Remember the days when playing a video game with a friend was an easy thing to do? Just pop a cartridge into your NES (you may have had to blow on it first), plug in the second controller and go. It was a simpler time. No internet connection was needed. There were no headsets, cameras or motion controls. There was no Facebook integration (to be fair, there was no Facebook). Just you and a buddy, sitting on a couch, playing a game.
Gaming has come a long way. Games now have amazing graphics and sound, stellar storytelling, seamless UIs. Games can make us choose, can make us think, make us feel, make us react, or just let us hijack cars and run over pedestrians.
Gaming can be even more fun when you’re playing with friends (says the girl who always wanted everyone to leave so she could play the Goldeneye campaign rather than playing yet another round in the Stacks with grenades.) Big strides have been made to let people play games with others – but only in certain ways. Want to sit at your computer, group up with 24 other people from all over the world and take on a dragon? You can pay WoW, Everquest, Rift, Aion, FF, LOTRO. If you’re more into spaceships than swords you can play Eve, SWTOR, Starquest, Phantasy Star, or Star Trek. Want to join a team of people to shoot terrorists or aliens and listen to strangers who sound an awful lot like 12-years olds call each other fags? Then Counterstrike, Call of Duty, Battlefield and Halo are all there for you. Want to collaborate or compete in large scale strategic battles? You can always find someone online to play DoTA, LoL or Starcraft with.
Want to play a console game with someone who is in the same room as you? Well, then your options are much more limited. Especially if you’d rather cooperate than compete. The majority of games seem much more concerned with enabling you to play with strangers online than allowing you to play offline with your S.O./roomate/sibling/parent/child/friend/dog who is sitting beside you on the couch.
My boyfriend and I have been trying to find console games that we can play together. It has indeed been a trying experience. There aren’t too many games that advertise having an offline co-op mode. Plus, when local co-op is actually included in a game, it often seems like more of an afterthought. We went out and bought games that advertised having local co-op. We tried Madden 25. It has offline co-op but, aside from the fact the game basically plays itself for you, playing on the same team was pretty dull for whoever wasn’t the quarterback. We got Tales of Vesperia. A multiplayer RPG? Sounds awesome. In practice, not so awesome. Player 1 basically plays the majority of the game by themselves and player 2 gets to jump in and control one character during combat. Yawn. We turned off that one after about 8 minutes. We picked up Call of Duty: Black Ops. There is offline co-op, but only for 2 specific modes – zombie survival and playing against bots. You can’t do the campaign or play against other people online together. My bf was going to buy Dungeon Siege 3, but was talked out of it by the cashier at Gamestop. It features a drop-in co-op that doesn’t allow the person dropping into the game to save any of their progress or items. Considering the game is a dungeon-crawling loot grind, this seems like a pretty serious issue. Some games even advertise having offline co-op when there actually is none.
Offline co-op? Not so much.
There are a number of arcade style games that feature decent offline co-op. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Castle Crashers, TMNT are all games I’ve enjoyed playing with friends in the past. However, they’re all fairly mindless (and very short) side-scrolling beat’em ups. Those have their place, but sometimes you want to play something a little deeper.
In terms of AAA titles, most console developers seem to consider offline co-op a waste of time or something to be thrown in at the end, in a completely underwhelming way. There are exceptions.
Valve in particular has added some very good co-op play to their games. Portal 2 features the most complete co-op experience I’ve had and was definitely not an afterthought. It adds a whole extra campaign and hours of playtime to the game. Left 4 Dead also lets you play through the campaign with a friend (or three). Both of these multi-player games give you a choice too. You can play with someone sitting beside you offline, or you can connect with people online and play through the game. Other developers should take note – this is the way to do it. The only small complaint I have about these games is that co-op mode is not very intuitive to access.
Play campaign? No… Press X to Play with Friends? No…
Oh! There it is in small, barely contrasting text in the bottom left corner.
Diablo 3 also makes it easy for people to play offline co-op and we played that a bit on PS3. A nice thing about D3 is that you don’t have to deal with split screen, which I really liked from an aesthetic standpoint. However it has some serious drawbacks too. If you get items or level up you need to take turns with the menu screen to examine and equip new gear or choose new talents. This brings the pace of the game to a crawl. Also I had already played through it when it came out a year and a half ago on PC, and starting from scratch on console wasn’t all that appealing.
There’s a site called Co-Optimus, which is dedicated to all things co-op gaming. I’m hoping it leads me to some good games. A quick search for Xbox 360 Couch Co-Op games shows 256 results! That seems positive. However, once I filter out the genres I’m not really interested in (like Sports games), the party games (there are dozens of music/dance games), the games whose co-op is a half-baked afterthought, and the games that are generally just bad, the list isn’t that long. The Lego games, which have been recommended to me, look like a good option. Hopefully I can find a few more.
I’m hoping that the games for the new generation of consoles take into account that people may actually want to play video games together in the same room. So far, it’s not looking too good though. Dead Rising 3, the game I’m most interested in on the Xbox One, is online co-op only. Same with Ryse and Black Flag. Call of Duty: Ghosts has “co-op specific” content.
This is a plea that game developers make more games that can be played with others offline. I love video games and I’d much rather share my gaming experiences with someone I like enough to live with, or at least invite over, than some random online gamers.