Co-Op Done Right

Episode 2 of the A Band of Gamers podcast Joel and I discussed our favorite Zombie games. As we went through our individual lists I realized that many of my titles included an element of co-op. Since the release of that podcast the idea of co-op has been on my mind quite a bit. Although it landed in second place when we referred to the ABOG discussion thread - Most Preferred: Single Player, Co-Op, or Multiplayer? - it was a tough call to make. I love a single player story, but there's something to be said about experiencing a well done co-op campaign with a close friend or family member.

For me, a quality co-op game starts and ends with the idea of working together to accomplish a common goal not easily achieved alone - whether that's with one, two, or three other gamers. Simply adding a nameless/faceless character to play as (aka Resistance 3) isn't enough to make it a memorable experience. Gamers are becoming more demanding and, for the most part, are an intelligent group of people. We know when something was tacked on and when something was developed from the ground up.

One of my top picks for favorite Zombie games was Resident Evil 5. This game made my list in part due to it being a great example of what a quality co-op videogame experience can and should be about. Whether it was simply boosting your partner over a low wall, sharing a dwindling supply of guns and healing herbs, or breaking off from the main path to reach individual goals that only then will provide access to the next level, it was a game that was difficult in its execution and one that clearly fit my image of co-op. Resident Evil 6 is right around the corner and if it's anything like my last Resident Evil experience it's sure to be a favorite.

My love affair with the most recent Ratchet and Clank game, All 4 One, hasn't been much of a secret. It was the first game I added to the Extra-Life calendar. Taking a much lighter approach than the previously mentioned Resident Evil 5, it provided for an incredibly fun - and often funny - co-op experience. Teamwork was at the front and center of this game from beginning to end. Although it may have taken a breif reprieve from the standard R&C formula, it quickly became one of my favorite games of 2011.

Where these are just 2 titles in a potentially lengthy list of games that I consider to be worthy entrants to the co-op style of gameplay, I wanted to point out a few titles that have caught my eye and are set to be released over the next few months.

To begin with, I wouldn't feel right if I didn't remind everyone that Dead Space 3 is scheduled for February of 2013 - a date that, for me, can't come soon enough. To say that I'm a Dead Space freak is an understatement. I've played - and loved - all of the games (although the downloadable title Dead Space Ignition still leaves a bad taste in my mouth), read the comic, and enjoyed the novel - Dead Space Martyr. What made these games so great was of course the single player campaign. Desperation and terror went hand-in-hand and made for some of the most uncomfortable and frightening experiences I've had the pleasure of playing through. Yet, the developers at Visceral have taken it upon themselves to add the element of co-op to Dead Space 3. While my initial reaction was one of dismay and concern, I have since warmed up to this idea and am hopeful it will help make for a proper three-quel.

When the announcement for co-op in Dead Space 3 was made the speculation was that it would destroy the level of fear the series has done so well up to this point. Playing the game with a partner - presumably online - may detract from that emotion. Although this is certainly a possibility, I recall an article . . . or podcast . . . or video . . . where the discussion was based around ideas that could take the terrifying experience of a Dead Space game and make it even better with online co-op. If I could give credit to the source of this conversation I would, but I truly do not remember its origin. What I do remember was a very unique idea, and one that has resonated with me ever since.

Imagine a game like Dead Space in co-op mode where a situation calls for each player to split off to complete an individual task. The voice chat would still be functional but as one or the other player encounters their own unique necromorph challenge, that same voice chat becomes interrupted, fuzzy, and cuts in and out. Think of the scene from the end of Ridley Scott's Alien when Ripley is on her own, preparing for the shuttle evacuation. In her ear piece she hears the screams and cries of her two remaining shipmates - Lambert and Parker - as they are torn apart by the Alien. Now, take that same formula and apply it to Dead Space in co-op. Suddenly, what you hear (and how it's heard) becomes more terrifying than what you see. Obviously this would require some groundbreaking ideas from the development team - being able to mess with a player's headsets - but think of the possibilities. Again, this was not my idea but one that I've heard before and was instantly intrigued with its implications. Kudos to whoever that person was. 

Aside from my obvious love affair with the Dead Space franchise, the soon-to-be-released Halo 4 has jumped up significantly among my list of must have games. Not only because it's the newest iteration in a very successful series, but more so for the episodic co-op content that 343 Industries has dedicated an entire team to. Sure, playing the campaign will be great fun, but what do they have in store each month following its release? With the recent success of Telltale Games episodic formula for The Walking Dead, I can only imagine how much fun a similar formula will be within the co-op Halo universe.

I view co-op as a theoretical "bridge" between those gamers that love the single player experience and those that live for multiplayer. It has worked well in the past - when done right - and the future looks promising. It has the potential to increase the replayability of a title while adding to the number of gamers that play next to each other on the couch or, in some cases, across time zones. My hope is that for the remainder of this console generation, and well into the next, that developers continue to think of unique and interesting ways (like that awesome chat/headset idea) to make  co-op as much of a focus as they have with single player campaigns and online multiplayer.

How about the rest of our intelligent community? Are there any co-op specific games out there that have struck a note with you? Is there anything on your radar that you can't wait to get your hands on? What about other interesting co-op gameplay ideas - those are what interest me the most. If you've got 'em, I want to hear about 'em. Tell us your best ideas here and we'll be sure to share with the rest of our growing community during Episode 4 of the A Band of Gamers podcast.