Where has all the four-player fun gone?
Remember the good old days when you and up to three of your friends would hang out at someone’s house playing video games together all night long. You could compete with each other or team up in four player games, trash talking and making jokes. Remember how you could actually turn to your side and look your opponent in the face as you ruthlessly gloated at them? Remember what it was like to see everyone’s characters on one screen? Remember how you never had to have an internet connection to play games with friends? This was called “local multiplayer” and it’s starting to become a scarcity. Where has all the multiplayer gone? In one word, “online”.
With the creation of the next gen systems a lot of emphasis has been put into online play. Microsoft and Sony are relentlessly promoting their online networks with add on’s, perks and extra features that are all only accessible online. New games are being developed that push the boundaries of online gaming, such as the massive multiplayer style of M.A.G. or the immensely popular trend of MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games) such as World of Warcraft and the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI. And games such as Modern Warfare 2 have made more of a name for themselves as online multiplayer gaming arenas than as a single player game.
But what about the face-to-face multiplayer we all grew up with? I can’t battle legions of undead with three of my friends in Left 4 Dead (one or two) without all of us getting online at the same time or getting together two TVs, systems, and copies of the game for a system link. I tried playing the shooter/role playing hybrid Borderlands with friends, but you can only play two characters on a system, and when you do important text like your name and stats get cut out of the menus. I can’t even play two player cooperative on Dynasty Warriors: Gundam even though the other Dynasty Warriors games have it. It just seems like developers don’t care to make games that four people can play in one room anymore. Sure, you can buy four wireless controllers for your 360 or PS3, but all you could use them for is playing triple-A first person shooters such as Halo and Modern Warfare; everything else is just pushed aside. The recently released Bioshock 2 had a multiplayer mode added to its content, but you can’t play it without an online connection.
I realize this may seem like a small complaint. Everyone should have an online connection these days and getting a membership to Xbox Live costs about $50 a year, so what’s the problem? The problem is that I want to play with my friends. Not all my friends have the same system. Most people don’t, because gamers are constantly segmented between their system of choice or even computer play. Even when someone has multiple systems would they have a copy of the game you want to play on the same system as you? More than that, it’s just more fun to play when your friends are actually in the room. Why do you think people have LAN parties and LAN centers are built all over? Because even games that are designed to only be played on multiplayer are more fun when you can turn to the person you just shot and see their frustration manifest in real life in the face of a friend. Then there are the various problems with online gaming itself. The complaints constantly resurface again and again. Hackers, rage quitters, people that don’t understand your language, bigoted jerks that won’t keep their mouths shut, the list goes on and on.
There is one major company and system of gaming that I have yet to mention. That is of course the Nintendo Wii. For many gamers the Wii has been shrugged off as a niche system made to make gaming more accessible to a mainstream audience, but multiplayer is one of the areas in which the Wii shines. The system is practically designed for parties and groups of friends wanting to play together. With continuations of popular multiplayer franchises such as Mario Party, Raving Rabbids and Super Smash Brothers, as well as new party creations like New Super Mario Brothers, Nintendo still provides a party in a platform.
Don’t get me wrong, online gaming is great and it is still revolutionizing the industry. But let’s not forget the fun that can be had with actual human interaction playing a part in our virtual interactions. It’s great when game time can also be hang out time, and you can’t really do that very well through an Ethernet chord.