Back when I was a younger man, I used to love a bit of competitive multiplayer. I have spent more than 1000 hours playing multiplayer in Battlefield Bad Company 2, and it was in this game that I met some of my oldest Xbox friends; people that I still play with now to this day. We used to have a team of four players, all level 50, that used to join games as a squad, and in our preferred mode of conquest we used to capture all the flags, then pin the enemy team into their base and spawn kill them until they left. We would then proceed to swap sides, break out of the base and repeat the process again and again until we finally won. We took hate mail from other players as a badge of honour, and to be honest we probably weren’t very nice people to play against. I’m actually quite ashamed of the way I used to act, if I’m absolutely honest, and while it was fun at the time, I can see now that I was a bit an idiot.
As I’ve gotten older (and I’m now very old indeed), I’ve come around to the viewpoint that the best way to play games is in cooperation with other players, and what I’d like to do for you here is lay out my reasoning. So strap in, for it may be a bumpy ride, as I’ll be giving a few examples of when the competitive multiplayer scene is not the be-all and end-all of the gaming experience, and also, if I may, dropping a few shining beacons of co-op gameplay.
When I have spent time playing Ghost Recon Breakpoint, enjoying the story, running about the place, shooting enemies and taking names, and so on, it was upon inviting friends in to join me that turned what was, let’s be honest, a mediocre game into something much better. The chance to wind a mate up for missing a headshot when we were trying to infiltrate a base, causing the alarm to be sounded and us all to die, was priceless. Working in unison, synchronising our shots, flying around in helicopters, bailing out of said helicopter just before it crashed into a mountain – all the usual sort of hi-jinks that comes from playing with good friends were present.
So, playing together cooperatively, Breakpoint was lifted from a “meh” game into something that was fun. Then, as I wanted to try all that it had to offer, I tried the multiplayer, and oh my was I in for a shock. My thinking was something along the lines of “If it’s fun playing against the AI, playing against real, thinking people should be even better, shouldn’t it?”.
Well, no was the answer. It only took a couple of minutes into the first round that all the wheels fell off and the burning wreck of the car speared off into the undergrowth. A stealth based game does not translate well into a multiplayer experience sadly, and this is demonstrated well with Ghost Recon Breakpoint. With a largish map, two teams of four people and some objectives to get to, it turns into a boring snooze fest. No one is willing to attack the objectives, and everyone is seemingly content to find a nice patch of grass to lay on, with a long rifle and high magnification scope. Moving anywhere near the point that you had to get to (think of Rush mode in Battlefield) would win you a sniper round through the head, and so every match turns into a victory for the defending team. It’s not my idea of fun, to be honest.
Who can forget the foray of Tomb Raider into multiplayer? With achievements tied into this mode, I had to play it. It was just a horrendous mess. Adding multiplayer into a game series that has always been single player only should exclusively be done sympathetically, but in this case it wasn’t. It really felt like an executive had suddenly had a bright idea about a multiplayer mode, and forced the developers into nailing a poorly thought out mode onto the otherwise brilliant single player experience. I have yet to find anyone on my friends list who enjoyed playing this mode, and believe me I tried, as I hate leaving a game unfinished with locked achievements.
Further to that and another competitive multiplayer scene I’ve never been able to get into is any of the Call of Duty franchise. The multiplayer fraternity on these games is famously full of kids, trolls and those who take a fancy for my mother – to paraphrase the messages that I have received. With the gameplay being firmly on the arcade end of the scale, it seems that the gamer with the fastest reflexes usually wins, and I’m now far too old to be able to compete in any meaningful way. I think this was why I preferred the Battlefield games to the CoD games; the emphasis in Battlefield is more on teamwork, so it does have that little bit of cooperation in the midst of the chaos. Why can’t we all just get along, eh?
So, with my appetite for PvP gameplay very much diminished, but with the desire to play and interact with others from all over the world, what games stand out as good examples of co-op games? Well, there are many. Going right back to the Gears of War 2 days, Horde mode was a revelation, and remains my go to co-op mode to this day, with a slight detour into Escape mode in the latest game. Communicating with other players, building defences, calling out enemies, reviving each other – these games are pure co-op nirvana.
Another great example is a recent addition to Xbox Game Pass, Remnant from the Ashes. Having strangers join your game to help you take down a tricky boss has saved my bacon more than once, and having higher level players join in with better gear lets you see what you can aspire to be. I can recommend Remnant to anyone.
Borderlands is another classic series with built in co-op, although with my friends’ level of loot-ninjary being very strong indeed, you do have to keep an eye on the chests to make sure you’re not left with only white pistols. Destiny is another, and despite having a PvP multiplayer Crucible that did work quite well, the co-op missions were where we had the most fun. The very first time our fireteam took down Atheon, the whoops and the screams of joy could be heard even without the benefit of a headset. Completing all four raids (in the original Destiny) we kept pretty much the same team together for years, grinding for loot and so on. And finally, Diablo 3 is another classic of co-op, and again with a high level friend to run through and kill everything the only bit left of the game is to run around and pick up all that sweet loot.
So, there we go, I’ve laid my gaming soul bare. I feel like I’ve been to an AA meeting – “My name is Paul, and I hate competitive multiplayer!”. I have done the competitive thing, I’ve spent so long tea-bagging enemy players after killing them, usually dying in the process, that it’s no fun anymore. But then perhaps I’ve actually grown up a little bit. Nowadays, I genuinely feel that helping others and working together is where the real joy in gaming is. But what do you guys think? Do you agree with my stance, or am I talking through my hat? Let me know in the comments!