We all have that game, or for that matter that book, movie or that album. The kind of book/movie/etc that’s revered as a fantastic example of its medium and we owe it to ourselves to try it, yet try as we might we cannot even come close to enjoying it the way the rest of the world seems to. For me, that book is No Country for Old Men, that movie is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and that game is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
Brothers shocked the gaming world when it was released in 2013. Reviewers practically assaulted the game with perfect or near perfect scores, remarking on the originality of its core design and its rich story. Every major gaming media outlet was keen to nominate it Game of the Year. And Youtube gaming leviathan Totalbiscuit was happy to announce it had even usurped Deus Ex as his favourite game of all time. However, despite all this praise, it could at best only ever get a passing grade from me.
To be clear, Brothers is nowhere near anything I might be tempted to consider a bad game. It was an original concept that provided me with some entertaining hours of distraction. I always love playing something fresh, something that feels like nothing else I’ve played before, and a single-player co-op game that tasks the player with controlling two separate characters at the same time is certainly that. However, the game that stunned and delighted the rest of the gaming world is simply lost on me.
The biggest problem I had with it was the game’s story. Now I love me a game with a strong narrative focus, to the point that I’m willing to forgive questionable game mechanics if they inform the game’s story. For example, I previously stated that I very much enjoyed that Thomas was Alone’s puzzles were not particularly challenging, as they allowed the player to see how they related to how that game’s characters related to each other. And to be fair, Brother’s puzzles and duel-character control mechanic do inform the player about the bond between its two central characters, a pair of brothers on a journey to save their fathers life. However, unlike Thomas was Alone, the game does precious little to explore this bond.
Throughout their journey, the brothers explore various environments and meat several characters. And like The Littlest Hobo, they often have to help these characters overcome their problems before moving on to the next adventure. Unfortunately, because the game never verbalises these interactions, we get almost no insight into how the brothers are affected by the characters they meet and vice versa. Now I’m all for a video-game that shows its story rather than tells it to the player, but some balance is nice, and I rather fear Brothers sacrificed much of its emotional impact for the sake of a gimmick.
Gone Home is a game that many criticised for not giving the player enough to do apart from explore a house. I can appreciate why some were put off by this. However, it offer a contrast between the story of a young girl’s first love, told through narrated monologs, and a more general story of a family in turmoil, which the player discovers through information derived from gameplay. In addition, it gave us player character that was tied directly to the events of the story, yet completely alien to them. It found a balance between telling and showing its story, and then gave its main character a believable emotional motivation for uncovering that story. Brothers, on the other hand, offers no such sense of attachment with is gameplay. The two explore the world and complete quests with a detached aloofness. Nothing they do or see seems to matter much to them, except that it helps them to get to the next part of the game.
I don’t want to focus on the ending too much for fear of spoiling it. Allow me to say, however, that I can admire that they took a risk. For many that risk paid off, but for some it was an anti-climax. Personally speaking, it felt to like the whole quest was a giant waste of everyone’s time.
None of what I write here is to claim that people who like this game are wrong. Many, many people loved it, and I’m okay with that. However, for the life of me, I just can’t figure out why.
Overwhelmingly Justified: A family reunion I’d skip