CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In an era of bombastic game design and complex control schemes, "Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons" stands as a shining example that less can, indeed, be more when it comes to video games.
"Brothers" tasks gamers with directing a pair of siblings simultaneously in a quest to find a cure to save their ailing father. Rather than force users to learn a complicated control scheme for what could have been a mind-numbing exercise in frustration, developer Starbreeze Studios kept things simple, mapping each brother's movement and actions to a respective analog stick and trigger button. The eldest brother is fixed to the left stick and trigger, the younger brother the right.
These straightforward controls make manipulating each brother a rather intuitive experience, though there were times when my brain and fingers struggled to get on the same page when the brothers' position on the screen were opposite their respective position on the controller. Thankfully the camera can be rotated freely, which helped to keep things straight. A press of the trigger caused each brother to perform contextual actions, whether it was climbing a rock face, activating a switch or harassing random townsfolk. Often it became necessary to use these various actions in conjunction with one another to solve puzzles, such as during a memorable climbing sequence during the game's latter stages.
The narrative that drives "Brothers" maintains the less-is-more vibe. From the opening scenes until its heart-wrenching finale, "Brothers" tells an emotional tale of love and loss that is sometimes funny, sometimes dark but always engaging. And it does it all without the benefit of voice acting. In a brilliant decision, the characters in "Brothers" speak in gibberish, allowing for the feelings behind their words to resonate far louder than the words, themselves. I loved imagining what these characters would say - what I would say - given the various circumstances they faced, which further drew me into their fantastical world.
Speaking of that world, it stands as a powerful supporting character in this adventure. From snowy mountain passes to blood-stained battlefields, the locations the brothers visit are varied and constantly shifting, providing a perfect backdrop to the story. Secrets are hidden within these levels, allowing the brothers to discover more about themselves and the world around them. These range from preventing a man's suicide to reuniting baby turtles with their mother. They aren't central to completing the game - which took about five hours - but these moments help make "Brothers" an unforgettable experience.
Visually "Brothers" is a mixed bag, the detailed environments standing in stark contrast to the noticeably less detailed character models. However the audio presentation, especially the haunting soundtrack, is top-notch.
An emotionally charged adventure from beginning to end, "Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons" invites players into an amazing world full of joy, mystery and sadness. With its innovative design and unforgettable story, "Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons" is a remarkable achievement and a reminder that games don't have to be complicated to be classic.
"Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons"
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Publisher: 505 Games
Available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC ($15)
Rating: T for teen
Reach Jeff Rider at 304-348-5122 or jri...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/gazette_gamer.