Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

developed by Starbreeze Studios
Video game

View a still from the game

Each thumb controls a different brother in A Tale of Two Sons, requiring us to develop the skill of manipulating two characters at once. The trick, it soon becomes apparent, is in their teamwork and interaction. They help each other swim across any large pools of water that obstruct their path, or use rope to haul each other up onto higher ground. The older brother takes on a role of responsibility, his strength acting as a pillar of support for his younger sibling.

The game’s expansive, enchanting world is occupied by a soft, dusky light. This illumination guides the brothers on their journey, as we observe them from a distance. We are encouraged to consider the environment from each boy’s outlook, aided by changes in camera angle. At times, we take a bird’s eye view, our characters becoming small shapes within vast spaces. Seeing the epic expanse below adds to the sense of adventure. The mission may seem straightforward, but completing it successfully is no easy feat.

Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou

Still shaken by the death of their mother, Naia and Naiee are left to care for their father when he falls ill. Water from the Tree of Life will cure his ailment, but the route there is a dangerous one. Only close cooperation will ensure their progress. Fortunately, the sons have complementary skills, in line with their matching names. The strength of one is offset by the slim physique of the other: the former deals with the heavy lifting, while the latter can slip through tight spaces. We even guide the duo with a single controller. The left thumbstick and trigger move the older brother, and the right buttons move the younger.

The game’s opening minute seems designed to exploit our lack of familiarity with this setup. Pairing up to carry their cart-confined father downhill, the boys slip and slide as we inexpertly manoeuvre them. Given the sombre storyline, the effect is darkly comic. Elsewhere, the plot achieves a careful balance between playful and poignant. In a particularly affecting moment, the absence of one brother leaves us unable to use half of the controller. Through this physical change, we share the other boy’s sensation of loneliness. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a touching experience, in both definitions of the word: its tenderness is taught through tactility.

Words by John Wadsworth

More to discover

You can view the trailer here, and watch a playthrough here. Eric Swain has written about cinematic framing in the game for PopMatters.

Question of the day

Are video games uniquely positioned to encourage empathy?
Share your thoughts on FacebookPatreon, or Twitter.

Video games are participatory representational systems. To play we must act. By making choices as a character, the player has greater identification with that character than in mediums where characters are merely observed.

– Claire Carré, film directorand editor (Embers) (via The Brief →)

Also on Silent Frame