Local cooperative video games are slowly disappearing, but aren’t they worth saving?
Last year we saw the release of Horizon: Zero Dawn, Resident Evil 7, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Nioh just to name a few. All in all, it was incredible and 2018 likely won’t disappoint either with releases like Monster Hunter: World and Ni no Kuni II. Not to mention that God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 are on the way.
However, amidst all the excitement, it seems cooperative play has been left behind; at least, local co-op has been. In a way, it’s strange. Now that screens are bigger than ever, split-screen has become a far more viable option, but it’s rarely an option provided anymore. I was playing Uncharted: The Lost Legacy not long ago, and I couldn’t help but wonder why a game that was designed around the relationship of two characters hadn’t even considered the option of opening the campaign to two players.
The trend is obvious, online gaming is the future. From Dark Souls to Overwatch to Assassin’s Creed, it’s clear that AAA games prefer to find their home online. It shouldn’t be surprising. After all it’s much easier to play alone than to have to schedule with friends. Not to mention it saves players from venturing away from the comfort of their own homes. Built-in voice chat and partying make it all too simple. Let’s not forget that selling two copies of a game is more profitable than just one.
Nowadays, if you’re looking to enjoy a good local game with friends, you’ll have to turn to indie developers. You’ll even find incredibly fun games like Overcooked, Starwhal, and Gang Beasts, but even there, the concept of a co-op campaign is frequently underdeveloped or absent.
Cooperative campaigns have never been exceptionally common, but they have seen a decline from rare to virtually absent. Occasionally developers will create extra co-op missions like in Uncharted, but this is usually poorly executed and almost always woefully inadequate. Remember that Super Mario Odyssey had co-op? Well it does…except Player 2 gets the exciting role of playing as Cappy, Mario’s cap. Invigorating.
The option for a truly brilliant local co-op campaign, like those present in Portal 2 or Borderlands 2 hasn’t been seen for years. Games like Army of Two, which are designed for two player campaigns, also seem to have vanished entirely. Hazelight Studios’ A Way Out, which was released last month, is an exception to the rule, but it’s a single bright spot in an otherwise barren landscape.
In part, it is a nostalgic bias that leads me to yearn for a good local co-op campaign, but the need for such games derives more so from the societal circumstances that their decline reflects. The rise of the Internet has led to new forms of communication. While by no means an inherently negative development, this movement consequently sedates the need to interact with other people in real life.
It’s an unabashed cliché to blame the internet for the loss of traditional social interaction, but the fact is that online interaction, even in virtual reality, doesn’t hold a candle to sharing a couch. Simply being able to high-five, hug, or scream at your player two brings a human connection that technology has yet to match. It’s the little things that count, and they count a lot.
Societal familiarity with computers has helped in the de-stigmatization of video games, but where local multiplayer has always been an easy gateway into the world of digital gaming, that time seems to be fading. There’s no doubt video games will continue flourishing with a growing audience over time, but the industry may well lose out on those who simply want to casually enjoy time with friends.
I’m not asking for every game to suddenly offer a local multiplayer, of course, but it still seems odd to me that I can’t even race my brother in Project Cars 2 without having to set up a second PlayStation with second screen. I’m just asking for developers to make that bit of extra effort to add the possibility of some local play here and again.
Currently the market is driving trends, leading players rather than the other way around, and it seems to mean the end for local co-op campaigns. While indie developers and a handful of AAA titles still maintain the tradition of local play, it is severely declining, with online platforms seizing control. Local cooperative play holds immense social value and although it’s unlikely to fully disappear, its decline doesn’t bode well for those who prefer adventuring shoulder-to-shoulder with a friend.
Cover Photo Credit: Tatiana T – flickr