Recently, my wife and I completed the LEGO Marvel storyline and we’re now going back through to mop up the free play. The LEGO games mean a lot to me, they’re tons of fun, the whole family can enjoy them and perhaps most importantly of all, they are one of the last bastions of couch co-op.
At the risk of sounding like an elderly Yorkshireman, back in t’day there was nothing but split screen as far as the eye could see and gaming was a truly social past time. But in these gosh-darned modern times, there are precious few titles available which allow two or more players to gather around one screen and spend a few hours playing, laughing and occasionally punching each other for fluffing something up.
So what about next-gen? Will the power of the Xbox One, the Playstation 4, the Wii U and the latest line of gaming PC’s allow for more split-screen shenanigans? We pulled together a list of core titles (with a little help from Co-Optimus) which offer either split screen or couch co-op play. We also excluded any titles where local multiplayer is an expected part of the core game e.g fighters, sports titles. The results were depressing, but unsurprising.
|Game title||PC||Xbox One||PS4||Wii U|
|CABELA’S DANGEROUS HUNTS 2013||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|CALL OF DUTY GHOSTS|
|DYNASTY WARRIORS 6||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|DYNASTY WARRIORS 8: XTREME LEGENDS||N/A||N/A|
|EPIC MICKEY 2: THE POWER OF TWO||N/A||N/A|
|FAST & FURIOUS: SHOWDOWN||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|KANE & LYNCH: DEAD MEN|
|LEFT 4 DEAD||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|LEGO BATMAN 2: DC SUPER HEROES||N/A||N/A|
|LEGO HARRY POTTER: YEARS 1-4||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|LEGO HARRY POTTER: YEARS 5-7||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|LEGO THE HOBBIT|
|LEGO INDIANA JONES 2: THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|LEGO MARVEL SUPERHEROES|
|LEGO MOVIE GAME|
|LEGO STAR WARS III: THE CLONE WARS||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|OCTODAD: DADLIEST CATCH||N/A||N/A|
|PLANTS VS ZOMBIES: GARDEN WARFARE||N/A||N/A|
|RESIDENT EVIL 6||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|SERIOUS SAM 3: BFE||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|SKYLANDERS SWAP FORCE||N/A|
|TRINE 2: THE COMPLETE STORY||N/A||N/A|
|TURBO: SUPER STUNT SQUAD||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|WARRIORS OROCHI 3 HYPER||N/A||N/A|
|Game title||PC||Xbox One||PS4||Wii U|
|ASSASSIN’S CREED UNITY||N/A|
|DISNEY INFINITY: MARVEL SUPER HEROES|
|DOCTOR WHO: THE ETERNITY CLOCK||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|GAMMA WORLD: ALPHA MUTATION||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|SHAQ-FU: A LEGEND REBORN|
Obviously, some of the titles mentioned above were also available on Wii, PS3 or Xbox 360, but for the purposes of this list we’ve gone with PC and next-gen consoles only. There’s not a whole lot there when you compare it to the massive amount of games which are available or due for release, some of which lend themselves brilliantly to local multiplayer and yet never seem to include it. What’s interesting to note is that the Xbox One appears to be offering the lowest return for local multiplayer experiences in its core titles, even when compared only to its primary competitor, the PS4.
It would be nice to think that the power of the new consoles would allow developers to give more thought to those of us who long for the days of all-nighters which didn’t leave you looking like some kind of lunatic, talking to yourself in a dark and empty room. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case and we wonder if the gradual decline of couch co-op for assorted reasons has now led to a situation where games companies are hiding behind assorted reasons and excuses, although really only one aspect is key, money.
There are games that I’ve picked up largely because friends of mine have grabbed it and co-op sounds like fun. In the old days, one of us would have bought a copy and we’d have got together over a weekend to play. Now, take Dead Island as an example, we’ve all bought it so we can play together online. That’s four copies sold, versus one copy, of course publishers and developers are going to want that to happen.
Another problem is technical limitations. When you have a game pushing a console to it’s limits, to then split that down and have two players involved becomes massively problematic. Obviously it can be done, look at Halo, the LEGO titles, Left 4 Dead, there’s a fair few titles out there which have managed it, but there are a lot more who haven’t even attempted it, stating technical difficulties and system limitations as the reason behind this.
Massive, open world titles like Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto have a huge amount going on in these games at all times; pedestrians wandering the streets, traffic, even wildlife. For that to run seamlessly for two players on one system is asking an awful lot of even the next-gen consoles. Alternatively, look at Halo. Split screen has always been an integral part of the Halo franchise but it does require multiple rendered instances and that puts a drain on the system’s resources. Another good example of this issue is the massively popular Black Ops 2 Zombies. Trying to run four players on one screen is an absolute nightmare, due to issues with frame rate drops and the game becomes damn near unplayable as hordes of the undead stutter their way through the level.
Sometimes, it comes down to a choice for the developers, piss people off by leaving out the couch co-op? Or piss people off by cramming it in and having it never quite work as people want? Stuck between that particular rock and hard place, nine out of ten developers will doubtlessly opt to leave it out.
Ultimately, couch co-op is not quite dead but it’s got an arm off and there’s a smell which should not be. There may be technical limitations, there may be financial considerations, but I am begging you games developers, publishers, designers, please don’t let this absolutely vital part of gaming die. Some of the very best moments that I’ve had over my 20+ years as a gamer have been squashed onto a couch next to four of my mates, controller in hand, laughing like a loon as someone does something stupid or whooping with glee as another level is completed.
It’s infuriating when we’re all together, having a few chuckles and perhaps a drop of Babycham and then once we decide that we fancy working through a four player campaign of what-have-you, we have to go our separate ways and chat via Xbox Live. It’s a laugh, but it’s just not the same. When and why did developers make the decision that real friendships are maintained not by sharing good times, gathered in one room and enjoying each others company, but by playing alone and conversing via crackly online communications, assuming that the servers haven’t crashed?
Whatever it takes, be it petition, protest or primetime commercial featuring sad-eyed puppys, I’m happy to do it if it means more companies will at least try to keep couch co-op alive.