Editorial | 2/10/2012 at 3:07 PM
The Open World is Scary - Bring Backup
Why an open world makes co-op better
A million billion years ago (OK, more like 2008), I wrote an article about open world co-op games and their overall awesomeness. The examples I used were Crackdown and GTA IV, but the list wasn’t a long one to choose from at the time, though Mercenaries 2 and Saints Row 2 came out around the time of the article and didn’t get a fair mention. Well, it’s been four years. Have the co-op gods been good to open world fans?
For something that is undoubtedly a difficult endeavor to create, there have been many open world co-op games since that article came out. To name a few, there’s been Crackdown 2, Saints Row: The Third, and Dead Island. Borderlands can also be thrown in as well, since it's equal parts open world and hub-world.
All are fun in their own right, and each game showcases smart ideas in co-op design. Borderlands is a nice mix of FPS and RPG, encouraging gamers to craft teams to tackle the game’s exotic and varied locales. Crackdown 2 builds on the already stellar idea of supercop teams in a large city, and it's mountains of fun to mow down dozens of Freaks with a buddy or two. Saints Row: The Third follows tried-and-true Saints Row formula of “big city plus crazy experiences equals fun,” and since it’s wackier than ever, the shared fun is even greater.
Though the past four years have given us plenty of great open world co-op games, Dead Island is the shining gem of recent games. It serves as a model for what makes a great open world co-op game.
While it isn't as huge and easily accessible as Saints Row, it is a world that very much feels open and inviting of exploration. It's also not too open, so that you don't get lost easily. The style of open world in Dead Island is useful because it makes the game feel more hazardous, since you are always surrounded by zombies to one degree or another. Every turn is a risk, and backtracking even in teams can be intimidating. The game is very much an “on foot” open world game, which from a co-op angle is very good. I loved Crackdown and Saints Row's co-op, but in both games it's really easy to get separated from your friends. In Dead Island, the world is open enough to explore, but not open enough to get lost.
Because of this “open but with limits” approach, you are very much forced to stay together, like in Left 4 Dead, which I view as the ideal co-op game because of the fact that you have to stick together to survive. The additional players are inherently useful because taking on a large world full of zombies at every turn is never an easy affair, and your solo strategy is simply to survive. Teammates make the affair easier to deal with, but like Left 4 Dead, you never feel completely safe or overpowered. Plus, it’s always fun to kill zombies in plenty of beautiful locales that reward exploration with more sidequests and weapons. I've always thought that open worlds and co-op are a match made in heaven, but Dead Island somehow managed to make an even greater match when it threw in a zombie apocalypse.
The past several years have been great to open-world co-op fans. With the promise of Borderlands 2, Firefall and maybe a new Dead Island game (Dead World has been trademarked by the devs), the future is bright for open world co-op games. So, go out there into the big, shiny world and bring along a friend or two. Also, if a game wasn't mentioned in the list, please note it in the comments.