Written by Craig Will (puffkix) Saturday, 21 January 2012 06:00
I love co-op gaming. Love it. There are very few things in gaming quite as satisfying than encountering a giant monster in a game and obliterating it with a cadre of your friends. Those “did you see that?” moments are really something else when it’s not just you seeing it.
This article is about two things: the unfortunate demise of couch co-op (and other issues with it) and finding that perfect co-op partner.
When I say the perfect co-op partner I don’t mean somebody that is so good at the game(s) that you guys can get through it without even worrying about dying. No, I’m talking about how sweet it is to game with friends, even sweeter when they are your closest friends, and the very sweetest when they are your best friend aka your wife.
I’ve written a few reviews on games that are more fun co-op, including Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One and Gears of War 3 (the DLC); and while I hadn’t played co-op yet when I wrote the Lord of the Rings: War in the North review I have since played it co-op and it makes it such an awesome experience.
My co-op partner of choice used to be one of my best friends and roommate. We co-opped our way through the first two Gears of War, Halo 3, Modern Warfare 2’s Spec Ops mode, and countless other 360 titles. When I got married I was worried that I was going to lose a couch co-op partner. Instead I picked up a new one.
My wife wasn’t really into games before we started dating. She like playing the Nintendo 64 Legend of Zelda games, and she enjoyed watching Final Fantasy games but she rarely ever played games and when she did she didn’t really enjoy them. Now she plays Halo, Gears of War, Ratchet and Clank, Lord of the Rings, Dragon Quest, and plenty more.
In a previous article, Ryan Johnson asked about games to get his wife now that she is more interested in them. The game that did it for mine was Super Mario Sunshine on the GameCube. I left my GC and that game at her house and within a week she was hooked. I never actually beat that game but she did and now she loves playing games. After that she started keeping track of how many games she’s beat. Eventually that stopped and now when asked she just says, “I don’t know, so many.” After Mario she started playing Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank on my PS2, Professor Layton and Dragon Quest on the DS, and eventually she wanted to try an FPS with me on the 360. We tried Modern Warfare 2 but she didn’t enjoy it. We played through the Halo Reach campaign and she really liked it but probably would have had more fun just watching. She got hooked on Firefight mode though.
When Gears of War 3 released I bought two copies – one for me and one for my aforementioned ex-roommate (it was his birthday), so that we could continue the tradition of playing through the Gears games. We started the game together and played a bit of couch co-op but being adults with full time jobs, grown up relationships, and other responsibilities it was hard to coordinate face time to play. Eventually we got a couple nights in over Live, but that is not my preferred co-op play style (more on that later). Finally, we decided that we would just play Horde mode together and we’ll have to beat the campaign on our own time. Luckily for me my wife was more than willing to try to get through the campaign by my side. After a few levels of frustration with the controls (we ended up customizing them for her) she really got into both the story and the gameplay. By the time we had beat the game she declared that this was her new favorite game and that it’s way better than Halo. That’s when I told her about Horde mode. We have since sunk several hours into fighting wave after wave of grubs and glowies, laughing the whole time.
And that is my story of finding the perfect co-op partner. Now for my rant about the decline of couch co-op.
While the games I mentioned have the option to play with people across Xbox Live or PSN, I’ve always preferred playing with a friend in the same room. It really adds to the atmosphere, creates bonding moments, and helps with communication.
I hate talking on the phone. I have a hard time understanding what people are saying if I can’t see their lips. My guess is that my hearing is a little blown out and I’ve subconsciously made up for that by reading lips when people are talking to me (I also use subtitles when watching movies). When vocal communication has been relegated to using a headset there are usually plenty of times when I find myself asking the other person to repeat themselves. This is not conducive to tactical planning, especially if they have to repeat themselves multiple times. Another issue I have with the headset thing is that I’ve never been in the position to buy a nice headset and have had to rely on the packed in Microsoft headsets, which seem to die on me a lot. So not only am I having a hard time understanding the other person, more often than not they can’t hear me either.
Besides communication there is another base issue I take with games not offering couch co-op. Sometimes I will be hanging out with friends and we’ll decide that it would be awesome to start playing a game that we all own together, right then. Instead of being able to sit down and play we have to stop hanging out and drive to our houses to play online. This sucks. Not only did we have to stop physically hanging out but if somebody has a bad internet connection or their router breaks or the ISP goes down then the joy of gaming together isn’t so joyous.
Those are reasons to dislike the lack of couch co-op options but there are a couple reasons that I dislike the couch co-op options that are offered.
Too often there is no option to switch the split screen orientation. Borderlands, Lord of the Rings: War in the North, and others split the screen vertically and don’t have options to change that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that these games offer local co-op but I prefer the horizontal split. It’s all about the aspect ratio; I prefer widescreen and would like to play games that way even when there’s a second player playing with me. Games generally allow at least a little camera control and I would prefer to mess with my camera to make up for being a bit shortsighted than lose my peripheral vision.
Finally, and this one is kind of nitpicky but, I would love to see more games, specifically FPSs, adopt the local multiplayer + online competitive multiplayer. Example: Halo 3 and Reach allow two players to sit down and sign into one console and then hop online and play Slayer or what-have-you. This is really the only way I play multiplayer Halo and there are countless days of fun that I would have missed out on if this wasn’t available. Whenever I’m with my younger brother and he fires up Modern Warfare 3, I would love to be able to sit down and play split-screen online multiplay that way. Instead, we take turns. For MW3 taking turns doesn’t matter so much for character progression since I don’t own the game anyway, but if I did it would be kind of lame to put time into playing without reaping any of the rewards.
I’m sure making split-screen co-op compatible with online multiplayer takes a lot of time and resources but if Bungie was able to do it with the Halo series then I have faith that Activision could make it happen with Call of Duty and EA could do it with Medal of Honor or Battlefield or whatever their next answer to CoD is.
So how about it developers: more local co-op included in games, with options for where to split the screen and the ability to play split-screen AND online? Please?