Editorial | 8/21/2014 at 10:00 AM

When Co-Op Gets Weird

A Retrospective On Games Treading Off The Beaten Path

In lieu of something heavy and hard hitting I thought I would take the chance to drop some lighter science with my co-op editorial. I’m not going to sling some gaming journalism schtick and talk about how females aren’t being represented fairly in the industry, or how microtransactions are ruining games. I’m not here to kick a dead horse. No my friends, it’s time to get wacky and delve into the world of when co-op gets weird.

What makes a game weird? Does it get weird(er) when there are people watching you play? Is it weird when you are a kid as opposed to when it happens as an adult? All of these questions are relative as I want to simply explore the space we have when it comes to some quirky co-op games. There are tons of weird co-op experiences out there so we have to keep it brief in the interest of sanity and time.


The Misunderstood: E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy

You know the game always on sale for a buck, that’s E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy. It’s the game you write off because of the terrible cover art and the absurdly low price. The best way to describe the game is if you took a bunch of LSD, watched The Matrix, and then played a bunch of Deus Ex. There are plot twists, hacking, and even a broadway musical to lighten the mood.

At the base level E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy is a first person shooter, governed by the rules of a role playing game. So for all you pigeon holers out there, its a FPS/RPG. It contains all the tropes of a tabletop RPG; picking a class, levelling up attributes, equipment, divergent storylines, and of course some pretty bad voice acting. Now before you go writing this game off let’s remember the cardinal rule of co-op: “Friends make everything better”. This rule holds true with Divine Cybermancy, and let me tell you it gets much weirder when you drag a couple friends into this lucid dream.

It mashes together several game types, but it is the absurd which fuels this fire. The numerous elements coming together make Divine Cybermancy unique, and something that should be experienced with friends. It doesn’t hold your hand, it simply narrates the situation to your party like a power Dungeon Master who has had too much Mountain Dew. Your character can hallucinate, have a mental breakdown, and begin to shoot your co-op buddies. I can’t think of any other title where this happens and personally I think it is a really interesting mechanic more co-op games should embrace.

E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy, the bargain bin gem of the digital world. It is a game many have passed by and I am here to encourage you to get weird with your friends and give this a shot. It takes every opportunity to mess with your head so why not bring a couple friends in for the ride?

The Absurd: Goat Simulator

When you think of getting weird, why does this game always come to mind? It’s because you play as a friggin’ goat with a sticky tongue who can cause mass pandemonium across a quiet town. I’m not talking about some puzzle platformer, or action rpg here. It is a living, breathing, goat simulator and it defines weird when it comes to gaming.

Who knew such a silly premise would be a huge hit. Sure some of the popularity comes from the irony and most from humor, however Goat Simulator puts you in the hooves of a goat who is hellbent on causing as much stylish destruction as possible. Toss in a co-op goat and it is off to the races. Seriously, this game is whack and the developer warns people by telling them to spend their money on something else.

Trust me though when I tell you Goat Simulator will fill a void in your life. Have you ever wanted to catapult yourself from a flatbed truck cruising down the highway to a ferris wheel and finally onto the roof of a house? Well then, you my friend are in luck because dreams become a reality in Goat Simulator. This sandbox world of sentient goats quickly becomes a cacophony of chaos, with no real goals or objectives in sight. The Steam Workshop allows for player created ‘quests’ and such but really when it comes down to it, you’re just a goat who is tearing up the town and that is pretty weird in my books. I’m not certain what makes it more absurd, the fact you’re playing a game called Goat Simulator, or said goat has a tongue that would make Stretch Armstrong blush.

Sometimes you and your co-op buddy just have to rip some sick misty flips in the air after launching your goats into the stratosphere to make the pain stop. Don’t worry, it’s why games like these exist and why you should be able to share these experiences with friends. I eagerly await the sequel (hopefully Chicken simulator) but until then I bask in the weirdness of our goat based gods.

The Foreign: Spintires

Let’s move on to another simulator but this time instead of the animal kingdom, we turn our attention to mother Russia. Spintires really shouldn’t exist. What is essentially an off-road, mud physics simulator, the goal of this weird game is to transport logs from one end of the map to the other.

You and each of your comrades are entrusted with the care of an offroad vehicle, each with its own specialty. Some vehicles are fast and mobile, while others are slow and strong. Some have tow ropes, and others have mechanical claws; all coming together for one common goal of lumber transport across some pretty devastating terrain. You get the idea, well...sort of.

Spintires is weird because the gameplay is really slow, and you wouldn’t think driving through mud at 5 kilometers an hour would have any appeal to it. It isn’t especially fun as a driving game because you’re not drifting around but for some odd reason, I can’t stop playing it. There is something about Spintires that is weirdly appealing and anyone looking for something a little different (okay a lot different) should definitely be grabbing this and popping on the Red Army Choir while traversing through unknown territory.

