In a market plagued by endless copycat battle royales, annual updates to established franchises and stale, identikit single-player campaigns, it’s always nice to see something come out that dares to be a little bit different.
It Takes Two from Hazelight (who made A Way Out) and EA has come out of leftfield and delivered a truly outstanding experience that will live with you for a long time to come.
What separates this game from the vast majority of its competitors is that it can only be played by two players simultaneously. No single player whatsoever. While this might seem like a big risk for a developer to take, the game simply wouldn’t work in any other way. This is a game about cooperation and collaboration, and whether you’re playing couch co-op or joining a friend online (which only requires one player to actually own the game thanks to a ‘friend license’) you can’t help but become immersed in the constant need to communicate with each other. Having played through the full story over a few weekends with my significant other, it’s funny to see how much we have reflected on the narrative, gameplay mechanics and sheer spectacle of this beautiful little game.
After a heartfelt opening outlining the plight of a family at breaking point, players are thrust into the shoes of Cody and May, a couple on the brink of divorce, who find themselves trapped and confused in the bodies of two tiny ragdolls courtesy of their daughter’s tearful wish for them to be friends again. From this point on they meet an outrageously over-the-top book (The Book of Love) who acts as a sort of spirit guide (and all-round asshole) who sets them the task of working together to solve countless puzzles across an incredible range of environments. He’s a total douchebag, but you’ll come to love him soon enough. From this point the goal is to get back to reality as soon as possible (and hopefully fix their marriage along the way).
What ensues is a truly unique and amazing adventure that remains fresh and exciting from start to finish. The sheer variety of environments, enemies, boss battles, weapons and gameplay mechanics is a staggering achievement and rarely has a game managed to balance co-operative gameplay with such finesse and style. What makes it even better is that both players have their own experience and playing the game from one perspective means that you encounter each level in a manner that is often very distinct from the other player. An example of this would be when Cody is given a ‘gloop cannon’ which shoots out gel that can be ignited by May’s flaming arrows.
In this chapter there is a need to consider the timing of shots to take out enemies, a constant back-and-forth between players to solve puzzles and the opportunity to combine your skills to great effect in a way that suits your play style. There’s a point where May is swarmed almost constantly by wasps and the player in Cody’s shoes needs to defend her by slowing them down with blobs of gloop so that she can have space to fire off the shots that will finish them off. It’s incredibly intense, but once you get into an effective groove it’s immensely satisfying.
Each chapter takes you through a different section of the family household, from the garage to the garden and on to various other rooms and areas around the house, and each of these is a brilliantly hyperbolic realisation of the realities of homemaking. Lost toys, half-finished projects and hoarded memories become gigantic obstacles to overcome, while the excellent scripting sees Cody and May bicker constantly about whose fault it is that things seem to be such a state.
Everything is brought to life with stunning effect with a near endless combination of new enemy types and some incredibly inventive approaches to puzzling that manage to breathe new life into classic game mechanics. What’s even more impressive is that the campaign is of a pretty decent length (a lot longer than I was expecting) and you’ll want to replay some of the sections just to truly appreciate all the little details.
Graphically, this is a beautiful game in every sense of the word and each environment has been brought to life with such passion and vibrance that you can’t help but be enamored by it. The character models and animation are hilariously over-the-top at times, and there’s also an incredible sense of emotion to Cody and May as they bicker and berate each other but also experience the full range of human emotions. In many ways it’s the little touches that bring it all together, like the floating dandelions, dust particles and pulsating backgrounds, or the sudden dynamic shifts from light to darkness that thrust you from stunning vistas into pitch black burrows in the blink of an eye. Add in some truly brilliant boss designs culminating in enemies on a humungous scale and this really is the full package. Whether you’re playing side-by-side or online, the game uses a dynamic split-screen system that keeps you both onscreen together at all times but allows each player total control over their own camera. This means that while you spend much of the game with a 50/50 split view of the world, sometimes you’ll share a single screen as you approach a common objective or one player will find themselves with the lion’s share of the field of view. It’s all incredibly fluid and just works so well that it feels totally natural and unintrusive.
Many of the chapters culminate in epic fights with hilariously terrifying monstrosities that are as wonderful as they are ludicrous. While these make use of many classic tropes of the platforming genre, it’s done with such flare and creativity that it all feels fresh and the continual evolution of each chapter means that these continue with the theme of variation. The intensity gets ramped up to the max at certain points in the game and the outstanding musical score soars and throbs to build up tension to an exhilarating level.
For me, the homages to games, films and other narratives that are scattered liberally across this epic playground really brought a smile to my face. When you move to a new environment and your skillset or weapons change, the development team have added in some loving nods to some of the biggest games out there including God of War, Tomb Raider, Sunset Overdrive and, of course, plenty of classic arcade games, mobile games and must-see movies.
Subtle touches and sound effects will catch the attention of avid gamers, as they recognize something like the ‘throw and return’ mechanic of Cody’s nails which mirrors the gloriously satisfying mechanic of Kratos’ axe in the incredible God of War among many others. The overall effect is astounding and there’s a genuine sense of excitement at the prospect of seeing what’s around the next corner or in the next chapter (at least for me, because I’m a big geek at heart).
All in all, I can’t recommend this game enough. It left a big space in my life when we reached the conclusion and now I’m looking forward to my second playthrough (as May this time) so that I can enjoy the other side of the equation. Add in the fact that I’ve already promised a few of my friends a few co-op sessions and I’ll probably be playing this again and again over the coming months. The best thing is, if you and a friend split the cost you can have it for half the price (sort of at least).
Fun, poignant and downright hilarious at times, It Takes Two is a true masterpiece in modern gaming and deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. Get it and have some epic fun with a friend.
Available on XB/PS/PC
Written by PSY-23