By MarkWahlberg 10 Comments
Why do you play multiplayer games? Honest question. Why? Is it because it provides more of a challenge than going up against AI? Is it because you enjoy playing with your friends? Or do you merely enjoy yelling offensive epithets at strangers on the Internet? I ask this because the standards for multiplayer components in games do not always line up with what I expect out of them, and more so now than, say, 6 years ago.
I play multiplayer games because I get a kick out of the social aspect. Getting a bunch of friends together, firing up a console, and playing a game together for hours on end is always great, solid fun. Maybe not the kind of fun that occurs in Wii commercials, but there’s usually a fair amount of yelling and dicking around. I would like to imagine that this is the attraction for many other people as well.
So, what happens when a game’s multiplayer doesn’t allow for this? That’s right: I’m bitching about Online play. Now, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy playing online, I do. I just don’t consider it to be “multiplayer” in most instances. Sure, I’m technically playing against other people, but that usually means nothing other than more challenging (or hilariously non-challenging) gameplay and the occasional teabagging. I’m not talking to these people, I’m not engaging with them any differently than I would with AI, I don’t even pay attention to my own team mates, if I have any. The same can be said for most of the other people playing with me. Playing a game against unseen strangers isn’t multiplayer, it’s competitive single-player.
There are a couple obvious caveats to this argument. You can play with your friends online, even talk with them via headset or the like. Just because you’re playing with strangers doesn’t mean teamwork can’t occur. And what are you even complaining about, Mark?! Most games let you do both online and local multiplayer! This is all true. BUT. But. They don't do them both well.
Let me clarify by example: In my opinion, the Halo games are the best competitive FPS’s in existence, for one very specific reason: It allows me to play with my friends (3 of them!) locally and against strangers online, simultaneously. Any other major FPS franchise insists on making me choose between one or the other. Even Halo’s system link is better than anyone else’s, allowing for 8 players instead of the standard 4 (but often 2). Black Ops is the sole exception in the CoD franchise, and that only allows 2 players locally during online play. I was watching a friend play Battlefield 3 recently, which he described as fun but “a good game for people who don’t have friends; or at least, friends who can come over and play”. In his eyes, the limited local play not only weakened it, it gave him less of a reason to play it instead of other games. Games like CoD might have local split-screen, but let’s face it: that can get a little lonely after a while. The chaos inherent in games like that doesn’t quite exist in its local play iteration the way it does online. And the online portion doesn’t have the same social element that local does. So what’s so hard about mixing the two?
Blur, a racing game, attempts to mitigate this issue by allowing local play with bots, which is a nice touch but isn’t quite the same. And that’s still one of the better uses of multiplayer in racing games in the past several years. Burnout Paradise and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit – two relatively recent and popular games – didn’t even have split-screen play! Let me repeat that: A racing game – that is, a game by its very nature meant to be played competitively – did not allow players to compete against someone else in the same room. That is insane. I may not be a big fan of Mario Kart, but the multiplayer in that will always have a clear advantage over either of those games in that it is focused on local multiplayer – which is to say, multiple players. There’s a reason Kart and Super Smash Bros have such a strong following: they successfully focus on local play as a core game aspect. Can you honestly say that New Super Mario Bros Wii would be half as fun as this if you could only play online?
The multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 was demo’ed recently. I haven’t had a chance to try it, but people seem to like it. However, there’s no split-screen component to it, which means that, for all intents and purposes, it is nonexistent for me. The same goes for Rayman Origins, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and more. Sure, I could organize a time with one of my friends for us both to be online, for us to join a party, etc. But for me to not even have to option to play with them when they’re at my house, unless they feel like lugging their own console and TV over? That’s absurd, and apparently not even possible in the case of ME3! Hell, The recent Borderlands 2 trailer mentions splitscreen as if it was some big new thing, rather than something you should kind of expect when you've already said 'co-op' (and even that is only 2-player, vs online's 4).
I’m not saying that you can’t have fun with the way online play is presented in most games. You can. But why is it so hard to allow for a stronger local component? It can’t be an issue of making your respective screen size too small, because huge TV’s are kind of a big deal these days. It can’t be because it’s not technologically feasible – Halo’s already proved that it is. The obvious answer is that companies would rather have a group of friends all buy a copy of a game for themselves, rather than just have one or two they can share. But is that really all that’s going on here? How hard would it really be to add at least one, let alone two or more functioning controllers to online play? If anyone knows, I’d love to hear.
Let me end this with one last question: All 3 of the major consoles of this generation allow for 4 controllers to be used, 4 people to play together. When was the last time you used all of them?