Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons preview: setting a mood

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the story of two lost brothers searching for their missing father, is near completion and is rapidly approaching its release window. Swedish filmmaker and game director Josef Fares wanted to show just how far Brothers has come since our last preview, so Shacknews was given the opportunity to go hands on with an early chapter from Starbreeze Studios' latest.

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Fares first showed me the simplified control scheme. The left analog stick controls the big brother, while the right analog stick controls the little brother. Shoulder triggers perform action and interact with the environment. Aside from the shoulder bumpers controlling the camera, the rest of the controller's buttons are not used at all.

Fares then introduced me to the nameless brothers, themselves, as he started walking them across the opening chapter's home village. Both brothers can interact with pieces of the environment, with each one expressing a unique reaction to it. For example, the big brother would approach an old lady and inquire about their father's whereabouts, while the little brother would approach the same lady and start to play with her.

There are numerous objects in the environment to interact with, however don't expect Brothers to spell out what you can play with. There are no context-sensitive indicators, as the object of the game is to encourage players to explore for themselves. Those that want the whole experience will want to explore everything with each brother, as their different reactions to environmental objects are not only interesting to see, but some actions will have consequences that can be observed later in the story.

The two brothers also needed to work together to get through several areas. One instance required the brothers to trek across a farm area guarded by a vicious dog. One brother would need to holler at the dog and distract him, while the other brother would run across and climb up to a safe platform. It would then be that brother's turn to run distraction, while the other brother sprinted to another safe area, continuing the pattern until reaching the next part of the stage.

I was then given a chance to take control of the brothers for myself. The game's second chapter featured a cavernous setting, where I observed running waterfalls and trolls toiling away in nearby mines. Fares noted that different pieces of scenery, like the working trolls, are meant to push the player's imagination and make them wonder how they came to be. The second stage had random benches strewn about, where one of the brothers could take a seat and soak in the ambiance with a panoramic camera angle.

The puzzles in the second chapter were distinctly different than the ones in the first. There were high ledges, in which the big brother had to give the little brother a boost. The little brother would then toss down a nearby rope or activate a machine to allow the big brother to catch up. Another puzzle saw that the brothers needed walk across an active water turbine in order to move forward. To make it across, I had to guide the brothers to a fallen column, use the action buttons to pick up each end, and guide each brother with both analog sticks. After using the column to jam the turbine's gears, the brothers were able to proceed safely.

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The detailed environments, gibberish-speak, and minimalist presentation of Brothers did a lot to remind me of games like ICO, where the focus is placed on a simpler adventure mechanic. While I had Fares sitting next to me offering commentary, at no point did I need his help to complete any of the puzzles put before me. There's nothing complex about the game's puzzles and none of it will break anyone's brain. This idea of simplicity may be a turn-off to some, however Fares points out that a high challenge curve would disrupt the story's pace. "[Brothers] is not gonna put up a lot of challenges that are too hard," he added. "They're mostly there to be experienced. My dream is that you play it in one sitting and hopefully not fail."

With his film background, Fares aimed for a gripping narrative, but found some challenges in making the transition from film to games. "The interactivity of it is quite tough," he explained. "Having done feature films, it's much more controlled in what's going on. In games, you cannot predict what the player is going to do. I'm quite amazed now, understanding how much work it is to make games."

The journey sounds intriguing, but it also sounds short. Expect to complete Brothers in about three to four hours. If that sounds brief, it's because Starbreeze Studios has sought to eliminate any sense of repetition. "We tried to make every experience unique," said Fares. "Everything you see--NPCs, environments, visuals, mechanics--everything's one time only. It is a three to four hour experience, but we could have easily made it into a ten-hour if we would have reused everything. But that's not the point. The point is to create a mood, a sense of journey, and creating a curiosity for the player."