Work, school, family and bodily functions often get in the way of the one thing that really matters: friendship. If your buddies aren’t playing games with you, they’re not really your friends. They’re just people you make exchanges with in a bargaining dance of social etiquette and cost-value analysis. Without quality co-op companions to play games with, not only is life meaningless, it’s also dismal and disappointing. While most people’s lives aren’t that bleak without collaborative gaming experiences, many of us lament the lack of group-participatory awesomeness to engage in.
This dearth of cooperation can be attributed to approximately four billion different things, but today we’re going to examine the issue with respect to games that are predominantly single player. I’ll suggest ways these games might include co-op in addition to or in conjunction with solo gameplay. Game developers are largely aware of what they can and can’t accomplish, but I challenge them to consider these (sometimes insane) options for the friend in all of us. Boxes must be thought beyond, paradigms must be shifted, and certain approaches must be adopted for the good of all codependent gamers.
There’s nothing more confusing than being presented a world involving the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and only being able to play one of them. Yeah, War is a badass with an incredibly intimidating forehead, menacing voice, and Olympic- grade equestrian abilities, but what of Death, Famine and Pestilence? Vigil threw us a bone by letting us play Death in Darksiders II, but I want them all! All at once!
Sadly, we’ll need to pretend for a moment that Famine and Pestilence haven’t been renamed Strife and Fury in the Darksiders universe (probably by some internal Vigil department called the “Committee for the Advancement of Cooler Names”). While those names definitely sound more “hip”, I think the original ones still provide kick ass co-op game play mechanics.
I want War to throw the self-righteous angels into the self-righteous demons. I want Pestilence to cast a massive poison cloud ability while Death runs around handing out pre-printed obituaries to the fallen foes. During the battle, Famine steals all the food, causing a slow and painful death to all that remain. Famine is the character for your friend that doesn’t play games, but doesn’t want to be left out. His gameplay revolves around draining people’s levels of food to achieve a 100% hunger status on the lesser enemies that War, Death, and Pestilence just don’t have the time for. Sounds totally awesome, right?
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Adam Jensen never asked for co-op, and he never got it, but my gosh, he needs it! Jensen needs awesome cybernetic co-op implants that allow you to throw your partner like a torpedo. Even better, include an augment that gives players a super punch ability, which flings enemies and objects at high speeds. Sounds tame at first, but consider that it requires both Jensens. You first activate the punch, then your partner activates a “force transfer” augment. Then, instead of just punching an enemy, you punch your partner, who then emits a massive force wave! Ragdoll guards EVERYWHERE! That’d be awesome.
Taking on all the sneaking missions, complex as they are, becomes even more genius with a second person. Let’s force Jensen and Jensen to waltz about a room, one person activating or participating in distractions or eliminating guards, while the other completes objectives. Co-op makes Deus Ex the ultimate sneaking man’s communication game. Even if the co-op elements were just missions attached to the game, a second person in Deus Ex can give people some incredible co-op experiences.
Combat Jensen is visceral and the abuse of power is fun no matter what the scenario. Stealth Jensen requires attention, finesse and a thorough understanding of the multiple ways a scenario plays out. Jensen and Jensen thus becomes this marriage of force and finesse, with both players coordinating to mix distractions with hacking, and assassination with slaughter.
Brotherhood. ‘Nuff said.
Okay maybe I can say more. Calling in assassins to do your job for you is probably the worst mechanic ever added to Assassin’s Creed. It’s an easy button, and the game does not hide that fact at all, it IS an easy button. Unfortunately, a few scenarios require that you use it, and that’s no fun.
A stronger sense of life would make this game infinitely more amazing. You and three other people scamper about the city (crossing streets all proper like), completing multiple objectives in one mission. One person tails a target while another intercepts, disguised as his contact, and two more lie in wait; one cuts down a lackey running for help while another player welcomes the target to their death cut-scene. Requiescat in pace, linear assassination missions.
Though, why stop with the Assassins? Play co-op as the Templars as well and hunt the Assassins. That experience would give the player a new perspective on the Templar’s motives, abilities and resources. Despite three games passing, their organization is still shrouded in mystery (for the most part).
Players coordinate their timing while watching different aspects of the assassination attempt, be it for Templars or Assassins. One player creates a diversion, prompting a fellow assassin to move into position in preparation for the next step. That person then uses the crossbow to send a distant opponent plummeting into a hay bale, then signals to another buddy. That buddy quickly disguises himself as the recently-delivered corpse, ending the expertly timed scenario with a satisfying feel of “nothing happened here, no worries.” The bad guys won’t know what him ’em.
