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THE BEST & WORST OF CO-OP GAMING
Where’s ma bro at?






COUNTERPOINT
By JAY TEE
06/04/18

The undeniable magic of gaming together, either in a co-operative or competitive environment, represents a core aspect of this delightful past time. Maybe you’ve gathered life long friends for a nostalgic blast of Mario Kart 64, or hurled playful obscenities at each other as you desperately fought the horde in Left 4 Dead. Whatever your chosen flavour, multiplayer gaming is a massive part of this hobby for a lot of people. Unfortunately, for every great co-op experience like Halo or Fortnite, you get miserable efforts like Resident Evil 6 or Conflict: Denied Ops, and licensed missteps with Star Trek and Aliens: Colonial Marines. Sometimes it can be something simple, like an unintelligible or non-existent party system, or weird restrictions on how you play. More often than not, it’s these obvious (and easily fixable) problems that can make or break a co-op experience.

We discuss this further in our brand new YouTube series ‘Counterpoint’. Each episode of this editorial type show will focus on a single topic, with opinions and anecdotes about the chosen subject. This is just a first step for us, as we expand our video production slate and ramp up our content. Any and all feedback is welcome! And if you prefer to read our thoughts in the more traditional way, scroll down the page underneath the video for a full transcript of this first episode.

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FULL TRANSCRIPT:

For me, gaming is a socially driven activity. From my earliest days playing Mario Kart and Star Trek on the SNES, to recent adventures in Sea of Thieves, and A Way Out, playing together with real world friends is the defining thing that makes this hobby so much fun. My experience with co-op and multiplayer gaming has taken many forms. Running an Ethernet cable between two original Xbox's for 8 player Halo deathmatch… breaking out some colourful plastic instruments and jamming some Guitar Hero… to the joys of introducing Double Dash and other retro gaming experiences to my kids.

Side note: Long live the Gamecube. The greatest console of all time. We'll save that discussion for a future episode…

Despite co-op gaming being my favourite part of this ever expanding medium, it can so often be done terribly, woefully wrong. Just look at Splatoon 2. A Nintendo exclusive from the company that blew my mind back in the day with 4 player split screen Goldeneye. And yet, fast forward to today, and Splatoon 2 is one of the most unintuitive and frustrating co-op experiences available. Attempt to enter matchmaking online with a friend and you're met with a litany of obstacles. Maybe the game fills up too quickly, leaving your pal staring at a spectator feed. Maybe you make it into the same lobby, only to be placed on different teams. It's unbelievably shoddy design. To top it off, you have to unlock the privilege of playing League Battles, which do allow you to jump in with a friend… but doing so takes hours of solo play. This could, and should, have been so much better.

Halo 2 got it right. The party system Bungie created is arguably to this day still the gold standard. You group up first, enter matchmaking together, and crucially, stay together no matter what. It took DICE six months to get their squad system right after Battlefield 4 launched. And their servers had more rubber banding than a W H Smiths.

Teaming up with friends for competitive multiplayer is just one part of the equation. The best campaign co-op experiences are the ones that allow you both to be a part of the story. Dead Space 3 absolutely nailed this. Forget the EA mandated micro transactions and tepid critical response. Experiencing that story with a friend, and playing characters that aren't just carbon copies of one another, was fantastic fun. A Way Out is another great example of this. A co-op only adventure that is built from the ground up to be played together.

But every now and then, you get games that so nearly get it right, and others that wildly miss the mark. Far Cry 5 is a fascinatingly chaotic sandbox that you can share with a friend… but mission progress for your co-op buddy isn't retained. Combining abilities in Xbox 360 launch title Kameo was great fun… except you had to play through each mission solo first before unlocking co-op. Side note: Spiderwick Chronicles also had this restriction. Unforgivable. These unnecessary roadblocks can so easily sour the fun.

Fortunately, stuff like Sea of Thieves, Dying Light, Rocket League, and Fortnite comes along to remind us all that playing together can be a stress free experience. And if we could get Sony to revise its stance on cross network play, the landscape of co-op gaming would be a much better place.

A quick shoutout to Jonny, who kept me hanging on this hook for longer than either of us had planned.

Fun fact: I managed to record the entire thing in two takes. I almost did it in one go, but I somehow said ‘W H Smiths’ wrong, and had to stop and try again.