Personal Rating: "Classic - Must buy"
Traditional Rating: 9/10
Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons is essentially a tale about what it means to grow up and face our fears around our own deaths when we realise in late childhood that no one person, animal or even plant or tree lives forever. The acknowledgement that one day we will all pass from this mortal world is just one of the many transitions from childhood to adulthood we must accept. Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons is the first game I have played to use such a weighty thematic element such as death and to use to so beautifully.
So its no surprise then that Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons journey begins with a death, arguably one of the most tragic lessons life can bestow upon a young child when a young and naive Nayee, one of the two brothers of the title, witnesses the death of his mother and is unable to help or save her from her fate. Because of this - Nayee's father sees the child as weak and bestows most of his tokenism and love on his eldest and favorite son - Nayaa. When the boys father becomes gravely ill and finds himself on death's doorstep both boys are encouraged by the Elder-tribesman and sage of the village to undertake a journey to The Tree of Life which is said to contain a powerful sap that restores life.
Where Nayee is fearful, weak and young, Nayaa is brave, strong and on the cusp of becoming a man. Their journey will test their brotherly love for one another as they race to save a father from deaths icy grasp. It's also through this journey that Nayee will begin his own transition into adulthood, eventually determining and defining his own inner wells of courage and strength that enable him to make peace with the loss of his mother even when the cost of these lessons comes at the cost of another life. Since the central theme of the game deals with ones mortality and how this affects us and those around us, almost every single turn during Nayee and Nayaa's journey the two brothers will be confronted with death in all its shapes and forms and while the symbolism may be a tad bit heavy-handed it conveys the central message beautifully.
Instead of placing the gamer solely in Nayee' shoes, Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons lets the player control both brothers. This is done through each analogue stick on the controller with the left and right trigger buttons becoming each brothers action key. At first it can be a bit tricky navigating some of the games environments but it's not long before one snaps into a routine simply just pointing each analogue stick in the direction one wants each brother to go. Having the player fill the shoes of both brothers (although this is arguably Nayee's tale) , Nayaa no longer exists simply as character in the game but as an actual extension of the player. Along the way there will be some environmental puzzles to navigate but nothing too taxing that the solution doesn't immediately jump out at you when you examine it. If Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons has a weakness then it would have to be this puzzle element which rarely requires any thought from its player. I can understand, however, why they probably did this since the journey the brothers face is one where the luxury of time is not a given. The fact that one can race through all the areas quite quickly does add a sense of urgency to the tale but many will probably bemoan the asking price ($14.99 and the roughly three hours play you get out of it) and miss the meaning behind it all completely. The game makes use of the Unreal 3 engine and as would be expected from an engine that gave life to some of the most amazing and beautiful games from last gen, it looks quite incredible. Its also matched with a very low-fi soundtrack that suits the melancholy perfectly.
Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons is also like a love letter to ICO, that PS2 critical darling and gem of a game that went on to become a playstation cult favorite and which is still regarded by many (myself included) to be one of the finest games ever created. Like Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons, ICO was also short in length and featured two protagonists in similar constricting circumstances that drew the gamer into its world causing them to feel a range of emotions for a set of pixels. It did feature combat (although to be honest the combat always felt out of place, like it had been tacked on because the publisher was most likely a little unsure how such an artistic, existential game could ever co-exist in a market dominated by first person shooters). The fact it went to on to become a smash-hit I can only thank the gods of small mercies for because without ICO there would be no Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons, no Gone Home, no The Walking Dead Season 1.
Personally at the end of it all I really loved Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons and the message it conveys is a powerful and deeply felt one. While it may not reach the heights that ICO achieved it should leave every single gamer who experiences its tale deeply emotionally satisfied and possibly moved. This is the sort of game you should honestly spend full price on and not wait for a sale because these experiences only come along every once in a while and should be applauded and what better way to applaud something really special by giving it its proper value so we can hopefully see more.
Highly, highly recommended!