I have an identical twin. We were born just moments apart, although I was yanked out first so I’m technically the big sister. When people find out that I have an identical twin, they always ask me something like, “So, what’s it like being a twin?”, which is a question that’s pretty much impossible to answer because I don’t know what it’s like not to be a twin. I can say, however, that some of the more enduring cultural narratives about being twins are true, especially the one about being telepathic. Okay, so maybe not strictly telepathic-telepathic, but we’ve got a sort of creepy hivemind thing going on – saying the same stuff at exactly the same time, liking the same bad ’80s pop music, appearing in the same place at the same time but ostensibly as the same person as part of a dazzling stage show illusion that prompted the construction of Rupert Angier’s ghastly teleportation device. Wait, no, that last one is the plot of The Prestige.
ANYWAY. The point is that the concept of two very, very closely connected people is not altogether foreign to me, so the fundamental mechanics of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons resonated with me even though they’re entirely unprecedented in gaming. Basically, you control both characters simultaneously on a single controller, with each brother assigned one of the analogue sticks for movement, and one of the triggers for actions. The result is an extraordinary, cleverly realised character synergy completely unlike anything you’ve played before.
The story is a simple but familiar one – the two boys must go on a quest to find a cure for their dying father. Simple and familiar with good reason, though, because there’s no proper dialogue, and everything is conveyed through body language and a sort of nuanced gibberish. It’s a subtly ingenious design decision that unfolds the narrative through actions rather than dreary plot exposition, making for a much more immediately engaging and immersive experience.
And Brothers is a game that’s much more an experience than anything else, which probably sounds a bit pretentious but it is what it is. Playing this game is a bit like paging through a book of Frank Frazetta’s artwork, where every picture is a passing glimpse at a small part of some much bigger, ongoing drama. The game’s puzzles aren’t there to make you think hard, but rather just to think cooperatively, and without dropping any spoilers, it will all make sense at the end.
The ending is phenomenal.
I’m putting the previous sentence on its own line because it’s that important, and what happens at the end will stay with you for a long time. It’s one of those moments in gaming that we’ll still be talking about months, even years from now, and not because it was innovative or unexpected or featured mega-buffered volumetric ambiance at 400 frames per second, but because it was so… real.
Enough about that, though, and the one thing you should know before buying this is that it’s very short and doesn’t demand a second play. Whether or not that matters is up to you, but skipping this one because “it’s short and I’ll only play it once” is perhaps missing the whole point.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is available right now on XBLA. It’ll be out August 28th on PC, and September 3rd on PSN.