Brothers is a dark fairy tale from Starbreeze Studios, best known for their brace of surprisingly brilliant Riddick adaptations, and represents a collaboration with well-regarded Swedish film director Josef Fares. It’s a story told entirely without comprehensible dialogue and exposition, relying on the expressions of its dual sibling protagonists and those around them to relay much of the tale, a welcome subtle approach that is employed in a bleakly effective capacity throughout this captivating work.
The arc of Brothers sees these two boys desperately seeking a cure to help their deathly ill father – there’s a fairy tale-like harshness to this premise, underlined by dark fantasy-infused art direction and a credibly cinematic soundtrack that would be a good match for a grim crime drama like Wallander or The Killing.
You control both brothers simultaneously, which is initially confusing as you end up performing the videogame equivalent of going cross-eyed, sending the two lads in different directions while you sort the situation out. Yet what you learn is that each brother has certain strengths, shaped by their personalities.
At the start, you’re shown how the younger brother is struggling with the death of his mother, who drowned at sea; this manifests itself in gameplay terms with the younger brother refusing to cross water without the older brother there to carry him across. Meanwhile, a particularly lazy worker who refuses to lower a bridge to the older sibling only does so after the younger one splashes him awake as a joke; this is all done by using one simple command button for each brother, but it’s very effective.
And this idea isn’t just limited to the many organically-designed puzzles that occupy the majority of Brothers‘ lifespan. Using that interact button for each sibling on everyday objects reveals a complete story of their differences – for example, the older one tries to play a harp but can’t do it very well, while the younger brother is naturally gifted at this instrument.
There are many instances like this in here, where the world around you will tell you more about the characters. A camaraderie builds between them that is quite heartbreaking given the painful context of the brothers’ lives, but it’s the delicate way that engaging story is told without it being so obviously telegraphed to the player that makes Brothers an essential purchase.