Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Bring co-op multiplayer back to the sofa

I remember a time when playing a game with a mate meant fighting for sofa space and pretending to be a good host by offering them drinks that you secretly hoped they would refuse because you weren’t thirsty. It meant your extra controllers actually got some fingerprints left in the dust, and by the end of the session, someone might have a sore arm or bruised ego.

Nowadays though it seems like the internet is brutally killing my fond childhood memories by moving the majority of multiplayer gaming into cyberspace, leaving sofas criminally under populated. I can’t help but think that the current state of playing online with your mates shares the same level of personal connection as leaving your children at the orphanage does. I miss not needing a microphone to speak to someone when a zombie is bludgeoning me to death with rotting limbs.

My joy really hit its peak though when I got my hands on a copy of Splinter Cell: Conviction last week and found out that the frankly brilliant co-op campaign, and the other multiplayer modes had splitscreen support. It meant that me any my brother could completely blitz through it, gleefully loving every neck snapping, double tapping, goggle wearing second.

Some of the biggest disappointments I have found in games lately have been the lack of support for local multiplayer. System Link games are no good as you need two consoles and two TVs for that, not exactly what your mate might be willing to bring over on the off chance you fancied a game together.

Mercenaries 2 was a huge disappointment in my eyes, not that it was a bad game, but because the co-op mode was solely online. Where’s the fun in running around and blowing up the world when you can’t then turn round to a mate and let him know how awesome you are, only for him to do the same thing moments later. When you choose to play a co-op game with the general public, a surprising lack of co-operation is usually on the cards, as one guy runs off thinking he knows better. Whether he does or not is irrelevant, he’ll either run off and kill everything, or charge into the distance and have his balls blown off. Either way, you don’t get the fun of working together.

This is of course not true with all games. I have had some amazing Left 4 Dead sessions where the randoms were a really joy to play with, and were promptly added to the friends list as contacts for future awesome games. I have had a huge amount of stinkers at the same time though, so it really can go either way.

The Army of Two games are also utterly brilliant in my opinion. As a singleplayer experience they are nothing too spectacular, but as a co-op shooter, they are knee rubbingly good.

I can appreciate the challenge of creating splitscreen games as developers basically have to overcome the challenge of rendering the same world twice. On the other hand though, Ubisoft have pulled it off brilliantly in Conviction, which shows just how well it can be done. I really hope that this will start to become more commonplace as I really want to get more use out of my second controller, and maybe an excuse to buy numbers three and four.

Monday, 5 April 2010

I nostalgiad all over my Xbox

I’m having a bit of a premature elderly ramble moment whilst reflecting on the recent HD remake of the N64 classic, Perfect Dark which was just released on XBLA, as I just can’t shake the feeling that they don’t make games like they used to.

On the off chance that you have had your head well and truly buried in a Playstation disk tray all of your life, Perfect Dark was the fantastic first person shooter made towards the end of the N64’s lifespan by Rare, the studio that brought us the ground shattering Goldeneye.

It’s hotly debated whether Perfect Dark is better than Bond’s much loved N64 outing, but whatever the result of that argument, there is no denying that Perfect Dark was utterly brilliant.

I mentioned it was a HD remake in the first paragraph, but it would be more accurate to call it a HD spruce up. The textures and character models are slightly nicer looking, and the controls are a lot better now that they aren’t mapped to the N64’s trident controller, but under these improvements it is essentially the same game. The AI by today’s standards is comically pants, with the enemies making no attempt to preserve their lives apart from the odd feeble roll which is executed with the grace of a dead fish flopping out of a barrel.

Despite having enemy AI that can be outwitted by a toothbrush, the game still remains highly enjoyable and quite difficult even thought it is ten years old at the core. The real genius behind this lies in the mission structure, each one being very objective driven and highly original.

The problem I find with mission driven shooters in the modern age is that they all seem to have lost a huge amount of innovation over the years. It all seems to be about killing this, blowing that up or finding a needle in a Petri dish. Objectives in most of today’s titles are interchangeable and almost look to be taken from a database of things action heroes need to do.

Perfect Dark however has you putting on disguises, disabling security, planting various bits of spy gadgetry, locating scientists and generally just really keeping you busy. At no point does it ever seem like you are doing a mammoth slog from A to B just to accomplish an objective you’ve seen before. Constantly going between multiple tasks that boast a huge variety in each mission really helps to keep the game fresh.

Unfortunately, it also makes things frustratingly hard at times and is a real barrier to the wider audience. Perhaps the reason games aren’t like this anymore is because they will lose their mass appeal if the difference between success and failure lies on such a hairpin trigger like a lot of the objectives in Perfect Dark. It is also not always abundantly clear what you need to do, so if you aren’t prepared to bumble about and backtrack, you’ll probably get quite annoyed.

For example, in one section your objective is to rendezvous with a character you started the level with in order to escape. Of course it doesn’t mention anywhere at all where you meet with them, and it becomes a tad annoying when they aren’t where you left them. Thus starts the aforementioned bumble around the level, killing anything that was lucky enough not to have run into the barrel of your gun on the initial sweep.

Not that the environments are particular huge, but it did mean however that the developers got very creative with the little space they had, hence all of the running about doing different objectives. In my personal opinion, making the player occupy their time by constantly doing something is generally much better than letting them trek five kilometres to get somewhere, only to receive a single instruction to blow up a target.

It’s why I hated Far Cry 2 so much. Yes it was a big environment that you were free to roam around, but by the half way point, I really couldn’t be arsed to travel through the jungle again just to do something that seemed awfully familiar to my last pointless amble into an enemy camp.

To all FPS dev teams out there, please take a note from Perfect Dark and give the player something else to do that is more creative than exploding, shooting or meeting some kind of entity. The current format is drier than my muesli on that day I forgot to buy the milk.