As online gaming has risen to prominence in the 21st century, there has been an observable decline in the number of games that feature local cooperative play. That decreased presence of a gameplay experience once considered commonplace has gone hand-in-hand with a growing disinterest in any kind of in-person interactions among gamers. After all, it’s more convenient to yell at friends over Discord than to drive to someone’s house.
That having been said, online gaming lacks the intimacy and earnestness of human presence. Local gameplay reactions have a habit of being more sincere and less distilled or restrained by the demands of online engagement. They’re also not tied to recurring issues like a lousy Internet connection or terrible microphones.
Only with local play do people get moments like someone throwing a GameCube controller on the floor after they crash the Lego Podracer or scowling at the cocky friend who snatched the last Star in Mario Party. Few and far between as these in-person interactions may be at present, one company has made it their mission to keep that spirit of comradery alive: Hazelight Studios.
The team at Hazelight is known for creating couch co-op games that incorporate deep teamwork mechanics and unique split-screen functionality. The expressive co-op experience that Hazelight has masterfully facilitated with past works is one of several reasons why folks should be excited about their next game, It Takes Two.
5. The Hazelight Legacy
In one of the standout moments of The Game Awards 2017, Josef Fares made a point of criticizing the Academy Awards in a bold fashion while promoting A Way Out, garnering him a great deal of media attention. Though his profanity-filled speech merits some consideration, Fares’ continued career owes more to genuine success as a game director.
His games stand out for the strength of vision showcased with their gameplay and stylistic choices. In Fares’ earlier game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, two young brothers must find a cure for their dying father. The duo embark on an emotional journey through a fairy-tale world where they encounter puzzling setbacks and overcome deadly obstacles.
This may sound like a typical adventure game, but the control scheme differentiates itself from other puzzle-platformers. Brothers is designed around the left and right analog sticks on a given controller assigned to each of the two brothers. In other words, both are controlled by the player at the same time, reinforcing their strong bond. Thus, a compelling story element was portrayed through clever gameplay design.
Of course, Fares and his associates would not be half as impressive a development team if they hadn’t proven their range and ability to shift gears with confidence. Whereas Brothers was a fantasy-style adventure, Fares’ next project was aiming for a more gritty and realistic approach. The result was A Way Out, which followed two unlikely companions as they escape a prison and form an uneasy bond.
While A Way Out wasn’t as well-regarded as Brothers, it did test out interesting cooperative gameplay mechanics. In one scene, the escapees pressed their backs against each other and used their legs to climb up a shaft. This required a timed button press between the two players, with an inconsistent press sending the two plummeting down the shaft.
It’s clear that Hazelight has refined their co-op formula by encouraging active communication between players. On top of that, they analyze relationships through moment-to-moment play, making for profound character moments and development. Hazelight’s repertoire gives us a lot of hope for It Takes Two, a game that seems adherent to the studio’s strengths.
4. A Deep Yet Family Friendly Story
In the promotional material, we see a daughter crying over her parents’ dissolving relationship. Somehow, this causes her parents’ souls to transfer into doll avatars, forcing them to work together to find their real bodies. Meanwhile, a book of love named Dr. Hakim, played by Fares, follows the disintegrating couple and tries to rekindle their love.
It Takes Two is described as a romantic comedy, which indicates a light-hearted and fun tone. At the same time, it is tackling the subject of divorce, something that affects millions of real-life families. That’s quite the tonal and thematic juggling act, though it’s not impossible to manage if care is taken.
After all, works with serious themes have long relied on imaginative visuals and strong comedic timing to help convey their message in a palatable fashion – consider the filmography of Pixar or Studio Ghibli for reference. A great storyteller and a strong team backing them up can strike that crucial balance between whimsy and melancholy.
After watching extended gameplay demos, It Takes Two seems primed to continue this tradition by way of the well-acted portrayal of the two main characters. Watching May and Cody interact, it’s evident that the powerful bond that once united them is now strained by dissatisfaction and other complications. As a foundation for character drama and as a way of keeping the co-op play interesting, this has the potential to be brilliant.
Both A Way Out and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons developed insightful commentary on human relationships. It Takes Two looks to be no different and we can’t wait to see how May and Cody’s story unfolds.
3. No Filler
These days, many games have a lot of unnecessary filler material. With Uncharted, it’s the glimmering treasures scattered throughout areas which have no significant impact on the games. In Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, players can take out bandit camps interrupting the more compelling main storyline. Whether just a distraction or an active inconvenience, though, it always manages to be annoying on some level.
When it comes to It Takes Two, Hazelight wants to tell the story with no interruptions. According to them, the gameplay will be straightforward with zero collectibles and minimal alternative paths, all in the name of keeping things interesting. This seems to stem from Fares’ view that replayability is overrated and that many people don’t finish games in the first place.
The game can be replayed since each character has their own unique roles, but everything the player does has value. It’ll be a breath of fresh air to play through a story without being lured away to collect items or complete repetitive fetch quests.
2. Wacky World
Every section of It Takes Two appears to center on a new mechanic. Players will be constantly introduced to new gameplay concepts, which are mastered without the use of tutorial windows. Each mechanic will grow more varied in its usage until a climactic encounter, at which point it’s never revisited.
This approach to individual mechanics also seems to apply to the progression of level and area concepts. In a short gameplay demo, players fought an angry toolbox that rained nails from the sky and laughed out of joy for others’ suffering. The next thing we know, Mary and Cody are helping squirrels fight a legion of bees.
Then there’s the way It Takes Two dabbles in different gaming genres. One sequence had health bars appear on the top left and right as It Takes Two briefly transformed into a fighting game. A later section saw the couple flying a plane and shooting down ravenous bees.
Delivering gameplay variety in this fashion is only viable through It Takes Two’s wacky world where spontaneous concepts feel natural and fitting. In essence, this magical world gives Hazelight an excuse to change its gameplay on a dime. If nothing else, it’s hard to imagine that Hazelight’s new game will ever get boring.
1. Real-Time Teamwork
As we’ve come to expect, It Takes Two’s focus is cooperation, so much so that it can’t be played in single-player. In fact, Fares encourages It Takes Two to be played among friends, as it requires real-life teamwork.
Though each player has a different role, they each feel like they equally solve the equation. Sometimes a situation will call for one player to put nails down for the other to hammer, or to use a specialized gun to shoot sap that’s ignited by a partner. It’s this aspect of cooperative play – where players go back and forth to help one another and progress as a team – that gives us confidence in what It Takes Two is pitching.