Monday, August 23, 2010

Megabits' pick of...Current Gen Co-Op

Ok, everyone knows that Super Mario Galaxy 2 was a triumph, losing none of its predecessor's inventiveness whilst adding a new twist in the form of co-op, but if we’re entirely truthful, we have to admit to being a little bit underwhelmed. Co-op should genuinely enrich a game, either by allowing you to share the spectacle or by adding an extra dimension to the gameplay or game mechanics. With that in mind, we at Megabits have wracked our brains and assembled our list of the ten best co-op games, the ones that, unlike SMG2, didn’t fall swiftly by the wayside. These are the co-op games that had legs, that gave us days of play rather than hours, that made us glad of our friends list.

Guitar Hero World Tour
I have to admit, I’m on record for my dislike of the all conquering plastic tat and pseudo-music franchises, largely because I hate the feeling that the gameplay is designed around the idea that the controller is an obstacle between you and the screen rather than a conduit into the game world. But for all my general distaste for the game, I have to concede that if you throw in a couple of mates the whole thing becomes rather more fun, as you argue over song choices, bicker over instruments, wrangle over whether to move on or retry songs or…ok, wait a minute, that still sounds rotten. Yet somehow that indefinable magic of gaming, that intangible something that separates a Halo from A Call of Juarez or an Oblivion from a Nier takes over when you get a group of mates on Guitar Hero, and annoyance becomes exhilaration.

Resident Evil 5
While the later entries on our list are marked out by a level of quality that makes them as good in single player as they are in co-op, it’s these early entries that can only muster strength in one category by being weak in another. Resident Evil 5 is a case in point. As a single player effort it’s easily the weakest in the Resident Evil series, a mess of bad QTEs, cheap shots and, unforgivably for a game bearing the name Resident Evil, no tension whatsoever. Played as a co-op, however, and Resident Evil 5’s weaknesses become strengths-those villains with hidden weak spots and superior maneuverability can be taken down with teamwork, as one player fills the role of stalking horse while the other plinks away. The lack of tension becomes irrelevant as co-op turns the game into a successful shooter rather than a failed horror, and the garbled inventory management becomes a much smoother process when not subject to the infuriating whims of Sheva Alomar’s gormless AI. As a failed solo horror, Resident Evil 5 makes an enjoyable co-op shooter.

Perhaps the most debatable inclusion on this list, it’s fair to say that the gameplay in Crackdown doesn’t change noticeably between singleplayer and co-op modes. In fact, it’s possible to spend hours playing in co-op and not experience anything notably different from the single player. The secret to Crackdown’s co-op success lies not with how good it is for two, but how good it is to share how good it is for one. The glorious, over the top leaping, skidding, shooting and bus-chucking that make the open world actioner such anarchic fun in singleplayer are still there in co-op, except now, you can get some extra chievos whilst yelling ‘Dude, did you see that?’ as another mob of Volk baddies are subjected to some comedy pyrotechnic physics. Except we’d never use the word chievos. Or dude. Honest.

Lost Planet 2
Kill big. That’s the idea behind Lost Planet. Well, actually, the idea behind Lost Planet is that a big snowy genocidal land grab is good fun, but that’s not very pithy. Kill big, on the other hand, sums it up nicely-Forget about shooting enemy soldiers not noticeably larger than you. Team up with your buddies and take down giant insects. Steal an exoskeleton and take out bigger insects. Have all your mates steal exoskeletons and combine them into one giant exoskeleton and take down enormous insects. With the sequel adding some jungle variety to the original’s icy tundra as well as creating multi part scenarios in which team work is vital, Lost Planet 2 is that rare breed of game where the co-op factor doesn’t feel like a half-baked bolt-on. The single-player is lumbered with the feel of a dumbbot-populated multiplayer and saddled with a frustrating save system that make it almost worthless, but if you’ve got a couple of buddies on your friend list, then Lost Planet 2 is worth a look

FIFA 2009
I’m among the small group of naysayers who feel that advances in gaming technology have taken a lot of the fun out of football games-the small play area and unregulated flow of action mean that context sensitivity can’t take as much of the burden off the controller, meaning that almost every chip, lob or pass has to be available at the drop of a thumb and the experience becomes a matter of pernickety button combos and less enjoyable than an actual kickabout. Having said that, however, FIFA 2009 still gets on the list thanks to the sheer unbridled joy of joining your friends for an 11 a side online match. The game that has the slightly contrived tendency towards the spectacular that infuriates Pro Evo purists but makes everyone else feel like Pele. The realisation that every Bergkampesque pass is not only delighting your friends but infuriating the opposition gives you an in-the-guts experience that doesn’t last for long, but is glorious for those first few games.

