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Polygon's Games of the Year 2013 #6: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

It's easy to discuss video games using the vocabulary of cinema — it's a hard trap to avoid — but Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons delivers its most effective moments using in-game mechanics instead of camera movement or a well-written cutscene.

This is a story that could have been told in another medium, but it's effective because it uses the expectations of how the game is supposed to work against the player.

The ability to control two characters with one controller is used as a way to explore the relationship the two boys share, and so many of the game's best moments come from small details in their world. The game forces the player to think of the two young men as part of a whole, and you won't be able to figure out the game's puzzles without learning how to use each brother both discretely and as a pair.

A single-player, story-based game where you control two distinct characters at the same time is already interesting, but it also helps explore the relationship of two people who have been together their entire lives. Of course, there doesn't need to be dialog that exists in our language; the two boys are so comfortable together their communication is nearly psychic.

Brothers uses a number of smart tools to make its narrative effective. The lack of English dialog, the characters' comfort in their own community and the unease you feel as you explore past the borders of the small town is matched with a sense of weight and awe at the game's environment. The player is given permission to stop and enjoy the scenery because the game makes it so clear that the characters themselves are impressed by what they see.

The idea of a shared journey is one of the most powerful narratives in fiction, but it's nearly impossible to provide a sense of bonding in a single-player game. Brothers gives you full control over two characters and then invites you to join them in their adventure; there are no clunky NPCs that get caught in doors, and the better you become at the game, the more easily the two characters work together. You're responsible for both of them at all times, and they're responsible for each other.

Of course, you can't have an adventure without conflict, and the game builds and builds towards a powerful moment where all those expectations and the full weight of the control method for both characters becomes an explicit part of the story itself. It's hard to list games that use interactivity to help tell the story itself, or that feature mechanics that help to explore the theme of the narrative. It all folds together in a way that feels effortless.

The best games use the advantages of the medium in order to make their point, and Brothers does this with confidence and grace.

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