Greetings again, one and all, and welcome to the madly misguided musings of me, the man of many misadventures, Venom! (I had to stop alliterating at SOME point.) As you probably don't know, I sometimes decide to rant about gaming-related things that bug me, and this is where I do it, so hold on tight and get ready for an all-out self-entitled assault of gamer rage at your eyeballs! Today's topic: Why does playing games that were designed for co-op in single player always have to suck?
Let's take a trip back to a mythical time of ripped jean shorts and grunge music, a time known as the 1990's. Back in those glorious Cheeto-dusted days, many a game came standard with the option to have a friend, or sibling, or random hobo who came in through your window sit down next to you and play a game in a co-operative mode. You didn't have to - the game would be exactly the same whether you were playing alone or with your brother who knew all the cheats but wouldn't tell you what they were. It was just a holdover from the arcades where you could stand next to another (or three more, or five more if you were playing X-Men) random stranger to make your way to the end of a game, and it certainly helped out those who had trouble playing the game alone. Fast-forward to today, and co-op is all the rage...only now, you're generally forced to experience the game with people you don't know over an internet connection, because that's obviously more fun.
"are you even trying, or are you just as brain-dead as these zombies!?"
But what if you don't want to play with random strangers? That's why online gaming services let you have a friends list, keeping up with the people you like to associate with and (more or less) not forcing you to interact with Sk8erBoiTHPS6969 if you'd prefer not to. Playing only with those on your friends list may be preferable to some people, like me...but what do you do if your friends don't have a game you want to play? Suck it up and play with randoms? Avoid playing the game until someone else buys it? Plead with the gaming gods to bless your best bud with today's hot new titles? You could do those...or you could choose Option D - the D is for dumb - and forge through a game alone, despite the fact that it couldn't be more obviously made to play with others without the game simply refusing to play without a full party. Why is that dumb? Don't worry, it's not you, the player, that's dumb, it's the game that's dumb for forcing you to play the same experience that would be manageable for four people but a nightmare for one.
Unless you're Batman. Batman can manage any situation alone.
A recent example would be the Gauntlet reboot that was released last year. It's actually a pretty good game, and each character is unique in their own way to make them all valuable as part of a team of monster slayers making their way through hordes of skeletons, zombies, and other assorted creeps. My point is, the game makes it pretty clear that you'll want to grab a full party before descending into the crypts...because if you don't, you're going to die. And die again. And die some more. And then you'll die one more time, thinking surely, you'd make it this time. This time, you wouldn't need food badly. This time, you'd take out the enemy spawn points before they overwhelm you. This time, you wouldn't shoot the food like a doofus. Yes, if you decide to enter The Gauntlet alone, you're going to be up against such overwhelming odds that the 300 Spartans would probably call you crazy for trying. You'll be drowned in a sea of enemies, struck down by traps, face bosses with ridiculous amounts of health, and sometimes just get straight up killed to death by Death himself, and all because you didn't bring some buddies along, dummy. Blue Valkyrie has never needed friends so badly.
Then again, Blue Valkyrie does have a bit of an ego.
Another problematic game, indeed, the one that caused me to write this, is Fuse. Fuse is a third-person co-op shooter for up to four players, but if you're playing alone, the other characters are controlled by AI because the way the game and cutscenes are set up, all the characters need to be present. Granted, plenty of games have characters simply appear in and out of cutscenes if they're not being controlled by a player, but they couldn't do that because, shut up, Fuse is talking. Anyway, the problems with playing this one alone are pretty simple - there is way too much going on in every single drawn-out firefight and boss battle, and the AI is pretty much useless. On that first topic, pretty much every room is a new battle against waves upon waves of enemies, to the point where sometimes you might wonder if they'll ever stop coming. With a team of four players, you'd headshot them all in 5 seconds and move along, but with one human and a bunch of drooling babies in the same situation, the fights become an exercise in patience and frustration. Worse is the fact that the enemies tend to focus on human players, and if there's only one, well, you're going to go down a lot and just hope the AI bothers to revive you this time. When not completely ignoring you or objectives directly in front of them, the AI can most often be found standing in front of an enemy's gun as it goes off in their face, or occasionally directly in front of your gun just for a change of pace in the direction the bullets are coming from.
The one actually using cover is the only human player here.
"But Venom," you say, knowing full well I can't hear you, "you're complaining about things that could easily be fixed by just not being an idiot and playing the game with other people!" Which is true, but not my main issue here, so you're probably now cursing me for taking this long to get to the point. The real problem is...why is the game set up to be the exact same experience regardless of the number of actual players? Look, I'm not a programmer, because programming is hard, y'all, so maybe I don't know enough about it to see why it can't be fixed. However, it can't be that difficult because there are some games, older games even, that scale the amount of enemies or even completely reconfigure sections of the levels (the Lara Croft and the Something Else series is a good example) to suit the number of players. Why doesn't every game do this? Why should I have to wade through 67 enemies that could easily be dispatched by four players when I'm playing by myself? Couldn't it be like, 37 enemies instead? And this isn't a difficulty modifier thing - most games these days, changing the difficulty only changes how easy it is for the player to die, not how many enemies show up or anything sensible like that. It's just baffling and, even more, annoying that developers look at their finished games and say "yes, no one will ever play this alone, because there will always be active players or all their friends will have it" and ship it off without checking to see if maybe they should tone it down for those who power through alone. If a game is made to be enjoyed with others, that's fine, but developers really need to find a way to, you know, make it enjoyable if you're by yourself as well. Maybe it's just me, maybe I'm the crazy one, but it's that constantly getting overwhelmed by enemies when playing these games that's made me that way.
Anyway, guess I'll go finish Fuse now.
So what do you guys think? If you're playing a game that's absolutely meant for co-op, do you just find someone to play with and have a ball, or do you not really care and take it on by yourself? When you play through certain games alone, do you wish you had a co-op partner, or wish the developers had made the game a little more kind to a lone wolf like yourself? However you feel about co-op gaming in general, sound off in the comments!