Very rarely am I as excited to talk about a game as this one - admittedly I did the standard impulse purchase of this very cheap game quite a few months ago during the Christmas sale and never looked at it again. I guess the art style of the thumbnail alone was enough to sway me, and when I returned to actually play it almost six months later, I was swayed yet again.
To begin with, let’s talk about the art style - it’s simplistic yet very nuanced, nicely rounded and soft. Lighting effects are used extremely carefully to create strong dramatic effects and during my playthrough (visible right here on YouTube) I noted that the entire game looked almost like a watercolour or ink painting, with strong blues and greens - very much a fairytale-style piece.
Our basic premise is that we have two brothers whose mother died some time ago by drowning, as we can infer from the opening cutscene. This instils a pretty understandable fear of water in the younger brother which becomes important through the story. The older brother is stalwart and strong, as well as quite serious, in contrast to the more lively and mischievous personality of his younger sibling.
I should perhaps mention early on the rather unique control system implemented by developers Starbreeze Studios here - each thumbstick of your gamepad moves one of the brothers, with the corresponding trigger activating interaction with their immediate environment. You might be required to move a long object through a tight space or activate switches to allow each individual brother to pass an area - it’s masterfully done and I have no doubt that by the end of the game you will appreciate the level of understanding the developers had over this mechanic.
"And believe me when I say that this game does not pull punches..."
And believe me when I say that this game does not pull punches. What begins as a bright and colourful fairytale type story does progress into something much more unforgiving and stark. The world out there is unkind, and you will certainly come to believe it. In the familiarity of the woods and fields around your home everything is safe and the only dangers lie in angry dogs. Progress into wolf-inhabitated forests and harsh tundra however and you will encounter very real threats that could mean the end of the brothers.
I’m almost ashamed of myself for having not bothered with this for so long - sale or not, you need to buy this and you need to play it today. It’s extremely short, taking me only about two and a half hours, but I’d have gladly paid twice what I did for it. In terms of originality and a narrative experience, you certainly won’t find much to compete with it, on Steam or anywhere else. Easily a 10/10 title in my book, and I hope Starbreeze does something equally magnificent in the future.