Monday, January 13, 2014

Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was pretty good, but I ran up against some major flaws.

In most games, the left analog stick controls the character’s movement and the right analogue stick controls the camera. In Brothers, however, the left half the controller belongs to the older brother, so he’s moved by the left analogue stick and interacts with objects with the left trigger, and the other half of the controller is dedicated to the younger brother. It was surprisingly difficult to get used to and as a result, I played with the older brother on the left side of the screen and the younger brother on the right so that my eyes and hands could more easily coordinate.

The levels mostly consist of climbing and pulling levers and leaping as pieces of the level collapse under your feet, which reminded me a lot of Uncharted minus the gunplay. You also had to complete some simplistic puzzles revolving around coordinating the two brothers and using their unique abilities. The older brother is strong enough to use big levers and is the only one who can swim, while the younger brother can squeeze into tight spots and can be lifted into inaccessible areas by the oldest. Despite the relatively straightforward level design, the controls were so alien I needed to think carefully about every move. As a result, I found the puzzling pleasantly taxing instead of completely brainless.

Many of the set pieces in Brothers really were unique and beautiful. One set piece was a giant-sized, Jack and the Beanstalk-esque castle, completely abandoned. Then in the next area I had to navigate the two siblings through a valley where the castle’s gargantuan former residents lay dead after a battle. Their still-flowing blood polluted the valley stream, which poured down a waterfall into a bizarre altar where tribesmen were performing a sacrifice. In another scene, I came across people crystallized into snow, apparently by a gigantic, yet completely invisible monster that I narrowly avoided.

Even though there is no English in the game, characters communicated in sim-like hoots and hollers, and wild gesticulation. They managed to convey a story about loss and growth without any English at all.

A few things really rubbed me the wrong way, though. When I rescued a woman from the sacrificial altar, she joined me on my journey. My first thought was, “I wonder if she will either betray me or die later?” As it turned out, she seduced the older brother… Then betrayed me. I thought that was a pretty tired trope in action. Also, there was a giant spider fight that only succeeded in mimicking Limbo. I’m really sick of giant spiders.

In the end, the older brother is murdered by the TREACHEROUS, SEDUCTIVE WOMAN and you have to endure a drawn-out scene in which you as the younger brother bury his body. It was slow and overwrought and made me more bored than sad, but in the next scene, you finally return home. The left side of your controller is useless, since you’ve lose your older brother. The first obstacle in your path is a rock cliff with two climbable protrusions, just like you’ve encountered all game. Previously, the two protrusions let the two brothers climb up at the same time, but now there is only one brother who can climb, and the right protrusion, where I spent the entire game guiding the little brother, isn’t high enough to let him leap to the next ledge. You must go to the left side, which I found to be an eerie reminder of the missing brother.

Then you go through all the obstacles you went through at the beginning of the game, but without the older brother to help you solve them. Instead, you need to use his ability button. The younger brother channels his dead sibling to pull harder on a stiff lever, to run farther to get up to a high ledge, and to swim on his own without relying on his brother to guide him. This was a much more effective memorial for the brother. It used mechanics to show how he had inspired and changed his younger brother, even after the eldest’s death.

Overall, Brothers was a great way to spend three hours. I enjoyed the quick pace and short length. The animation and mechanics did a good job of aiding the story’s narration. My only complaint is the quality and creativity of the writing wasn’t sustained over the entire length of the game. Murderous seductresses and giant spiders are something I can find in the majority of games. The fact that Brothers reached such great heights before stooping to such time-worn lows only made the sting of cliche worse.