Review: Lost Brothers

I generally don’t like to directly compare games to one another, but Lost Brothers is so blatantly trying to replicate Firewatch that it’s impossible to ignore the likeness. I certainly don’t knock developer BitLight for attempting to create its own spin on the type of brilliant narrative experience that Campo Santo gave us, but sadly it becomes clear from the start of the game that Lost Brothers doesn’t have what it takes to meet even the basic standards of a quality narrative adventure game, let alone measure up to the genre-defining game it drew inspiration from.

Lost Brothers begins with some introductory exposition in the form of text setting up the backstory. Two brothers, Sam and John, used to go hiking and camping as a family tradition with their parents. After a few years, John returns from college, and the two brothers continue the tradition by themselves. Sam goes missing in the night, and after a month of searching he’s never found and thus deemed a missing person. A decade later, John returns to the same forest and discovers an abandoned walkie-talkie on a stump near his campsite. A girl named Samantha mysteriously radios in for help, claiming she’s trapped in a mine nearby.

As John, you venture off in an attempt to find and rescue her. While walking through the forest and eventually into the cave, Samantha talks to you via the walkie-talkie, and occasionally you’re given opportunities to choose from different response choices in how to continue the conversation.

This is where one of the game’s crucial flaws becomes abundantly clear: there is no voice acting! All of the dialogue is delivered in text, which to me is totally counterproductive to a story being delivered entirely through walkie-talkie conversations. Any time dialogue appears the immersion is broken because instead of being able to listen to the conversation play out while walking, you basically have to stop to read what’s being said. Without voice-overs, you also don’t get any sense of personality or emotion from the characters, so you never become attached to them or truly care about their circumstances. Worse still, the English translation is noticeably off in spots, leading to some awkwardly written dialogue that further removes you from the experience.

It’s a shame because the story does have potential to be a compelling mystery. There’s a main twist that is completely predictable, but then there’s an extra little wrinkle on top of the twist that is kind of cool. Unfortunately the storytelling mechanics are poorly realized, dialogue choices don’t really matter or build any true depth of characterization, and the narrative itself lacks cohesion, clarity, and a satisfactory resolution.

Lost Brothers is a formulaic walking simulator. You’re dropped into a world and given a pre-determined path to follow while the story unfolds over the course of a single sitting (you shouldn’t need more than an hour and a half to finish, if that). There’s exactly one puzzle which involves flipping some generator switches to open a giant electric door, and there’s some light platforming in a couple spots where you actually can fall and die, but for the most part you’re slowly plodding forward while reading walkie-talkie text. You can wander a little in the initial forest area, but there’s absolutely no reason to stray from the path, rendering the inclusion of a pull-out map superfluous. The game makes use of the common storytelling device of having diary pages to collect, but the notes are all provided for you like a trail of breadcrumbs in one short section of the cave, so there aren’t any hidden secrets or deeper story beats to uncover by exploring off the beaten path.

Visually, the game is competent. The forest area has some lovely sunset tones to bask in before venturing into the dark, cob-webbed mine tunnels and caves teeming with trippy neon mushrooms, as well as some horror-themed imagery in the latter stages. On the downside, there isn’t a strong enough sense of atmosphere or tension to drive the experience home, so the environment ultimately comes across bland and forgettable.

Now for the sake of full disclosure and fairness, after playing through the game and beginning to write up this review, while researching a bit more about the game I noticed that it did begin in early access a year ago. A few weeks ago the developer released the game out of early access with a message on the Steam community page stating that a lack of money lead to the end of development. While the game isn’t at the quality they intended, they did resolve the plot and optimize as much as possible in order to release it out of early access.

It’s nice that they were honest and transparent about the development, helping to put into proper context why the game isn’t fully realized. However, it doesn’t excuse the quality of the finished product. I very much appreciate the ambition BitLight brought to Lost Brothers and don’t intend for this review to come off overly harsh or unfair. But at the end of the day a straightforward narrative game of this type needs a certain production value and mastery of storytelling to be effective, and that level of quality simply isn’t here.

SkipIt

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: BitLight
Developer: BitLight
Release Date: 1/12/2021
Genre: Adventure
Players: 1

Source: A free Steam key for Lost Brothers was provided to VGBlogger for review consideration by BitLight.

Buy From: Steam for $8.99

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!