Replacing Older and Newer Posts by Actual Names

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Of FPS and Co-Op

For almost a year now, I have  lived alone in Bangalore. A matchstick apartment, a single bed, a lonely laptop, and an individual controller for my X-Box. All this changed however, a couple of months back when my younger brother came for a visit. From that day on, I have always shared my room with someone, be it for a month or for a few days. Fast-forward to today, and I have a stable and permanent room-mate, who is as interested and good in games as I am.

This change in my UMWELT (you don't know the meaning, check out this comic at XKCD in different browsers:, among other things has changed the way I play games. My priority (for the time being) has shifted from long single-player hours to significant co-op modes. While I have had my share of multi-player madness, (and I still do, though I suck big time at HALO:Reach) and almost every game out there has a multi-player mode, the number of games where you can share the storyline (especially on a single console) are few and far between. The following is an account of how I was introduced to and how I perceive the co-op gaming scene today.

As a wrestling fan, the first game that you share with your friends is obviously WWE (WWE'12 in this case), and surprisingly its as fun as it was when we were teenagers playing Here Comes The Pain. Games such as FIFA'12, and Cricket'2009 (indeed all the sport simulators out there) follow, and you end up having endless hours of video games for Bragging Rights.

While this maybe enough for an entry-level posse, it is not for hard-core geeks, who intend to make games for a living one day. Soon, you want something more relevant than a one-off football match between AC Milan and Real Madrid. Soon, you want something more lasting and worthy of your button mashing than a victory in a Hell In A Cell. Soon you want to be part of a story rather than part of a killing fest. This is what makes you go onto the net and search for Co-Op for the first time, and I haven't looked back since.

The first game that me and Gaurav tried was Tom Clancy: Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. I know, I know, its old but it was cheap and I am poor (so shut up and read on!). This was also the first time I was actually playing a FPS (First Person Shooter) on my X-Box, so it was kind of a big deal. The first thing that I noticed was that health meters in FPS or most shooters these days is a thing of the past. You can die with one hit, but if you survive that you can go back to "as good as new" if you lie low for a bit. This I assume is the new thing and is more realistic than a digital counter which tells you how near to certain death you are (which me being old-school, preferred). Another thing that stood out was the absence of health packs. Either they are rare (HALO, not that your health and shield are worth a shit on LEGENDARY) or they are completely non-existent (A.O.T-2 and Vegas-2). Another variation today is in the spawning, gone are the days when you died you spawned in a random flag and safe area, irrespective of where your team-mates are. Today, either you spawn right next to your buddy, or you lie down withering in virtual pain, until your team-mate comes and fixes you up. This I think is a little bland, I mean co-op is all about executing a plan and taking two routes simultaneously, which is not achieved if the two have to be together when one of them has died or is dying. Halo at least was humanitarian in the sense it asked you got into a safe area before the re-spawn can happen, but Vegas-2 and AOT-2 were unforgiving. They just like to revive you either where you died or where our partner currently is.

Okay, back to Vegas-2. The game allows a max of 2 players going through the campaign on a split-screen mode. When I did actually go through the campaign, it was more like going through a set of multi-player maps with a splattering of dialogues (there weren't even proper cut-scenes). But just the novelty of the fact that we were playing a story together was enough to pull us through for a while. So we went along doing our jobs, killing people, unlocking guns, and swearing a lot along the way.

The next game that I bought after hours of research on Wikipedia (My office doesn't allow me to open gaming sites) was HALO:REACH. The game as you might have heard is awesome, and just like it differs in game-play from other games, it also differs in its split screen. The split here is horizontal rather than vertical, which I thought made more sense, as it gave you more width than length, which in a FPS is more important. Another thing that HALO:Reach has and which I felt was awesome, was that the two of us could even play online using the same console and the split-screen. Of-course we needed our separate profiles and LIVE Gold membership, but yet the idea just made sense (BUNGIE take a bow). In a world where they want you to pay for everything and buy something, this was a breath of fresh air. A final word for the HALO series before we move onto another, killing aliens on LEGENDARY is far worse than killing terrorists on HARDEST (Those freaking ELITES don't stay in one place for a second, and have a sixth sense which tells them some-one is aiming at them).

The third game that I bought, which as a matter of fact I am in the process of completing is ARMY OF TWO: The FORTIETH DAY. The game is different from the earlier two in the sense that it truly is a co-op experience. It isn't a single campaign with a nameless Spartan added to your cause, instead you are Salem and Rios, 2 mercenaries taking on the world together (quite literally). In fact, unlike the the other games, its rarely a good idea to split up in A.O.T: T.F.D. The game cannot be a single herculean effort and the way it asks you to implement team-work and then rewards you for it is awesome. While this remains the best co-op experience I have had so far, it isn't without its drawbacks.As I said, splitting up in AOT is not a good option, as there is no concept of health packs, and if you are injured only your team mate can heal you, and if god forbid you die waiting for your team-mate or your team mate dies coming to you, its back to the drawing board. Another facet that I found lacking in AOT was the absence of multiple profiles, i.e. if you are playing with your profile signed in, only your stats, your weapons and your progress is saved. Your partner would return to his default outfit, once the game is shut down which is a real pain, keeping in mind the game was made to cater to co-op plays. With AOT-3 coming out next year, I hope EA sort this out and improves what is already an impressive franchise.

Having played co-op for a while now, I did realize a few things. The first thing that co-op does is that it gives you opportunities, we got a lot of opportunities to put strategies in place and execute them which in a single player or even with AI would have been difficult to implement (try telling your AI buddy to hide behind that blue box on the left side while you go towards a bent pole). I also realized that having another human player alongside, allows you to up the difficulty a bit. The fact that, I haven't played anything lower than the hardest difficulty since is testimony to the fact. Another thing that gets easier with a human companion is cheevo-hunting. If the game asks you to kill 100 guys with a shit-pistol, you can do that without having to compromise on fire-power cause your friend got your back. It also lets you express yourself a bit more while you co-operate. The swearing when you fail, the victory dance when you succeed, everything is more pronounced than it would have been in a single-play. Co-op is fun for the very basic reason cricket is more fun than shadow batting, and football is more fun than wall passing; it has human interaction.

The future promises more as games like Dead Space and Far-Cry step into the co-op domain. With the devs around the world understanding and exploring the power of two or more; I hope the co-op partner that you share you screen with starts getting as much importance as you do when you have the whole screen for yourself.

 Signing Off,
Ayush "Kabel" Chauhan

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