Off The Grid: Brothers
Zachary Brictson bonding with the family.
Getting along with siblings – whether older or younger – isn’t always easy. Perhaps it’s a task more often set toward failure than it is to gratification. That a videogame expected to make such a relationship its functioning centerpiece may warrant some pessimism, then, especially since Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is, albeit quite creatively, stubbornly faithful to these frustrations. In this light puzzle adventure, you control the older brother with the left analog stick and the younger brother with the right. Thus, similar to having a little brother, the game’s controls are, naturally, cumbersome.
Yet, it’s not truly natural. In fact, nearly all the obstacles in the world seem artificially created to be conquered by two people. A lever that lowers a drawbridge will take both boys to pull it. A heavy gate will block your path at several points and, of course, you’ll have to have both brothers pry it open together. Another sequence may have the elder hoisting the smaller onto a ledge, who will then drop down a rope or branch. Or, for added complexity later on, the younger boy may have to slip through a narrow crevice and then drop down the rope. It’s all a bit patronizing. Not because the problem solving is elementary, but because it’s so redundant and unsubtle in its attempts to emphasize teamwork.
While the game is simple, the simultaneous controlling of two characters on different analog sticks is responsible for constant, mild unease. Trying to move both kids in the same direction down a dirt path may require a deep breath and some real concentration if you don’t want them zigzagging all over the place and running into walls. It can be a little outrageous during more touching segments, like the opening tutorial where the boys must wheelbarrow their ill father to the town doctor. A lack of coordination can quickly make the entire sequence look and feel rather stupid.
Towards the end, however, it may become clear why the control scheme feels so forced. It comes into play dramatically, and while it’s not nearly enough to forgive its entire implementation, you can see what Starbreeze was going for and witness the emotional effect. Two brothers working out their differences in a quest to find a cure for their dying father brings with it some powerful imagery alongside the co-dependent controls, and an impressive direction of dark fantasy material will tug you through the lack of engagement. A land of giants, deep mountain trolls, sacrificial cults and demonic spider-women, it’s a fairy tale tailored for adults, even if the design itself feels quite the opposite.
During those segments of spelled out platforming over perilous landscapes the game is at its most reflective. It’s hard not to find the controls nagging, but in an endearing sort of way.
Zachary Brictson is a Computer Science graduate from Northern Illinois University who chooses to write about games rather than code them, contributing to physical publications like The Printed Blog, sites such as Playstation Universe, and his own blog, Up Magic.