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The Case for Cooperative Play

by December 10, 2007
This is the big brother of the kid that just headshotted you

This is the big brother of the kid that just headshotted you

As a recovering gamer, I've spent the last 10 years or so trying not to play games. Oh, I've been involved with them, kept track of them… heck, I had a subscription to many a gaming magazine under the pretense of keeping myself informed so that I could tell my parents what to buy my brother for Christmas. Never mind that I hadn't owned a game system since the original Playstation, I could rattle off the top 5 games in every category for every system without thinking about it.

One of the things about gaming, at least when I was playing, was that it was mostly a solitary sport. You sat home, played through a game, and either set it aside or played it again. Some games like Tekken or Virtual Fighter could be played with another but online play was not an option. Side scrollers like Contra were really the option if you wanted to have a true co-op experience - one where you beat the game together rather than fighting each other - but the other person had to be in the room with you.

Back in the day, I didn't mind so much the adversarial nature of many games - mostly because I was the best at them within my circle of friends. Mortal Kombat anyone? I could do every finishing move including Friendships and Babalities. People would come over just to get stomped by me so that they could see the finishing moves. I went to a party once where I played for 4 straight hours and lost 2 rounds (not matches). It's was brutal (even by Mortal Kombat standards).

Fast forward a decade or so and I find myself in the possession of an Xbox 360. A quantum leap in graphics and sound not to mention online play really elevated games to an entirely new level. A level where my once dominance is now completely surpassed by 15 year old kids that play 10+ hours a day and seem to have superhuman reflexes and aiming ability. It quickly became apparent to me that no amount of practice on my part was ever going to bring me up to a level that I once enjoyed among my friends. The promise of online play didn't bring me the sweet fruit of new challenges as much as the bitter leaves of unending defeat at the hands of people that can't reliably use "your" and "you're" correctly in a forum post. People that sound like a group of girls until you realize that their voices just haven't changed yet. Sorry, but that's a little much for any ego to take.

Discouraged, I retreated to a small group of friends that I knew were near my same level of ability. But then what's the point of online play? Isn't that just wasted? Enter Gears of War (GoW). Much lauded for its graphics, engaging story, and unique fighting (no, you can't jump because only a fool jumps around in the firefight), the feature I found most intriguing was the online co-op mode. Co-op (cooperative) games allow two or more people to play through missions or maps basically fighting on the same side. Quite a few games have a few co-op missions or maps but GoW allowed you to play through the entire game together. From start to finish. Ah… now here's something I can get behind! Me and a friend running through a complete game without having to do split screen (which sucks no matter how big your screen is) or being in the same room over a system link (which I can't imagine happens very much). The computer becomes the enemy and no matter how much it cheats (and if you set the difficulty high enough, it always seems to cheat); you still have a better chance than you do against a 15 year old in a sniper match.

Now, I love playing multiplayer but honestly, headshotting your friends from across the map gets a little old after a while. Team Slayer type games are better because you once again get that sense of camaraderie but then you need to find a group of people around the same level as you to play with. Not to mention that you can only talk to people on your team. That alone takes a lot of the fun out of it for me. Usually, there is one person that totally outmatches the rest and he ends up being a "team" with everyone else just trying to stay alive.

Halo 3, touted and bought mostly for it's multiplayer elements, included a 4 player co-op mode that allows you to team up with up to 3 friends in order to complete the game. The story mode in this game is definitely the weak spot but playing through with friends is a huge plus. You end up calling out for help, thanking someone after they saved you (doesn't matter that you'll just re-spawn, you had the rocket launcher!), and noting someone's great shot.

To me, this is what video games were always supposed to be about - having fun with other people. Sure, slaughtering your friends 1000's of times is fun, but eventually it gets old. Working together to achieve a common goal is much more rewarding. Are games like World of Warcraft (WoW) so popular because of the graphics or compelling story? No. It's the community. But again, WoW requires a significant investment of time. An investment that'd I'd be happy to give if I didn't have to eat, sleep, or pay bills. Games like Gears and Halo 3 (and the "I can't wait for it to come out" Army of Two) have a finite beginning and end, and there is no "leveling up" that requires endless hours of killing kobolds. While cooperative campaign play is now the exception, I look forward to the day when it is included in every game… or the day when I retire so I can have the time to practice enough to put a hurting on some 15 year olds in Halo 42.


About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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