Prepare for trouble...
There’s a lot to be said for that whole clichéd “I work best alone” gruff kind of hero; you know, the one that carries a bit of stubble, maybe smokes a bit here and there, and is generally the type to shoot first and ask questions later. But, as we all know, even those most solitary of heroes need a companion every now and then; perhaps a supporting character who truly understands them, or even just a buddy who has their back in the field. Duos in gaming have given rise to some of the industry’s most iconic moments, plot twists jarring enough to give you a claim for whiplash, and gameplay mechanics to challenge and inspire. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best we’ve seen so far – and no, Chris and Sheva aren’t on the list.
5. Snake & Otacon
Like many of the double acts on this list, Snake and Otacon are the embodiment of the sentiment “opposites attract;” from their first meeting back in Metal Gear Solid, the unlikely duo become intertwined in a plot that will span decades, touch on nuclear warfare, and even destabilise some shady governmental organisations – one that will require both of their expertise. And whilst it’s Snake’s heroism and courage that players come to respect, it is in no small part down to Otacon’s tech that they persevere.
Responsible for such inventions as the Octocamo, the Mk. II and even Metal Gear itself, Otacon’s list of patents leaves little to be desired. More than this, however, it’s his very difference from Snake that forms the balance of their partnership; for many playing through the series, whilst they’re impressed by Snake’s bravery and skill, it is Otacon’s measured, humanised outlook that they come to empathise with.
4. Fox & Nuna
But of course, not all partnerships are strictly limited to humans, as is more than proven by 2014’s indie breakout; Never Alone. From its soothing narrative overlay to its nostalgic harkening back to titles of old, the Native Alaskan tale of a girl’s adventure through the Arctic tundra captured our hearts in many ways, but none more so than the evocative binary that carried the story. It’s a testament to their unique style that developer Upper One Games managed to truly humanise Fox; through subtle inclinations of her body, or even quizzical looks and gestures, Upper One succeeded in creating one of gaming’s most personable characters. Furthermore, the symbiosis that underlies their partnership runs throughout the entire game, establishing the idea of mutual respect between human and animal as a core aspect, both of the culture it focusses on, and the title itself. It’s this mutual dependency, both emotionally and mechanically, that has rightfully earned them a place on this list.
3. Batman & The Joker
Okay yes, strictly speaking this wasn’t necessarily a relationship borne on a console, but the sheer mastery and respect with which developers Rocksteady and Warner Brothers managed to capture the dynamic more than earns them a place amongst our other double acts. The relationship of the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime is often thought to be so compelling not because it conforms to binary stereotypes, but rather because it transcends them.
On the surface, of course, Batman’s measured approach, his iron self-discipline and respect for life set him at odds with the Joker’s anarchic disposition, however as writers and artists have explored the duo further over the past 60 years, they’ve come to conclude that the two aren’t quite as dissimilar as they’d like to think. It’s this mutual dependence and (dare I say) affection that defines their relationship, a novel aspect we’ve seen play out over the entirety of the Arkham series. Whether it’s in the vivid insight into the Joker’s psyche we capture in Origins, or the downcast look of depression on Batman’s face that we glimpse at the end of City, we come to learn that these two characters depend on each other to exist – a truly subversive dynamic that we’ve hardly seen covered before and probably won’t see again for some time.
2. Chris & Jill
Of all the partnerships on this list, the relationship between Chris and Jill is in fact one that we’ve seen the least of, given that shortly after they arrive at the haunting Spencer Mansion, they’re torn apart by circumstances and spend most of the game searching for one another. Regardless of this, they’ve earned their place as runner up primarily because they’re the original double act of gaming, and of course, the protagonists of the title that developed a genre singlehandedly.
Even though we unfortunately don’t get to see Chris and Jill’s relationship flourish and develop as much as we’d like to (appalling voice acting aside), it’s clear to see that the binary concepts that underlie so many of our other favourite partnerships are grounded in their characters. What I see when I witness the interplay between the two S.T.A.R.S. operatives isn’t the most convincing of relationships, but rather the blueprint on which so many other immersive partnerships would be founded. It’s just unfortunate, however, that Chris and Sheva definitely weren’t one of them.
1. Booker & Elizabeth
That Booker & Elizabeth have made it to the top of the list isn’t, as you might believe, down to the fact that Bioshock Infinite remains one of the most compelling, varied shooters ever to be developed. It’s not even that their skillsets complement each other perfectly, resulting in gameplay that’s versatile and thrilling, and delivering an experience that’s different with every shootout. It’s in Infinite’s quietest moments, however, that the relationship of this duo really comes to flourish.
It’s throughout the game’s calmer moments, perhaps when you’re dancing with Elizabeth on a make-believe beach, or even watching her peruse a decimated bookshop with wonder and allure, that you come to witness a truly heart-capturing narrative of a father seeing his daughter grow up. Elizabeth’s escape from her tower, her adventure through Columbia, is very much the infancy that tragic hero Booker has missed out on, and it’s to developer 2K’s credit that they manage to acutely capture a dynamic so novel and intimate in such a believable manner.