need to know
Expect to pay £12 / $15
Release Out now
Developer Starbreeze Studios
Publisher 505 Games
Link Brothers official site
The premise of Brothers – communicated entirely through theatrical gestures and conversations in an untranslated fantasy language – is as affecting and uncomplicated as the journey that follows. A dying father sends his two sons to the other end of the world to search for a cure for his mystery illness. You must guide the brothers through a beautiful but monstrous fantasy world full of dark creatures and contrived puzzles.
These straightforward challenges are elevated by a novel control scheme that puts you in charge of both brothers simultaneously. Each is mapped to a control stick on the (mandatory) gamepad. The left moves the gangly older brother, the right his sprightly sibling. The left and right shoulder-triggers serve as action buttons for the brothers, letting them pick up objects, flip switches or grab onto ledges.
It feels like playing a co-op game by yourself, in a pleasing way. Interactions vary from Chuckle Brothers 'to-me-to-you' log carrying to coordinated switch flipping built around the brothers' contrasting abilities. The little brother can slip through narrow bars, while the bigger brother can pull heavy levers or give the younger brother a leg-up.
Typically the older brother will help the younger onto a ledge, where he might let down a rope, lower a drawbridge or activate some other path-clearing deus ex machina. This is never challenging, and bar a ropeswinging section and a hang gliding session, there's little variation or escalation to its puzzles. The tasks are a timekeeping device designed to chasten progress and force you to admire the carefully built world.
And that's just fine, actually. The coiling pathway is long and, bar a few occasional alleyways, mostly linear, but segues gently from rural village idyll to troll mines and mountain passes at a relaxing pace. I wanted to poke around each location and soak up the Brothers Grimm ambience, and was well rewarded by a wealth of character-building skits. You'll get to know the brothers through their differing relationships with the environment, communicated purely through mime and vocal inflection. The responsible older brother will gently poke a sleeping drawbridge operator to try to get his attention; the mischievous younger sibling will throw water in his face.
By osmosis, you'll come to know the brothers' talents, attitudes and neuroses, and become increasingly invested in their well-being. Their emotional and mechanical interreliance plays out physically across the controller, which gives command of each sibling to your brain's competing hemispheres. The haphazard cooperation that follows is a convincing reflection of a fractious family unit.
At once accessible, charming and, at points, savagely dark, Brothers is a fantasy fable for adults that will linger in the mind long past its impressive final moments.