It Takes Two Review: The most innovative and impressive co-op game to date
Reviewed On: PS5 (Original)
Hazelight Studios left a big impact in the gaming community when it launched a solely co-op experience back in 2018 with A Way Out. Now, they return to deliver another unique cooperative experience full of heart and ever-changing gameplay mechanics with It Takes Two.
Since joining Electronic Arts under their EA Originals label, Hazelight has arguably been the best thing going for EA. When A Way Out was announced, it immediately caught the attention of the entire gaming community for providing a prison break narrative that was solely cooperative – something truly rare. Most games are simply just drop-in/drop-out co-op experiences, but Hazelight offered something different, and it struck a unique chord that resonated well within the gaming community.
It likely helped that Hazelight founder Josef Fares helped give the game greater notoriety with his wild and likeable energy. From his announcement speech for A Way Out at EA’s presentation at E3 back in 2017 to his iconic “Fuck the Oscars” speech at that year’s Game Awards, Fares has shown a pure love for gaming that everyone can get behind. His enthusiasm and ambition for what he does really captured the hearts the of gaming community and was a big part of why A Way Out was so successful. All of this is what made It Takes Two’s official announcement at last year’s Game Awards incredibly exciting and Fares once again continuously raised the hype levels. Thankfully, it’s another Hazelight game that lives up to the hype in delivering an unbelievably awesome co-op experience.
Where A Way Out brought players on a prison break, It Takes Two delves into a different genre that generally isn’t touch on in gaming – romantic comedies. Sure, games can have comedic moments, but its rare to see many ever go out to be full blown comedies. It Takes Two’s execution and narrative truly embody the elements of a great rom com with players jumping into the story of married couple Cody (Joseph Balderrama) and May (voiced by Annabelle Dowler). Their constant feuding has them heading towards a divorce that upsets their daughter Rose (voiced by Clare Corbett) greatly. Rose becomes so upset that she wishes her parents could reconcile and she surprisingly gets her wish. Cody and May awake as Rose’s dolls and under the guidance of the eccentric relationship book Dr. Hakim (also voiced by Balderrama) the two of them must learn to work together and fix their relationship in order to return to their normal bodies and Rose.
The comedic writing from Fares and Soni Jorgensen as well as the perfect combination of great motion capture and performances really make It Takes Two constantly hilarious. Key aspects of great comedy are effective timing and pacing and the game nails this on multiple fronts. The constant bickering between Cody and May and the jabs they take at each other can be brutally hilarious. Their reactions to the weird environments, crazy powers, and strange characters they come across during their journey are always funny. Dr. Hakim is the peak of hilarity though as his sudden appearances always put a smile on your face and his overly eccentric personality and movements are just the best. He’s the perfect antithesis to where Cody and May are at and the way that he constantly gets in their way to try and get their relationship on track is great.
Even outside the writing, the gameplay and added elements to the environment offer some really funny moments. There’re interactable events scattered throughout each area that players can interact with to create some random hilarity. Moments like me touching a button and then getting crushed by a hammer and sending someone flying with a swing not only made me laugh but filled my headphones with the cackling of my friend Stokem. Even some of the powers May and Cody get have some hilarious side effects to them. Things like Cody’s voice changing when he changes sizes in a stellar space section and him becoming different plants in a greenhouse area.
There’s even a more cynical side to the humor that gives the narrative and the characters a slightly darker shade that plays really well with Cody and May’s relationship arc. For the first half or so, Cody and May’s selfishness to get back into their bodies really fleshes out their issues and even has them go to some darkly comical and crazy lengths to do so. There’re times where you end up genuinely being shocked at how self-absorbed they’ve become to get what they want to the point where they’re even willing to hurt Rose in the process. It’s all done in a light-hearted enough manner for it to be funny and not come off completely cruel. Not to mention it works well in bringing Cody and May to their worst so that they can rise to something better.
It Takes Two’s heart is truly shown in the second half of its story as it’s where Cody and May go through their greatest transformations. With how Dr. Hakim takes the wheel, Cody and May face their issues head-on and there’re great moments of reconciliation and realization that makes them more relatable and easier to care for. As you surpass each level, you can really feel the two of them understanding each other and accepting their own flaws. They become a better support system for each other and the way the game has you constantly communicating with your partner makes it translate to those playing it.
For the most part, the story is perfect until its rushed and underwhelming ending. The ending literally comes up way too quick and takes all the wind out of what the final chapter builds. It’s not bad in the sense that the heart of what the game is building towards doesn’t come through since it’s still there and wraps up nicely. It’s just that it felt like it was building towards something bigger and watching everything unfold through cutscenes rather than gameplay certainly didn’t leave the same emotional weight as other chapters did – especially because the gameplay is so great.
The game’s themes of cooperation, support, and communication come through excellently in the gameplay. On the surface, It Takes Two shares a lot of the same ideas that made A Way Out so special. Split-screen co-op is back and is better than ever with how useful it can end up being. With players also having the view of their partner, they can get a greater perspective on the environment and point out things that they might be missing. There were times where my partner and I would be looking for the next platform to hop to or minigames for us to play and we would end up finding it by peeking over at the other player’s view. It’s a great showing that cooperative games don’t need a ping system and can bring out better communication instead.
Speaking of mini-games, players can once again find small minigames in each level that pits players against each other for some competitive action. Honestly, we should just get rid of standard collectibles in games and replace them with minigames because it’s a big reason that It Takes Two is just so much damn fun to play. The minigames range from being based on classic games like Whack a Mole and Tug of War to games based around the theme of level. Most of them are pretty fair and offer a very fun break from cooperative play that allows you and a friend to reignite rivalries and go head-to-head. It’s also great that there’s an odd number so that there’s a definitive winner at end – which I’m happy to say was me at the end of my playthrough. Chess, baseball hitting game, and shuffleboard were easy favorite of mine and my friend and it’s great how no minigame ever felt the same as another.
The same can be said about the gameplay mechanics as players play around with new abilities each level that allow them to interact with the world as well as each other in new ways. When Fares was talking about It Takes Two, I remember he brought up how each level players would be doing something completely different, and he really wasn’t kidding. Each level players are given new tools generally fitting the environment or whatever situation Cody and May are dealing with. For instance, there’s a level where Cody uses a honey sap cannon to spray certain obstacles or enemies with honey so that May can use her match shooter to blow everything covered to smithereens. Each new ability each character gets is truly different than the last and it makes the gameplay constantly refreshing and good communication that much more important. The level design is also incredibly impressive with how it changes up the use of abilities and it allows for new ways to traverse, think, and play. It’s something that could easily be overlooked but is a big part of why the gameplay mechanics are so innovative.
It’s also worth noting that the Friend’s Pass makes a big return so players can bring a friend along online with only one copy of the game. As someone who used it for the first time, it worked pretty well, and my friend and I got through the game pretty much just fine. However, there was one issue that we had in terms of inviting and making someone the host. Although I was the one with the full version, my friend with the friend’s pass had to be the one that invited me. It just seemed odd considering that I was the one who paid full price for the game and I even ran into issues inviting my friend on the PS4 version of the game.
Even for some minor narrative and technical gripes, It Takes Two is the most innovate and impressive co-op game to date. It’s incredible level designs work perfectly with the cooperative abilities. There’s a greatly acted and written narrative that tugs at the heart strings in a very relatable and comical way. Best of all, it’s a game that brings you closer to whoever you’re playing it with. It’s a pure showing of Hazelight’s talents and that they can live up to their own hype. Mark my words, It Takes Two is the first real game of the year contender.
*All Photos Used Here Were Taken By the Author*