Aegis Wing
An old-school side scrolling shooter doesn’t sound like it would fit with our desire to have a list of co-op games where co-op means more than just having two players on the same side, but Aegis Wing has more to it than just a backdrop and blasters. Up to four players can fly around the screen at once using ordinary and super weapons, but the real co-op fun begins when players combine their ships, Big Dai X style, with one player piloting the resulting ship and up to three more acting as gunners. In many ways, its the essence of good co-op gaming: everyone gets better and stronger by working together, whilst simultaneously inheriting the weaknesses of the entire team-a slow gunner or inattentive pilot can make you question whether the alliance was worthwhile as you sit, wondering if the teams one lifepod will be used to save you or someone else...

Halo 3
Much like Crackdown, it has to be said that Halo 3 is not a game that mixes it up for co-op gaming-it really is just the single-player campaign with the Chief, The Arbiter and up to two more Covenant Elites. But Halo is the game that took multiplayer gaming from painfully slow dial up Quakefests and the occasional late night on the office LAN and brought it into your living room, allowing you to play with friends remotely. Its almost as if playing Halo with other people is encoded in gamer DNA, so for the third instalment in the trilogy to include co-op play is an easy, natural fit, and feels like something you’ve been doing since you were a nipper. Add to that the sheer scale of the Scarab fights or the claustrophobic crawls through the Gravemind’s guts and you’ve got a game where company is always appreciated.

Take the aesthetic of 80’s scrapheap sci-fi movie Space Hunter: Adventures in The Forbidden Zone, mix it with surrealist punk western Straight To Hell. Overhaul the visuals with a cel-shaded art style reminiscent of Katsuhiro Otomo, and you’ve got...something that doesn’t quite describe Borderlands. Now what could be missing...? Oh yes, 17,000,000 guns! Essentially a loot driven scavenger hunt combining RPG upgrading with First Person Shooting, Borderlands follows a simple procedure-do missions, obtain guns, do more missions, get bigger, more preposterous guns: flame-throwing machine guns, lightning shotguns, you name it, just about any ludicrous combination is possible, and what do you want most when you’ve obtained a thermonuclear machine pistol? A friend to share it with-Borderlands is built for multiplayer co-op, with the number of enemies hitting hordelike proportions as you and your buddies back each other up whilst unleashing colour-coded ballistic chaos.

Gears of War 2
While your every urge is to dismiss Gears of War as ‘Lunk & Biff’s chainsaw-a-go-go’ , what seems to be one of the dumbest games you’ve ever played is in fact one of the smartest co-ops. Sure, it’s all about big action, gravelly voices and preposterous monsters, all presented in some of the sweetest graphics you’ve ever seen, but underneath all that is an intelligence at work to make sure that the spectacle is complemented by a game that is great for one but brilliant for two. The combination of cover mechanics and buddy revival allow you to feel a genuine sense that you’re supporting each other as you advance, the splits in levels that allow one player to head to an objective while the other covers him, the mix of short and long range weapons that a good team can combine to great effect when switching from claustrophobic tunnels to subterranean cathedrals and back...its all designed to allow players to form a working team without sacrificing their individual playing style.

Left 4 Dead
When it came to picking the top spot on this list it was always going to be either Left 4 Dead or Left 4 Dead 2. We agonised long and hard over it, and eventually came to the conclusion that it had to be the original. Sure, the sequel has the excellent scavenge mode, and the sheer joy of playing as a charger in VS, but the original’s hospital, farmyard and airport settings have a sombre tone that befits the games apocalyptic nature better than the fairgrounds and rock concerts of the sequel.
Beyond its settings, Left 4 Dead gets the balance for a co-op game exactly right: your allies can make you strong, or they can slow you down, and you’re tasked with the option of helping them or leaving them for dead, all the while knowing that they’re making the same calculations. Do you share the medical kit or save it for yourself? Do you backtrack to rescue a fallen team mate or peg it for salvation? Is it better to scavenge for a full supply of equipment or sprint to the next safe room as fast as possible? For all the frantic onscreen shooting, it’s these background questions that are the tasty rare meat of the game, and there’s the added frisson of tension that comes with the knowledge that the rest of your team might answer them differently in the middle of a pitched battle.


Replace Guitar Hero World Tour with Rock Band 2 and you'd have a pretty good list.