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Opinion: What happened to offline Co-Op on the Xbox (and PlayStation)?

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As someone who grew up with a little brother and several copies of Halo, Co-Operative playing was a pretty big cornerstone of my love of videogames. Whether we were playing through on Legendary, doing speed runs without shooting a single bullet or just trying to hack our way back into the Pelican by spamming the X button on Assault on the Control Room, we always had a good time. For a 10 hour game we easily spent over 100 hours replaying and replaying, just enjoying the world Bungie had created and, though we would never admit it, each other’s company.

Recently moving home to a small house with no internet (OMGWTFBBQ how do you live?!!!!111oneone) I had a chance to revisit cooperative, instead of online, as a main source of multiplayer entertainment. If I was still interested in playing Halo for hours on end (Reach was good but it never captivated me the way the original did) then this wouldn’t have been an issue. But I wasn’t, I was more looking forward to playing some of my great FPS titles which, I assumed, could easily introduce a second player to the campaign without compromising the way the story played out.

But I was wrong. Even with system link as an option, the amount of games which we could play were pretty dismal. Games like Call of Duty which support many different multiplayer modes, refused to budge on the single player experience. I shrugged this off, after all they made a single player campaign for a reason so it’s their choice whether to introduce a second player (although I think they could easily have done so). But games like Bulletstorm, which doesn’t even offer a system link multiplayer option even though their multiplayer is co-op based, or Besthesda’s latest fps Brink, which is essentially a match based team game in all aspects (think Counter-Strike) and even offers cooperative campaign online but no system link, confounded me with their lack of consideration for offline players. After ­­all, not everyone has the internet.

At first I assumed this to be poor judgement on the game makers part. After all, the online community is fairly massive. But as I considered the titles once again, a different theory began growing in my mind. I’m not one to shout “CONSPIRACY!” at the drop of a hat but my suspicions began to get the best of me. What if Microsoft (or Sony since this a problem I know affects the PS3 as well) just isn’t interested in us playing offline anymore? After all, if we aren’t paying for Xbox Live they are missing out on valuable dollars every month (Sony is a little more complicated, but by you being online they can more easily entice you towards Downloadable Content and micro transactions).

Is this what it has come to? That our game providers would prefer us to play online with strangers as opposed to in our own living room with our closest friends? As much as I hope otherwise, most signs point to yes.

Just as a quick aside: There are some games which don't fall into the category I’ve documented above. Games like Borderlands, Fable 3, Portal 2 and a select few others. But they seem to be marketed off their cooperative ability, as if it was something rare and excessively complicated. Same deal with Kinect, not to mention there aren’t any games on it yet that I’m really passionate about.

UPDATE: I took a look around and eventually on Co-Optimus.com I found 37 Xbox 360 games listed for offline System Link capability and only 25 for split screen or couch co-op.

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  1. Review: Bulletstorm | GamePlayer

    [...] The downside is the multiplayer. Obviously with things like kicks and leashes (I forgot to talk about the leash! Basically you can hook people in towards you at will and then boot them away, or shoot them I guess, it’s awesome) which trigger slow motion, a typical player-versus-player multiplayer was impossible. Instead they tried to integrate an online version of the Horde game mode in Gears of War 2. I say tried, because I have never seen it work properly and instead it just infuriates me. Much more satisfying to pretend there is no multiplayer, the storyline is replayable and is good enough to justify purchase price for me (why didn’t they put in a Co-Op option? I have no idea, but it’s probably a conspiracy). [...]

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