It Takes Two might just be perfectly suited (and improperly placed) for the time that we're living in. Taken as the madcap romantic comedy that it is, this upcoming adventure game is set to offer a little levity in a period of history best described as pretty heavy. But as the latest game from Hazelight Studios, the purveyors of premium couch co-op experiences, the thought of getting together with a friend to experience it all as intended seems as unnatural as it does unlikely.
Josef Fares doesn't care how you play it, but he's certain you'll have a good time if you do. "It Takes Two supports couch and online co-op. I always prefer people to play on the couch but now, with the coronavirus… oh I don't know, man; maybe go get the COVID test, sit together, and enjoy it," Fares laughs, creative director at Hazelight. "Either way, make sure you have a good friend or partner to play with. Take your time and get ready to be blown away. Trust me, you will never in a second guess what will be around the next corner. Never. It's impossible. And you will never get tired of this game either. That's a fact. I know that's a fact. And if you do get tired, you can let me know..."
Game It Takes Two
Developer Hazelight Studios
Platforms PC, PS4 Xbox One
Release March 26, 2021
I have some information that you might find difficult to believe: in the past, Josef Fares has been accused of overconfidence. That was true when Fares took his first steps into the video game industry, collaborating with Starbreeze for 2013's Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. And it was especially true when Hazelight released its debut game in 2018, A Way Out – the critically acclaimed co-op game that sought to bring a cinematic flair to split-screen experiences. He also doesn't care about people's perception of him. "People say that I'm cocky and confident. Well, you come play the game. You come play the game and tell me you wouldn't be cocky and confident."
What to make of It Takes Two, then – a game Fares once said will "blow your fucking mind away" in a video sanctioned by publisher EA. For its second release, Hazelight is moving far from the American criminal justice system and is instead attacking an area that is more broadly relatable: a drama of the heart. Faced with a family on the brink of divorce, a little girl unwittingly casts a hex on her feuding parents and sends them hurtling into a technicolor nightmare – a strange space where the only thing that can set them free... is love.
Yeesh. Okay, that sentence was a little too cheesy even for me, and I love me a romantic comedy starring Sandy B. But that's the setup nonetheless, setting the stage for an adventure which Fares promises will be forever changing and shifting beneath the feet of Cody and May – the estranged couple who find themselves converted into patchwork dolls as they attempt to rebuild their fractured relationship. In this world born of relatable chaos, Hazelight is teasing that we'll never see the same gameplay experience twice during our time with It Takes Two.
"The amount of systems in this game, I think we're going to break some kind of world record. There's so much stuff being thrown at you, not just because we want to keep the game fresh but because the narrative demands it," says Fares, who notes a desire to more closely reflect the beats of It Takes Two's narrative in the rhythm of its moment-to-moment play. "In general, I believe that most narrative games need to change how they look at game mechanics. I do feel that writers and designers are doing two different games sometimes."
Fares notes that this is especially important now, as we stand on the precipice of a new generation. "Gamers want greater stories. And I think that we should expect that the gameplay will reflect what the narrative is doing. People say sometimes, 'well, as long as it's fun...' and I think that's bullshit. Part of it should be fun, yes, but that shouldn't be the only question. Some of the strongest moments in gaming haven't been about fun: the beginning of The Last of Us, or the endings of Journey and Brothers: A Tales of Two Sons. Those moments aren't about having fun."
You can agree or disagree with Fares' assertion here. But what's worth noting is that the director is focused on trying to work out what a scene requires in It Takes Two – be it tonally or narratively – and trying to find a way to best reflect that through gameplay. It means less reliance on reusing systems, characters, or framing; It Takes Two is promising to be an adventure that is difficult to predict as a result. There's also a dual motivation for Fares here. "We [the industry] also have a problem because people aren't finishing our games. I think most people don't finish them because they get bored or somehow feel that they have played it already; My hope is that people actually play through this game to the end."
The book of love
Of course, It Takes Two isn't the only game to outline an array of gameplay mechanics, systems, and controls in service of the story. I noted that What Remains of Edith Finch tried something similar, and it's a game that Fares holds in high regard. "I would call it a masterpiece," he says. "I really loved that game. It's so sad when you hear the stupid opinion that it's a 'walking simulator'. What even is that? That game is a great example of what you can do with game mechanics and I wish it got even more attention."
Back to It Takes Two, you need only take a look at that gameplay trailer to get a sense of the chaos it is trying to land in the palm of your hands and the type of flippant tone it is trying to strike. Much of that is framed around Dr. Hakim, the talking book of love who is key to Cody and May reconnecting with the real world – the comedy lynchpin of the entire experience, a walking talking spread of new age philosophies and romance-themed adages. Oh, and you'll never guess who is behind the magical book's ridiculous mannerisms? "That's actually me doing the mo-cap for the book," Fares laughs. "He's super cheesy, kind of crazy, and kind of a nutcase. That guy is very, very close to me. Actually, I remember the actor who did his voice was like 'I don't think anyone else could have done this character's mo-cap except you.'"
It Takes Two is due to launch on 26 March, 2021. It's undoubtedly the most ambitious game out of Hazelight yet, a romantic comedy action romp that takes the basic outline of A Way Out – the need to build different and interesting puzzles designed around two-player interaction – and elevate it to the next level, ensuring that each scenario presents new challenges and opportunities. Fares also believes it can reflect Hazelight's growing position and experience in the industry. "We are evolving. When we made A Way Out, many of the team were pretty much interns. Now those interns are bad motherfuckers."
"We're taken everything we learned and are now taking the next step. We're still pushing to have a different perspective on narrative and gameplay, and how we use that to push outside the box to create experiences that have never been played before." And I do seriously believe that once you finish It Takes Two, you won't have played anything like it. I think it's something totally unique."
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