Great gameplay overshadowed by a woeful story
Warning: The review below does include big spoilers pertaining to a certain plot development midway through the story!
2021 was not a great year for gaming. Between the sexual abuse allegations, the constant pressure of crunch and a lot of games pushed back to 2022, the year’s best titles were sporadically dotted across the 12 months.
When it comes to It Takes Two – which scooped up the Game of the Year award for 2021 – this unique co-op adventure boasts varied gameplay, some beautifully crafted puzzles… and a terrible narrative. That’s particularly frustrating too because for half of its 15 hour run-time, It Takes Two is a nigh-on perfect game.
The level design for these early moments are exquisitely designed, with a natural flow from one area to the next. The gameplay mechanics are slick, inventive and really quite impressive crafted. Much like A Way Out, the aim of the game here is teamwork and that’s echoed through many of the resonate themes the game plays with. It’s also an exclusively co-op game, so there’s no chance of you flying solo on this one.
As gaming “grows up”, we’ve seen the medium extend narratively to showcase some incredible stories. The Last Of Us looked at the idea of loss and grief, Red Dead 2 flirted with the notion of sacrifice and that fine line between right and wrong, while morally grey choices have been a hallmark of games like Fallout for years.
It Takes Two then handles something altogether different, looking at the idea of divorce, relationships and what it means to be a parent. And it handles them about as well as a baby holding a shotgun.
The story centers on a very-obviously-not-compatible couple called Cody and May. They’re on the verge of getting a divorce and break this news to their daughter Rose later that afternoon. With two handmade dolls that look like her parents, Rose heads upstairs to her room and play-acts out a scenario where her squabbling parents become friends again.
However, Rose’s tears magically transport the souls of her parents inside these two dolls, who find themselves stuck and in need of getting back to their bodies. In order to do that, the pair are forced to work together.
Guiding them along the way is Dr Hakim, who takes the form of a hyperactive relationship therapy book. Hakim is tasked with trying to fix their relationship if they have any hope of making it back, and does so by throwing them into as many extreme situations as possible.
Unfortunately the end result here leaves a lot to be desired. As someone whose been through divorce – both as an adult while juggling two kids and as a child witnessing my mum and my step-dad divorcing – the topic is complex and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, two people just aren’t meant to be together. And that’s okay.
There are several moments in It Takes Two that completely destroy the game’s narrative – and the credibility of May and Cody as capable parents. I’d ordinary be careful not to go into spoiler territory but it’s hard not to do that when discussing this story, hence the warning at the top of this post.
Essentially, the pair come up with a crazy plan to make Rose cry by destroying that which she holds most dear. The ensuing result sees Cody and May high fiving, celebrating and dancing in the literal tears of their daughter as she’s absolutely crushed by what’s happened.
The problem with this bit of “dark comedy” is two-fold. There will be some who don’t even bat an eyelid and continue playing. Others, like myself and my partner who sat in stunned silence and watched this scene unfold, will instantly be turned off from playing more.
As a parent, this is the most left-field reaction one could possibly take and from here onwards, the game takes a hard right turn in both narrative quality and level design, something that’s only going to be exacerbated by those left with a sour taste following this sequence. The fact this particularly unpleasant moment is never once brought up for the rest of the game is also problematic.
These moments of frustration are made worse by an over-abundance of cutscenes, most of which revolving around the relationship book exuding exposition and telling you where to go next. There’s absolutely no character development for May or Cody either; both parents never really dive into the issues they had originally which led to them wanting to divorce. The consequence of which sees the ending land about as well as a party at Downing Street during a pandemic.
Away from the story, this damning moment involving Rose also feels like a turning point for the gameplay too. With the earlier levels given an organic feel of progression as you move across the landscape, these later levels see you just plain teleported into a new world.
Thankfully the areas themselves are highly interactive and there’s a lot of fun to be had working together with your co-op partner to traverse through them, even if some do outstay their welcome and feel like padding.
Mixing things up are the various special abilities you’re given in each new world. These see you and your partner granted a variety of different skills to use which you need to navigate through the levels in one piece. One sees your character given the ability to drop a clone into the world, teleporting to that spot with the drop of a button. At the same time, the other character is granted the power of reversing or fast forwarding time. These are then used in tandem to navigate through various puzzles.
Another level sees two magnets – one for push and the other for pull – which are used at different points to traverse through the level unscathed. These imaginative inclusions do help to break things up, and are regularly used alongside the standard controls, which include R1 for grappling hooks and X for jumping.
Aesthetically, It Takes Two looks amazing. The game is full of gorgeous lighting, shadow work, a great use of colour and some dazzling visual effects. This is undeniably one good looking game. The different textures look so realistic and this works alongside the gameplay, which is varied and well-designed for the most part. Although to be fair the game does feel about 2 or 3 hours too long.
Breaking everything up along the way are a number of different minigames (25 to be precise) which you can play with your partner and compete for the high score. These too are also varied, and whether it be a snail race across the garden or a good old fashioned snowball fight, It Takes Two tries to add as many different fun inclusions as possible to keep the game from growing stale.
It’s such a shame then that the narrative fails as badly as it does because when it comes to gameplay, most of It Takes Two is brilliantly designed. Much like The Last Of Us Part 2, this is going to be a narrative that divides many people. Unlike TLOU2, the mature themes here are tackled immaturely, with a weird tinted veil that completely brushes over the complexities of the issues being discussed.
Gameplay-wise, this title is a blast to play through. Narratively though? This one’s a clanger.
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Verdict - 6.5/10