How I Used to Play AloneBy: None
Posted Date: August 23, 2010
No, this is not some love story about how I was once depressed and lonely until I recently met the woman of my dreams who just so happens to love playing videogames with me, among other things. This is actually the story of how my brother and I enjoyed fighting blood-soaked through the trenches of Jacinto in Gears of War! This is the story of how the elites from Halo forced me to take command and barrage my brother with orders! This is the story of why I feel developers need to explore cooperative play further than before.
I know, singleplayer is certainly immersive; multiplayer is obviously competitive, but nothing is as intense as cooperative gameplay at least when it comes to the necessary teamwork. I cannot think of the last time I actually played as a team during a standard team deathmatch game. However, I know that whenever coop is involved, games typically force me to rely on the assistance of others, and that is what makes coop so damn fun my friends and I must work together to overcome adversity or to put it more bluntly, fight through overwhelming hordes of bad-ass aliens and monsters.
Some people argue, Coop can make any game fun. They say this because they think any activity with friends must be fun. But I disagree with this position. Would watching an old black and white romance movie with my friend's grandparents be fun just because we were participating in the action together? No, and likewise, the cooperative videogame must satisfy all of the players involved in order for the experience to be successful. When I downloaded the Army of Two demo and played it with my brother, it was an alright game, but after completing the demo we both decided that it would not be worthy of a rental. Similarly, Aliens vs Predator's (the new game, not the original) horde mode failed to entertain with its small, uninspired level design. In following this, coop cannot make every experience fun, as some would argue.
So then, what makes a cooperative game a good cooperative game? I think it is a mixture of epicness (killing swarms of bad guys with real players) and interactivity (the verbal action, or teamwork). If the game lacks intensity or a perceived sense of danger/challenge then it will not force the players to interact with each other verbally, and so the experience could just as easily be alone rather than with a friend sitting on the couch nearby. If I am unaware of my friend's presence within the game then there is no cooperative experience. This is why games like Halo and Gears of War are so successful their gameplay gets me deep into the action and requires that I not act as a lone wolf.
As of now, I believe there are two sub-genres of cooperative play in videogames. I call the first type progressive coop. Progressive coop takes the player on a journey through several lengthy missions with complex designs; think Halo, Gears of War, Left 4 Dead, and Serious Sam. The other genre is hold the fort coop. This type was not as prominent until Gears of War 2's horde mode, which lead to its adoption in games like Halo Reach and Call of Duty World at War. In hold the fort cooperative scenarios the player is forced to bunker up in a small environment, typically a mansion or something similar that confines the player to a single place rather than allowing exploration of their environment.
Both experiences are entertaining in their own ways, but I feel that the progressive cooperative experience has the edge since it gives the players variety and a glimmer of hope that their difficulties serve a purpose. Whereas, the hold the fort style of gameplay seems to give the player no chance of survival, just a desire to survive as long as possible. I feel that future coop games need to combine both sub-genres. The developers of Left 4 Dead must have realized how a mixture of both styles is important, since they designed their missions progressively all the way until the conclusion of the act, which forces the players to hold the fort. As a result, Left 4 Dead probably provides the most complete and well-thought-out cooperative gameplay to date; however, I feel that if a developer took the mold of Left 4 Dead and made a few design changes a superior cooperative experience could be achieved.
My dream cooperative game actually involves aliens, not zombies! In a perfect world, these aliens would be the xenomorphs from the movie Alien since they are the ultimate adversary. I say this because they are powerful, stealthy, unpredictable, fast, and have acid for blood! They crawl on the ceiling, lunge at humans from far distances, have a secondary set of jaws that protrudes into skulls if the people are not careful, and of course a long, spiked tail for ranged combat. Obviously, these things are vicious, and I feel that a cooperative game implementing or at the very least, emulating their ferocity would be amazing. I can just imagine traveling through the corridors of a dark, claustrophobic spaceship along a squad of my best friends, as the ominous beeping of the motion sensor rings in my ears being a constant reminder of inevitable doom I will soon face. Adding these elements of true horror and suspense would certainly take verbal interactivity to the next level. Moreover, in using something like Left 4 Dead's AI director each experience would be unique and totally unpredictable further complementing the suspense. I think aliens (in the vein of xenomorphs), not zombies, would provide the most unique and intense cooperative experience ever.
The potential for cooperative games is endless, since they can easily amplify the experience of playing games with friends tenfold (if they are good). In following this fact, I think more and more developers will start to implement coop into their games. However, I expect these experiences to be legitimate, not a half-assed hold the fort mode tacked on two hours before completion. And, I feel that future cooperative experiences need to follow Left 4 Dead's footsteps and combine the progressive and hold-the-fort styles of gameplay in order to generate continually satisfying adventures. Perhaps an innovation to this now popular style of gameplay could be in player customization, not just in looks but in player attributes as well. Thinking about it, RPG games like Diablo 2 are in fact cooperative games, but what I want to see more is a FPS/RPG hybrid with an emphasis on coop; maybe, it would involve zombies, but some vampires, demons, and werewolves as well! Developers have only scratched the surface of what cooperative games can become, and knowing this, I hope to see some serious innovations in years to come.