As we move through the different possible degrees of co-op games we have to be increasingly generous at ignoring some of the rules. Are elements of team deathmatch not a form of co-op? In many games, team deathmatch is nothing more than a lot of people playing for themselves, who happen to be on the same team – but not in all cases. Left 4 Dead versus mode is team based co-op, where if you want to win you need to work together, even if it is against other human players. This sounds more like Competitive Co-op/true team deathmatch to me. The same can be said of online sports games such as Fifa 2010, you can play with other players and the very dynamic of team based sports is that you must work together for a common goal. True team deathmatch does not even have to be versus human opponents, games like Unreal Tournament 3 allow you to work as a human clan against the AI, and this has to be considered a form of co-op play. If a developer programs the team experience well, then surely it is a type of co-op experience? Team deathmatch can come in many guises, some co-op, others not. If you are interested in this area, see Team Rainbow Friends in the forums for Co-optimus’ own Competitive Co-op Clan and play a session or two.
Consider pseudo co-op, a less ‘official’ type of co-op; games that are meant to be solo, but you play together. I like to play games with my partner, but she does not often like to actually pick up a controller. How does that work you ask? We play a game together by her giving me useful information (in most cases) or helpful hints (less often) to aid me in my goals; if that does not work I just get nagged to do as she says. You can often find us huddled around our laptop playing those ‘fun’ hidden object games together. You can work as one, or pass the pad to take it in turns. The game thinks that we are one person, but we like to play them together. The games we play in this fashion are numerous; The Secret of Monkey Island, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper, Mass Effect 2. These are not games that will ever come under the co-op remit, but for me they were great experiences I had with others. Developers have noticed this trend themselves and are increasingly catering for a market that will allow one player to be assisted by a more casual ally. Super Mario Galaxy or Call of Duty 5 Wii allowed a fellow player to jump in and aid the gamer in a loose capacity. This form of game is extending the co-op market to an increasingly varied type of player.
What about the most controversial form of co-op gaming – versus!?! I’m not a fan of going online to play against someone, but many people are. In fact, close friends will often join up online to play one another, be it on the playing fields of Pro Evolution Soccer 2010, or the mean cobbles of Street Fighter IV. If you make a concerted effort to play a friend online then this is a form of co-op as well? Split screen and single screen games can also fall into this category. Whilst some split screen games have you working together, many are designed as versus experiences that you share on the same screen. I would refute anyone who claimed that a family versus game of Mario Kart or Bomberman was not about people getting together for fun. Often sports games will allow you to play on the same side against the AI – you can make a competitive game a co-op experience if you like.
The final degree of co-operation, you ask? Well that has to be no co-op. Games that you can only play by yourself, but how many of these truly exist? Perhaps solo games on the DS, PSP and iPhone are the closest thing – looking over someone’s shoulder to help them out is no fun! There is a place for great single player experiences such as Mass Effect 2, Bioshock or Darksiders. The joy of immersing yourself in new worlds and discovering great set pieces. You just tell that to my partner next time she’s telling me exactly where to go. Co-op can be everywhere and nowhere in games; it is up to you to decide what degree of co-operation you want.
- Where do you draw the line when it comes to what co-op means?
- Does a game have to be fully co-operative throughout, or will a ‘Comp-Stomping’ style game mode suffice?
- Is playing a single player game with someone else a co-op experience? What about meeting online with a friend to play against one another?
- How could publishers and developers alike, better inform gamers about the level of co-op within a game (i.e. on the back of the box?)