As you can see, this is not "This Week in Co-Op." Today marks the debut of a new column, "Great Features in Co-Op Gaming," that will alternate with This Week in Co-Op. So, this week you get our new column, next week it's back to This Week in Co-op. Well, with that clarified, let's get on with the column. This column is dedicated to discussing fun features that make co-op games worth playing. Everyone has played a co-op game and (to themselves or aloud) said "Oh man, 'feature x' is so cool" So, what feature is the focus for this week? Open world/sandbox gameplay.
Open world gameplay is a bit of a double-edged sword. You want to give the gamer freedom, but not too much, and the best games balance this wonderfully. So, when making an open world co-op game, you have to be even more careful. However, the payoff is even greater if you can pull this off. Putting a group of people in an open world has enormous creative possibilities, since teams can really think for their own and form their own solutions to problems that the game presents them. A few games actually pull this off, namely Crackdownand Grand Theft Auto IV. These two games show why open world gameplay can make a game extremely fun.
Crackdown is the shining example of open world co-op gaming. However, GTA IV's co-op missions also show the advantages of an open world game, so let's focus on GTA first. When you start the level with your buddies, you have a set location (or many locations) to get to. However, you and your buddies can get there any way that you please. This provides you and your buddies a variety of options and a great deal of freedom, which is really the whole point of videogames. You and your buddies can choose to ride all together, or you can split up into two smaller groups, and so forth. It also lets the individual player to have some freedom, while still maintaining the principles of co-op. You may get to the target location any way you want, but you must wait up for your buddies in order to complete your mission.
It is quite amazing how quickly players manage to manipulate the open world and become comfortable in the world; almost as if in real life. In open world games that take place in a big city (a la GTA IV), players soon learn street names and boroughs almost like they live in the city. Again, this all leads back to co-op and teamwork. You wonder where your buddy is, and he tells you "I'm on Third Street." Instantly you know where to go. Likewise, you and your buddies learn shortcuts
As of now, Crackdown stands as one of the best games to do open world co-op. And perhaps it makes sense that you play as a supercop in a big, open city. You have a big city to play in, and you can explore a great deal of it fairly easily, since you are basically a superhero. However, the superhero angle only adds to the bevy of ways to take baddies down. Thanks to the open world, you can easily use teamwork to take down the baddies in a myriad of ways. You may choose to flank your enemies from two different streets or send one guy on foot while the other takes them down from a tall building. Again, the open world makes complex teamwork possible, since once the baddies are spotted, your options for taking them down are essentially limitless.
Not all open-world games have you playing as a supercop, jumping from building to building with your buddy in tow. Also, not all open world games take place in the modern world (though it seems that the best do take place in big cities). However the basic ideas all carry through. There is little to no linearity as to getting from one place to another, and exploration is key. This is wonderful in a team environment, since it allows players both freedom and plenty of ways to use teamwork. The open world co-op game can be tricky to make, but when done correctly, you get a wonderful nonlinear game where you and your buddies can hang out, take down baddies, and just generally have fun in a big open world.