We all have our tastes in gaming, but there is only one form of experience that can persuade players to join in with games, series or even entire genres they wouldn’t normally enjoy. Competitive multiplayer is fun, unless of course your opponents are much better than you, or you find the game difficult, or the genre isn’t to your tastes. All of these can be brushed aside, though, in favour of one glorious element: co-op.
A good example is Army of Two. Playing Army of Two is like pulling teeth, if your dentist was a raging douchebag. Everything in the game is horribly dumb, from the ‘wouldn’t see it if the characters mentioned it every fifteen minutes’ foreshadowing of a plot twist that was incredibly obvious from the intro cutscene anyway, to the über-macho PCs with their skull face masks and their blinged-out guns (this is not an exaggeration). Yet a friend and I had great fun with it, essentially the same way one would enjoy a bad movie: by continously and unforgivingly ripping it apart as we played it. Many bad puns on the word ‘bro’ were delivered and glorious fun times were had. Comparatively glorious, that is; we were still playing Army of Two. We finished it, which is a lot more than I could say about what would’ve happened if I’d been playing it on my own.
I find a similar effect happens with almost any RTS game. RTSs have an extremely high entry barrier, and any time someone suggests we play an RTS that I’m not particularly familiar with, I know I’m going to be pretty useless. But co-op makes it all better. Regardless of the skill levels of the players involved, the balance of the game, or even whether anyone knows what the hell is going on, everyone can get behind ganging up on some hapless NPCs. Humanity against the malevolent AI.
Not to mention, this is far better for the new player’s understanding of the actual game. In co-op, the inexperienced players get to actually watch the experienced ones, learn from how they play the game, and receive support and backup from them as well as hints. Competitively, not only does that not happen, but the newer players can be stomped flat in short order long before working out how to do anything important.
The crowning example of co-op glory as far as I’m concerned, though, is playing Halo with my girlfriend. I’m not a huge Halo fan. The games are all very similar, the plots and level layouts don’t excite me, and while I appreciate the polish and gameplay design of the series (and the music!), Bungie tend to undo all their built-up goodwill every time they bring the Flood in. Neither of us would play shooters on console if given the option of a PC release. But because Halo has split-screen co-op, we’ve played Halo 3 (twice) and Halo: ODST, and we’ve just started on Reach. It’s the same for Left 4 Dead 2; we both own it on PC, but play it on my 360. The shared experience is great fun and brings us closer together as people.
Split-screen, and co-op in general, is incredibly enjoyable. Every time the two (or more) of you die, there’s an earnest discussion of tactics, itself as engaging as the level you were just playing. When you succeed, you share the euphoria of victory. It’s a bonding experience, and there’s something deep in us as humans that revels in the sensation of a shared cause – of fighting side-by-side with someone, or working together to overcome a problem. Perhaps it’s that satisfaction, more than anything else, that allows co-op to transcend barriers of taste and skill and bring gamers of all stripes together to make those NPCs rue the day they were initialised.