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Sustenance

June 12, 2017 by Tim

Legendary Showdown: Presidential Edition has reached its funding goal! The campaign has a couple of days left, so there’s still some time for you to score a copy, and help them hit some stretch goals!

So… E3 has just begun, and I’m sure we’re going to be seeing a lot of cool stuff this week, but oh man I feel like, at least for me, it’s going to be pretty hard to top A Way Out.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m psyched to hopefully see life for the Nintendo Switch beyond Splatoon 2 and Monster Hunter, and the new Destiny– wait, I mean Anthem– that Bioware is working on looks pretty slick, too. And there will be plenty more, I’m sure. But unless any of them are co-op story games, my heart may be spoken for.

I never feel like we get enough co-op adventure games. Most often it seems the best we can hope for is a tacked-on secondary character that can join the primary protagonist on their hero’s journey. A character for the second player to control, to participate in all of the gameplay, yet none of the cut-scenes. They are a shadow, faceless and voiceless. It is seemingly the least amount of effort a developer can invest in co-op, and yet even that much is rare.

Even better, but less often, we get a game that is designed to be co-op friendly. Army of Two, Kane and Lynch, Divinity: Original Sin all spring to mind as titles that allow a second player to join and actually be a part of the story. To play characters with agency. The game can be played alone of course, with the AI controlling the other character, but if you bring in a friend they are allowed to become as invested in the adventure as you are,

And the rarest beast of all, is the game that commits wholeheartedly to the co-op concept. That says, unabashedly, “Bring a friend or begone.” And those games have the chance to be something really special, because in not trying to please everyone, they can explore elements of gameplay, communication and cooperation that we don’t often get to see in other games.

There are moments in games that stay with us for years. Experiences that we have, and they can come from all sorts of games, be it an amazing shot you made in multiplayer, a crazy glitch that had you laughing or ass off, the first time you completed a favorite game, or what have you. Moments that, for one reason or another, stand out among all the other moments.

A lot of mine are from co-op games. Playing and experiencing alongside a friend. One of my favorites is from the Kane and Lynch games, actually. Now, you can say what you will about those games, they had some flaws, and they were embroiled in some controversy for sure, but they were a solid co-op title and sometimes you take what you can get.

Anyway, my best friend and I were playing through the campaign, in the living room but on separate televisions. At one point we were escaping from some thing we did (the details are hazy at this point), we’re making our way through some crowded streets, and suddenly I look over and my buddy (he’s playing as Lynch) is just blowing away civilians left and right. Just brutally gunning down people in the street.

I yell at him, like “What the fuck are you doing?!” because obviously he’s going to bring the law down on us, and he replies “The cops! They’re all over me!”

I say nothing for a minute as I watch him continue to gun down civilians, and that’s when it dawns on me: on his screen, he sees these civilians as police officers. Because Lynch, the character he’s playing, is mentally unstable. I was floored.

It’s the kind of moment in a game you can only have once. Like, even if you love the game, you can’t get that same experience even if you replay it. It’s also the kind of moment that can only be done in a co-op game like that.

I know why we don’t get more co-op adventure games, from a business standpoint. Developers want wide appeal, they want replayability, and they want flexibility. And that’s easier to obtain when the concept of co-op is limited to drop-in, drop-out, parallel play that doesn’t require much investment.

If you start a co-op story with someone, you’re making more of a commitment, because if your partner bails, it can be harder to find someone else who is ready to step in at the exact same moment in the story you left off on. And for gamers without someone they can rely on to partner with, and who may not want to make that commitment with a match-made stranger, co-op becomes too frustrating and untenable.

So yeah, I can fathom all the reasons why we don’t see more co-op adventures. But that doesn’t stop me wishing for them. Or from getting really damned excited when they do pop up.

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