The Power of Control in Storytelling – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

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Game: Brother: A Tale of Two Sons

Developer: Starbreeze Studios

Publisher: 505 Games

Platform Reviewed: Xbox One

As a lot of you may know, I study English and Creative Writing, I love stories and the people that tell them. No surprises as to why I love video games, to me they are the greatest form of storytelling. There’s no better way to truly captivate your player, by putting them into the protagonist’s shoes, I’ve spoken about this briefly before. Now don’t get me wrong I love a good book or a great movie, but neither of them can captivate the narrative and immersive power that games have, for me anyway. Recently as part of my 70,000 Gamerscore Challenge, I played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and whilst it was as I expected it to be, one little detail that the developers put into the game gave me some food for thought. We have all played games where a character has died, be it upsetting or necessity, these deaths stay with us and rightfully so.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an adventure puzzle game, with a huge emphasis on working together, you have two characters that can do separate things to help solve puzzles. The older brother can help the younger get up to high places and your typical small character can do this and big character can do that, there’s nothing too special about that, but it works well. The puzzles are well thought out and do require some thinking to complete them, but there were none that had me truly stuck, they are not that hardest.

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The story is simple enough and one we’ve seen plenty of times, their father is sick and only a certain plant (That’s always dangerous to get), is required to save him. We start the game with the younger brother as we find out that he witnessed his mother drowning, resulting in his fear of water, also it can be the driving force behind the brother’s desperation. They’ve already lost their mother, they must do anything they can to help their father. We venture with both children out into the dangerous wilderness to save their father.

You play through the game as well, two brothers (I know, shocking), but instead of controlling one, you control both siblings. The way that you do this is with each stick on your controller, the left controls the older brother and the right controls the younger. Now, firstly before I praise the game, I’ll talk about the negatives of this. You are controlling two characters at the same time and naturally, it can get confusing, you can get into a rhythm but it can be quickly ruined when you get confused. Throughout the game I cursed these controls, I really did, interesting as they are, they are confusing and I believe that it is done this way for a special reason.

From here on there will be spoilers, so please if you want to play through the game yourself, stop here and play it! Trust me, it’s not long but that says nothing about its quality!

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The brothers work together and agree throughout the entirety of the game, we see them navigate challenges smoothly and work together in unison. But there is a point in the game where they don’t agree, they save a girl from a bloody ritual who helps them on their quest. She leads them through a deserted town and to a cave, this is where the younger brother shows that he doesn’t trust her, the older brother ignores his warnings. The young woman is revealed to be a spider/woman, who after defeating delivers a fatal blow to the older brother with her stinger.

Some part of me knew that the older brother would die, so after my huge “I told you so” moment (trust me, no one was there but I actually said that out loud… I don’t want to show off my prediction powers, but I totally knew…). I quickly came to grips with one thing. I was now missing a playable character, the stick that belonged to him was rendered useless. After finding him dead and recovering the medicine for his father, we have to burry our older brother… alone.

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This is what stood out about this game for me, not the story, not the gameplay but I suppose in the end, the ability to take gameplay from me. I struggled with the controls throughout the entire game, almost building a relationship between my thumbs, watching it blossom into a working team. Suddenly that was taken from me. I felt that pain… I didn’t have to sympathise with the characters, because I was put at a disadvantage, it wasn’t something that just happened, it directly affected me. It was beautifully done.

We see this done in many games, mainly action games in which you can unlock abilities. We normally get a mission where we have everything, then we lose it all. Assassins Creed: Brotherhood does this, the opening mission we have everything from the ending of Assassins Creed 2, the when the Borgias attack, you lose it all. But for some reason, the impact is not as strong, we don’t rely on those abilities until we unlock them again.

But this is not the last time we get to feel the impact of the left stick, the older brother. Throughout the game we are constantly reminded about the younger brothers fear of water, something that we see as a persistent threat throughout the game, in fact, he almost drowns and sees his mother in a vivid vision. The game subtly has the older brother swim the younger brother across the water, it sometimes seems placed randomly, but it serves as a reminder. When returning to his father, the younger brother must swim across a body of water, pressing the right stick to move him alone does nothing but have him recoil at the idea. But, pressing both sticks in, we hear the older brother encouraging him, telling him that he can do it. The left stick serves as a reminder that no matter if you’ve lost a loved one, their impact can always be felt, can always be used as a source of strength.

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Even writing this now, I’m still impressed about how something so little changed my mind on a game that I was not truly impressed about. I honestly thought it was going to just pull the death of a brother card, just to pull at my heartstrings, to an extent it does. Whilst also showing the beauty of storytelling within video games, its a story, or perhaps a combination of a few stories we’ve seen before. But utilising the main aspect of gaming that we forget, control.

This has been more of a rambling about the loss of a joystick than a review, but I really enjoyed it. Whilst I will always be annoyed at the controls, that small detail will always stay with me, possibly as one of my favourite gaming moments.

Thanks for reading,

Dale.

 

 

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