Nothing is solo, everything is co-op.
This game was enough of a mindfuck as a single player experience, but if The New Super Mario Bros. was any indicator, the mindfuckery escalates four-fold along with an extra three players. Players tackle complex puzzles wherein only certain people can rewind, or each new character (Blinx, Marty, and Flava) who joins Tim, has a different power in every world.
The puzzle implementations are unlimited and Braid with co-op could easily be the most perplexing experience ever imagined. In fact, it probably already existed, but the developer went back in time to erase it from history due to all the people dying from seizures.
Let’s weave some scenarios, shall we? In this world, one player controls the ability to rewind and one controls the ability to fast forward. However both are immune to the other’s abilities. This essentially forces players to solve each other’s puzzles, creating this dissonance between what you can do and what you have to do. Those sorts of paradigm shifts are what make puzzles games amazing, especially for platformers. The four player levels are massive affairs and grant players a power of their choosing from a limited list. This gives players a strong sense of success when they manage to solve the puzzle elements they find most intriguing.
Ultimately, Braid as a co-op experience would be an incredibly intricate and entertaining puzzle game.
Skyrim needs a four-Dovahkiin acapella group. Everyone picks a shout and executes a contrived minigame to synch them up, then BAM- destroy the entire field! All of Dawnstar, gone! Everybody’s dead. All shops entirely wiped clean, all quests completed, all companions immediately and simultaneously added to the team. Seriously, this idea offers a much-needed expansion to Skyrim‘s combat system and encounters.
Allowing players to use classic RPG roles such as tanking, DPS and crowd control turns each encounter into a bout with tactics and strategy. On top of that, give characters deeper stats including charisma or endurance to make members of their party better at exploring quest options or dealing with NPCs. These changes give the story and objectives a bazillion times more dimension.
Beyond the NPCs, quests and town elements, add in a more dynamic narrative “co-op” role than just “Four Dovahkins helping each other”. Each player should be given the full Skyrim experience. Players are able to make faction and guild commitments, kill off NPCs and make friends and enemies that don’t always gel with the other Dovahkins. Doing this makes co-op Skyrim incredibly immersive, keeping the theme of a region in constant conflict alive between the players instead of just around the players.
Also, the opportunities for trolling and shenanigans are four-fold. Who doesn’t want to Fus Ro Troll?
Batman: Arkham City
Rocksteady threw a fuckton of villains into Batman: Arkham City, so why not play as a crapload of heroes? Unfortunately, Batman’s the only one with a deep affiliation to his longtime enemies; even the various Robins over the years move on without seeing all there is to offer.
However, Batman needs some help right? Robin (Tim Drake), instead of showing up and having an incredibly mediocre impact on the story, should be a co-op character! Batman uses his gadgets and Robin has his own set, then they sleuth about, solving crimes as a pair of small birds with big fists and nifty projectiles. Detective mode also benefits from this, providing additional information for the players based on their positioning.
Both players should be able to execute simultaneous take downs. If the two activate a counter at the same time, they swap to the other’s enemy and take them out with brilliant Batman flourish. On the puzzle side, if Batman activates his explosive gel, that could be supplemented by a Robin gadget that sends batarang shrapnel everywhere. Each batarang stuns a large area briefly even if the affected enemies aren’t in the primary blast radius. Also, Robin should be no older than five.
Why stop at a pint sized Robin though? FOUR PLAYER THIS BITCH! And no, not Batgirl, not Catwoman, no. I’m talking Alfred and Commissioner Gordon. Hell yeah, old dudes with (non-lethal) guns and martial arts abilities and awesome accents kicking badguy buttocks. Gary Oldman brings the pain. After taking out a goon, Alfred says, “Supper… is served.” Corny? Yes. Amazing? YES!
Mirror’s Edge is a fantastic candidate for co-op! Each player picks a leg and controls its muscles, using rhythmic button presses to emulate free running. No? Okay, how about a co-op mode that turns players into couriers who traverse various rooftop courses, passing a package from one to the other. Players must strategize to find good locations to safely pass the package without falling behind. This gives the transfer of covert information a greater sense of presence in the narrative, something Mirror’s Edge strongly lacked despite its setting.
The player without the package manipulates the environment to slow down their pursuers. Level design presents variable options for the shortest route (for the package holder) and for the route with the most disruptive opportunities (other person). When the bad guys are catching up, players have to quickly surmise the right hand-off and escape route. Disruption routes lead to quick routes and vice versa among multiple enter and exit points, which gives the runners choices regarding when to make their decision.
