Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a game about family, about love, about trust, teamwork and companionship. It’s also a game – if you go out of your way to unlock all the achievements – about being a fucking psychopath. This is one of the many things I love about Brothers, which is the kind of perfectly-pitched experience that is novel, creative, and far too expensive for most people to bother playing it.
Luckily, though, Brothers was one of the titles used to pad out Microsoft’s new subscription service, Xbox Games Pass, and at only a couple of hours long it’s the perfect fit. Now you can play a wonderful game for nothing, and not have to waste your time bitching on forums about the price.
And this is a wonderful game – yes, for an achievement hunter, because despite the achievements all being missable, miscellaneous fare, they’re remarkably easy, but also just in general. Brothers is a smart puzzle-platformer with the compelling central gimmick of controlling two characters simultaneously using a single controller. Big Brother and Little Brother (they’re never given names) have slightly different abilities that must be combined in various ways to navigate the game’s environments and puzzles, but the novelty comes from having to control both at the same time – one with the left analog stick and trigger, the other with the right.
Initially, this is incredibly finicky, but you get used to it. The game isn’t challenging, at least not enough for the controls to become frustrating, and eventually you fall into a comfortable pattern of recognising each brother’s unique talents; identifying where Big Brother can provide a leg-up, say, or where Little Brother can squeeze through some slim bars to a different area. The game is exceedingly well paced and designed, offering one unique spin on the core mechanics after another, and serving up a compelling fantasy world with a great sense of scale and continuity. (It does that Dark Souls thing of eventually having you reach a point where you can look back on the area you’ve just progressed through, letting the player see how far they’ve come.)
Like Limbo, Brothers has the good sense to end when it runs out of ideas. It’s a short and easy game, but those aren’t criticisms. The experience is tight, lean and interesting for its duration, which is an awful lot more than I can say for most. Also, props to it for finding emotional resonance without using spoken English; the characters all communicate in made-up gibberish, but it’s always clear exactly who’s who, what’s what, and why it all matters.
And the achievements! I’m reminded of the “non-lethal” approaches in Dishonored, which were all overtly evil, and saw you torturing the targets you “spared” with elaborate, awful ploys. Brothers doesn’t go quite so far, but it does reward you for stealing a little girl’s ball and dumping it down a well, and setting rabbits and sheep on fire. As the game progresses, you’ll do other, more altruistic things, such as save a man from suicide, help lost turtles find their mother, and reunite a couple of separated lovebirds. Perhaps this is all intended to be a commentary on something – childish irresponsibility giving way to maturity and empathy – but, really, who knows? Certainly not me.
What I do know, however, is that Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a fantastic game that you should definitely play. If only I could say that about all the games coming up.