It used to be that you and your buddies would have to crowd around a TV, or two TVs in separate rooms connected by a long Ethernet cable to avoid screen watching and the less notable screen listening, to play console games together. In 2009, those days seem like ancient history but it was a little less than 6 years ago that the ability to play console games together meant you had to be in the same space at the same time. Now many games, especially those that would have, in the past, been single player experiences, are being transformed to accommodate multiple people playing together. This ability to enjoy games with friends both new and old has lead to many, including myself, playing new types of games and old ones in completely new ways.
In the original Xbox days, Halo 2 and sports games were really the best in terms of games that had solid online systems as well as games I really enjoyed playing, online or off. When the Xbox 360 finally came to be and Microsoft installed a rule which required an online component be a part of each release, a broad spectrum of games were now opened to me and I didn’t even realize it.
Early on in the Xbox 360’s life, I tried another shooter that was not normally my cup of tea but, with the ability to play with my brother Nick, actually became quite enjoyable. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, with its very different control scheme, speed and general attitude toward shooting from Halo, which to that point was the one and only shooting franchise I had invested time in, had come on the scene and was a really good time because of it’s co-op abilities.
As time went on and developers realized that co-op can make almost any game better and more fun, I have found myself playing games or doing things within them that I may not have been able to do otherwise because doing them with a friend is so enjoyable. Had it not been for online co-op sessions with friends, it would have been near impossible to sit down for hours on end looking for those last few agility orbs in Crackdown. Playing through the entire career mode of FIFA Street 3, a fun but admittedly flawed game, would have been much less enjoyable without having Nick on my team to run plays and have a great time with while running through the other teams.
Co-operative gameplay has come so far that now that it is the building block for many big titles. From Castle Crashers to Army of Two (and its forthcoming sequel) to the upcoming Resident Evil 5, games are now featuring co-op rather than it simply being a feature. I have played through most of the RE5 campaign and, without the ability to play with someone over the Internet, I would never have made it.
Beyond its addicting gameplay, one could argue that the greatest strength of PC phenomenon World of Warcraft is the fact that people can do the mundane bits of the game, like collecting and killing things over and over again, with people while chatting rather than grinding alone. While I am certainly not an authority on the game, I can attest to the fact that playing the game with Davide, for the briefest 2 hours of my life, was far more fun than playing by myself the first time, which lasted an actually brief 5 minutes.
While rumors of the death of single player games may be greatly exaggerated, as games move forward it seems that online systems like the PSN and XBL will be used more and more to provide gamers with experiences that would not have been available before. Whether it be letting each player be human controlled in NBA Live 09, droppping in (or out) to a friend’s game of Littlebigplanet, or playing a full, separate campaign in Resistance 2 in co-op mode, games are certainly moving toward being the social experienced that can add a whole new level of enjoyment to games. As Microsoft put it during advertisements for Xbox Live back in it’s infancy, “it’s good to play together.”