On top of the more narrative style, Mirror’s Edge needs fun modes outside the story. Keep-away is an obvious one. A run-and-toss mode like this needs several sprawling building arenas. Players evade a growing number of authorities while scoring points for slick maneuvers. Or, let’s focus on the best, most entertaining piece of the game: the combat. I’m talking Mirror’s Edge MMA and Coop Deathmatch where you… okay I can’t keep that going, sorry. Since traversal is the main attraction here, giving players multiple gameplay spots to exercise that fun, fluid mechanic is important and co-op can accomplish that.
Just Cause 2
LET’S PARACHUTE RACE! Seriously. Just Cause 2 needs a parachute race mode. That would be freaking amazing. So much of the wanton destruction and chaos in this game would be an absolute blast with a friend, much like Crackdown. Not a single piece of this game has to be single player, it just so happens to be. For instance, imagine the awesomeness when two players grapple a car from each side then rip it in half?! Okay, maybe not in half, but at least players could rip off both doors then jump in! Or grapple your friend while you parachute, then launch them into the enemies! Massive grapple and parachute slingshot contraptions are something you undoubtedly tell your friends about.
The chaos mechanic in Just Cause 2 is centric to the score and currency mechanic, so co-op chaos has to be a thing. Any time players cooperate to take down a high-profile facility (or literally anything at all), players get co-op chaos. This chaos is worth more and incentivises players with awesome co-op-specific unlocks. For instance, how about a jet that fires missiles guided by one player while the other person pilots the jet. Co-op is perfect in general for all things vehicular in this game. Co-op vehicle usage allows for races, derbies or an awesome “Destroy Traffic” mode where you rack up points for causing mass destruction on the roads (or in the skies).
How is that NOT awesome? BSU is always better with player two.
The BioShock 2 options after adding other players are limitless. Just controlling an entire situation by virtue of your own imagination and plasmid power is BioShock‘s claim to fame. Have another three people able to play the game and make it a bit bigger, then allow these additional Big Daddies to focus on environment and player interaction with their plasmid abilities.
Provide a plasmid that can turn enemies into conductors and have another player zap them all. While this goes down, another player is managing enemies with one of the “crowd control” plasmids, like Decoy or Security Command. These bits of co-op culminate in the form of “co-op plasmids” that players can activate all at once and have stellar combo features. This allows players to feel as though they absolutely dominate every single piece of the Rapture, setting up situations and wreaking the cruelest kind of strategical havoc upon their foes.
In another mode, players take on roles as of Big Daddy and Little Sister, the former protecting the latter while she harvests all that sweet, sweet ADAM. The Little Sister presents a stealth and mobility gameplay paradigm, whereas the Big Daddy plays more traditional shooter style with a hint of “escort” gameplay. The game then evolves into something more objective based and fuels the connection players have to the Little Sisters.
The kid’s havin’ a tough time. Gasbags are closin’ in on him, Scumbags too. He nearly tumbles off a ledge, feels the sweat slide down his back. As a Gasbag raises his mighty pickaxe, he bursts. Looks like the Kid’s placed his confidence well. Zia, Zulf and yours truly nod his way, then set into the hoards at hand. Zulf and Zia are quick, like a Scumbag without much left in ‘im, as are all Ura. A mighty heave of his Caelondian Hammer sends the Kid’s enemies tumblin’. Zia and Zulf dart here or there, sometimes I’m not sure where, but where they go Gasbags pop. And me? Well… I’m tellin’ the story, ain’t I?
Bastion has tight, fluid gameplay. It’s a shame players can’t use every weapon at once because they each bring something different to the gradually forming table. Fortunately, Bastion has exactly four characters, perfect for a co-op campaign! Co-op in Bastion makes every encounter into a massive battlefield and force the level design to expand. Such additions give a greater sense of wonder and exploration to the already expansive world of Bastion.
As the solo gameplay portrays, many of the weapons mesh well, and most players have their favorites. In co-op, players take advantage of those combinations to a massive degree. The different weapons combine range, area of effect and control in a symphony of burst gasbags, scumbags and squirts. One thing Bastion was missing (for the most part) was that classic puzzle-distraction many adventure games have. Four player co-op would definitely take advantage of that and fill the void. Sticking to the dynamic nature of the game, puzzles change based on how many players are participating and which characters are being played. Both players being Zulf and Zia present gameplay largely different from the Kid and Rucks. Agility scenarios and challenges for the Ura, power-related encounters for the Caelondians, and an intricate mix of timing, sheer numbers and execution for the whole group combined.
Why sure, the Bastion’s done well for itself, but… Can ya’ imagine where Caelondia’d be if we all protected it together?