate both brothers in a way that helps you get across. Emergent co-op like this is complimented by special co-op moves Brothers can perform, like opening a gate together or one brother giving the other a leg up. In most cases, you have to use the Brothers in the correct way in order to progress.

This highlights one of the environmental challenges you may face. How do you get Brother A to where Brother B is?

This basic concept carries you through-out the entire game, and the game is only 4-5 hours. Fraser was very particular in how he designed Brothers, claiming that most games re-use content to pad out the time you spend playing it, and to pad out the bits in between the genuinely unique stuff. In Brothers, you don’t encounter any enemy or problem twice, you don’t encounter the same area more than once – always moving forward, always encountering new and wonderful environments and challenges. You may see some recurring characters pop up, but you’ll never interact with them in the same way more than once. It’s all about how you interact with the world – and nearly everything can be interacted with, regardless of whether you can get anything from it or not, and even the game’s achievements/trophies are connected to this. Fraser says that each one tells a story, from stealing a girl’s ball and throwing it down a well (yes, that’s a real achievement), to witnessing two birds court each other, which would only happen if you released one of them really early on in the game.

Brothers is ‘indie’ gaming at its finest, and it’s always nice to see companies like 505 continuing to get behind projects like these and giving them room to breathe and grow. Are they the future of gaming? I don’t think so – as great as projects like these are, to me they’re like that holiday home, or holiday spot that you like visiting. It’s great to be somewhere else and have a breath of fresh air, but you wouldn’t want to live there, would you? At least not until you’re 60 and ready to retire overseas, I suppose. Don’t go to France. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is coming to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in Spring 2013.

Most Anticipated Feature: Since this game is so feature-lite, it’s more about the experience as a whole rather than any individual element.

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