Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons preview: a self-cooperative fairy tale

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is Starbreeze Studio's next game, a downloadable title that's aiming to do some pretty clever things when it comes to in-game storytelling. The project was conceived by award-winning Swedish filmmaker Josef Fares, and tells the tale of a couple of young siblings who embark on a quest to find a cure for their ailing father. Fares, who is serving as both game and creative director on the project, stopped by to demonstrate an early build of the game last month, which turns out to be a visually-impressive, creative, and surprisingly ambitious adventure game.

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The game is a cooperative experience that you play by yourself. Each brother is assigned to a different analog stick and are controlled by a single player, simultaneously. Each brother also gets a trigger for their sole action button, which can be held to engage in the game's innumerable context-sensitive actions.

There's no heads-up display in the game, dialog or text in-game. The story is told entirely through the numerous player interactions and animations. When characters speak, it's in gibberish, and the game instead relies on vocal inflection and character gestures to convey emotion and instruction. In one example, Fares had the younger brother steal a ball that a young girl was playing with, and toss it in a nearby well, which drove the child to tears. Later on in the demo, I got to see how the brothers could actually play catch with the ball instead, or shoot it at a nearby hoop.

Fares said he wasn't aiming to make a difficult game, but rather to deliver an engaging interactive story and experience. "It's an emotional experience. It's not particularly hard," he said. "My vision is that you sit back on the sofa, relax, and enjoy."

Discovery and playful curiosity seem to be a big part of what makes Brothers compelling. While there will certainly be actions that will drive the story forward or solve the game's puzzles, Fares said that there will be a significant number of optional ways the player will be able to interact with the game. For example, rather than adding filler like collectibles, there are some optional actions that will provide achievements, along with some visual, in-game rewards. It's hard to discuss any examples without spoiling them, but they'll add some extra flavor to the experience.

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Though it'll likely be around a three- to four-hour ride, every bit of content that the player experiences will be unique, down to every last NPC. No animations or art-assets are being shared between characters or locations, and each brother will be able to interact with characters in different ways. "Something that bothers me in games today is that they're repetitive," Fares said. "Everything you see [in Brothers] is a 'one-time-only,' both visually, and in gameplay."

"It's pretty nuts, in some ways," he admitted, referring to the amount of work that goes into making every bit of content unique.

Fares said that he's been an avid gamer for most of his life, and that Brothers is a "passion project.". As a medium for storytelling, he feels video games are the next big untapped creative frontier. He believed that in thirty years or so, video games will have the same "intellectual heaviness" as things like film, poetry, and music. "In the end, when you start to make people feel something--when they interact with it--it's going to be even stronger than movies, actually," Fares said.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is planned for a Spring 2013 release as a digital download for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.