Leave it to a film director to try to come up with some new ideas for video games. Josef Fares, best known for his work “Zozo” and other award-winning Swedish films, has teamed up with Starbreeze Studios, best known for their work on “The Darkness” and “The Chronicles of Riddick” (both of them) to collaborate on an all new title, “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons,” an experiential, single-player story. Fares’ cinematic background gives him a unique perspective on the craft of telling stories, making his first foray into gaming a bit unconventional.
“Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” is a single-player, adventure-puzzle game that puts players simultaneously in control of two brothers – one older and one younger – as they go on a search to find a cure for their sick father. That was just about everything that Fares would reveal about the story in the game. He played through one of the game’s early scenes, before passing off the controller to me to try and navigate a slightly later, underground segment, all the while being very talkative about a wide variety of topics, but seemingly being very dodgy about the game itself.
Many of my questions about the game’s background, and the development of the story were deflected by Fares, stating that he wanted “the player to interpret what is going on” and for the game to “kick your imagination in.” Both of which are fairly standard responses for a game that is still early in development, but “Brothers” seemed different: I don’t think those questions are ever going to be answered. Fares knows the true story behind the two brothers, but he doesn’t want to enforce his perception of the game onto the players’.
Fares said over and over again that he wanted players to interpret their experience as their own. While that is something that can be said for just about every game that’s ever been released, “A Tale of Two Sons” manages to go about trying to do this in a unique fashion – by putting players in control of both brothers, at the same time. “Brothers” is a single-player game through and through, with no multiplayer or co-op to be found, but everyone that plays it will be controlling two characters using one controller. The left analog stick and shoulder buttons are used to direct the big brother, and the right analog stick and shoulder buttons are tailored for the little brother. The unique control scheme is very intentional, as Fares wants players to feel like their “left hand is big brother and their right hand is little brother.”
This simplified control scheme is in place to keep players immersed in the game, keeping them focused on what’s happening on screen and not in their hands. In order to help facilitate this potentially confusing and conflicting gameplay, Starbreeze have created a dynamic camera that follows you through the levels, attempting to always orient itself to reflect which side of the controller represents each brother – i.e. the big brother tends to be on the left side of the screen, whereas the little brother finds himself on the right side more often.
Unsurprisingly, controlling two characters as they run around the screen together is not an easy thing to do. It takes a bit of time for your brain to orient itself, and then focus on one character, or the other, depending on the task at hand. In order to traverse the game’s world, the two brothers must work together to solve puzzles and interact with NPCs as their story unfolds. Examples of their unique teamwork skills include scaling high ledges, where only the younger brother could reach with a boost from big brother, and the little sibling squeezing through small cracks in a fence to reach a lift that could move the bigger sibling along.
One of the other ways that “Brothers” sets itself apart is by being a 3 – 4 hour “experience” that Fares hopes “a player will play it in one sitting to get the most out of it.” He emphasized that it is less of a puzzle game, and more of a “storybook, or journey,” stressing the cinematic implications of the tale that the game tells. The relatively short gameplay time will hopefully allow players to digest the entirety of the game in one dose, instead of fragmenting out the overall narrative, and padding the game with excess content. While the game “could have easily been made into 10 hours,” Fares said that, “everything is unique,” going on to say, “every game mechanic, every encounter is only used once.” In short, “Brothers” trims the fat so that players can enjoy the meat.
Comparing “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” to other games is inevitable, as it invokes a host of different ideas from games. The single-player/dual-character gameplay feels like it would fit right in in games like “Ico” and (the highly underrated) “Cookie & Cream” games, whereas the deep, familial-inspired story is reminiscent of the recent “Papo y Yo,” and Fares is well-aware of all of these comparisons. To each of them, particularly calling out Thatgamecompany’s magnum opus “Journey,” he said that “it’s a compliment,” but then went on to note that “people will have extremely high expectations.” While Fares stated that it is “a thousand times harder” to make a game instead of a movie, he seems to be getting something right with “Brothers,” and he is seemingly on track to achieve his goal of having it be “about having this experience,” instead of being about everything else.