The success of Spintires is also pretty absurd as it became an anomaly the week it was released. It quickly gained traction and became the top selling title on Steam, which had everyone in the industry questioning tastes, buying practices, and what is viable as a game. Needless to say Spintires demonstrated being weird can have its benefits, especially when the audience is willing to try something a little different.  

The Quirky: A Valley Without Wind 2

Arcen is known for straying off the path and taking chances on titles coming out of their studio. They mashup genres and never adhere to any formula when it comes to making games. A Valley Without Wind (and later the sequel) was the first Arcen game I reviewed, and it struck a chord with me because it was doing something different. In this case ‘different’ actually means weird and that is the best thing that A Valley Without Wind has going for it.

It is impossible to classify what A Valley Without Wind is, and therein lies the charm. It is genre bending for better or worse as it samples from a buffet of games before it. The exploration feels like something out of Metroid and the combat steals from some twin stick shooters complemented with skill trees out of RPGs. Finally the overworld map plays like a co-operative board game where you are playing against the clock of impending doom.    

The co-op in A Valley Without Wind 2 is wonderful and wacky. There is no rhyme or reason and players can kind of do whatever they want in a map. There is no reason to stay as a group, so exploration gets pretty hectic but it is in your best interests to tackle bosses together. In this day and age of having characters tethered to each other, A Valley Without Wind says ‘to hell with that’ and basically lets co-op buddies run rampant throughout the game. What is also crazy is the fact that you can have up 16 players in one game, which is unheard in anything but an MMO.    

Of course there are downsides to having a genre buffet. However, A Valley Without Wind is just zany enough that these are overshadowed by the amount of freedom Arcen gives a player. Combine this with a not-so-elegant mish-mash of gameplay styles and you’re left with a cornucopia of digital madness. It’s fun, it’s weird, and it is definitely worth your time.

The Insane: Saints Row series

Possibly the least ‘weird’ game I’m highlighting today but the most ridiculous is the Saints Row Series. It brings the sheer sense of insanity to the table in place of weird. Since the inception of the Saints Row series Volition has always tried to do things differently. They took the open world style and turned it on its head, progressively evolving it into something the competition couldn’t even begin to fathom. Saints Row was not afraid to do something different and it has diverged enough to become its own open world style. Controversy be damned, if GTA had a ‘really intense scene’ Saints Row would come out with something so obscene it would make Rockstar blush. Dildo bats anyone?

What is refreshing about Saints Row comes from the writing, gameplay, and the fact you can do this all with a friend. Where realism is held in high regard, Saints Row pushes boundaries and simply becomes a game for the sake of fun. Not many games do this these days, and I think companies could learn a thing or two when analyzing what Saints Row does well. Anything the player can think of is available in Saints Row. This becomes more valid towards the end of the series, which has you (the President of the United States) fending off aliens with your newfound superpowers.

What can we learn from Saints Row? One thing for certain comes from a game not being afraid to know that it is a video game. Volition leaned into it and it paid off, giving us one of the best open world series games of our generation. It also goes to show that being weird is sometimes a good thing.

The Bizarre: Zeno Clash 2

I saved the weirdest for last, and rightfully so. I can’t think of another title where animals are humans, and humans are animals, and a bunch of stuff in between. Zeno Clash feels like someone made a game about the Island of Dr. Moreau and managed to code it during a peyote-induced fever dream.

Conceived by the fine folks of ACE Team, three Chilean compadres responsible for the first person brawlers titled Zeno Clash. We don't see many brawlers in the first person perspective, so this in itself puts the whole experience in a whole different category. Punching a weird anthropomorphic creature while it hurls racial epithets at you isn’t something you play everyday. Go ahead and read that sentence again, because it is basically what you do throughout Zeno Clash.

If the first person brawling wasn’t odd enough, match that with a plot that makes Naked Lunch look like a children’s book. We’re talking hermaphroditic parental figures, crazy dreamlike landscapes, and power hungry Promethean gods that like to watch the animals battle for sport. The game is mind boggling, and I highly suggest bringing a friend along for the ride. At least you will have something to hold on to when things get crazy. What better way to spend a day with a friend then going out and starting tag team bar fights with the locals of Zeno Clash. Thankfully you and a friend can traverse this foreign land together, making Father-Mother proud.

Of all these titles, Zeno Clash betrays all semblance of a normal game, which it isn’t going to resonate with the mainstream audience. ACE Team is known for their zany antics when it comes to gameplay and themes, and I think there is room for it in this industry. I especially enjoy having no barriers on creativity, something that has been lost as video games bring in more money and it becomes about the business and less about doing something creative.