Best of 2011 – Me, Myself, and I: The Single Player’s Lament

Nominated by Richie

Now look what you did!

It’s not that I don’t like Multiplayer. Multiplayer fans, its not that I don’t like you… well some of you. The constant encroachment of multiplayer into my gaming life is getting to the point where it’s putting me off buying some games. Almost any game I look to grab will have to pass the ‘offline achievements’ test before I’ll even consider it. I’m not even much of a completionist, well I can’t be, thanks to multiplayer achievements. “Woah, hang on there buddy!” I hear you cry, “I love replaying the same five maps for months on end at less than five minutes a match. It means I know them so well I can instantly destroy any fun a n00b player will have by killing them repeatedly”. Well, rather than try and fight the Modern Warfare & Halo crowd about their warped sense of ‘fun’, I will explain why online modes are making me an incredibly sad panda.

Let’s start with achievements, shall we. You have the totally insane achievements as seen on Burnout Revenge and GRAW, which are internet leaderboard/ranking based which some people will just never achieve. There are the group scores, the Bejewelled Blitz million points for example… not great when not one single person on your friends list actually has the game. If these aren’t bad enough then there are also the milestone achievements: get rank X, play for X hours/games. Sure it’s mostly a grind and many singleplayer achievements are complete grindathons, but having to do it whilst other players deliberately try to interfere or seem to be afflicted with both verbal diarrhoea and tourettes makes it a miserable thing to do.

Sure, if you want the achievements enough you can put up with the shit and power on through. If you want them enough, of course. All of the above falls into insignificance compared to the ugliest of all online achievements: the never-getters. The never-getters are those achievements you couldn’t possibly hope to get because either the server has been unplugged or the online community has long since moved on to pastures new. Two recent examples are Lord of the Rings: Conquest (EA pulled the server, leaving several hundred points of achievements unobtainable) and Red Faction: Armageddon whose online horde mode attracted zero players last weekend when I was online hoping to get some online revives and a four player match running.

"I'm Isaac"... "No, I'm Isaac"... "No, I'M Isaac!"

So that’s the achievement moan out of the way, and if you work in the industry then please, please, please take this away with you: Don’t ruin my games with awful multiplayer achievements. Dead Space 2 did it right by at least not adding achievements for the blatantly ill-fitting and shoe-horned multiplayer and instead allowed kill tallies to count from both towards certain achievements.

This leads me nicely to gripe number two: leave single player universes alone. FPS games, yes, for the most part they lend themselves to multiplayer. Apart from the odd curveball, most are based around you being a soldier in an army, maybe an elite soldier, but often you are one of a zillion others just like you. Warfare is fine; it suits multiplayer. Dead Space, on the other hand, didn’t need four ‘Isaacs’ wandering around. There is only one Isaac; leave it at that.

When I read that Mass Effect was going to be getting a multiplayer mode, I literally sat and burned with rage. A thousand commander Shepards all roaming a map shooting at each other, oh brilliant. Could anyone shit on such an amazing single player experience any more than by taking what makes Commander Shepard unique, the saviour of mankind no less, and then handing it out to 63 other players who have the exact same dumbed-down skillsets and are intent on duelling it out with unlimited respawns until a timer clicks down to zero. Whoever came up with multiplayer Mass Effect needs to get covered in tar, feathered, burnt, fired out of a cannon into the atmosphere so they disintegrate on re-entry and then their ashen remains collected to be put into cat food so they can get eaten and shat out the other end as a replica of what I thought of their idea. My point is, if you go to the trouble of building this amazing universe then keep it that way, please; some of us can’t take it seriously knowing ‘hAwT5h3ParD’ is out there somewhere tea-bagging a fellow Spectre in a capture the flag match.

Gripe three – playing with randoms. Taking the delightful hAwT5h3ParD as an example, sometimes (read: all of the time) I just want to play with friends or, at most, friends of friends. It always makes me chuckle how games come with that ‘game experience may vary during online play’ warning. They should just say ‘game experience will be ruined unless you like swearing, shouting, random background noise, people constantly jumping around on screen and complete failure of basic social manners’ – then again, maybe that’s a bit too long for the box art. Thankfully most games now have the ability to mute unwanted audio, or you can jump into a solo Xbox Live party and mass-block them all but they still force you to have to play with them; an option for not rendering their character or a better solution than just ‘not preferring’ a player which ensures they’ll never grace an online game with you ever again would be much more to my taste. Internet anonymity, or the misguided perception that you are anonymous behind your clever gamertag, always results in at least a few people ruining what may otherwise have been a fun game. The painful and lacklustre reporting/blocking system in most games/online services doesn’t help in this regard.

Ah yes, nothing like a good old game of Capture The Bag with some random mong

So that’s traditional multiplayer doused in paraffin and set alight… time for gripe four – Horde modes. I actually like horde modes, for the most part. You and a few friends against the enemy until the end; at least that is the dream. No cocky randoms to spawn camp you, no uncomfortable banter and usually an increased enjoyment because its an experience you’re going through with friends. There are two major drawbacks to these modes that resurface time and again:
- reality
- poor design

In reality, I’m the only single, childless, working gamer out of my close friends; all others have random shifts, children, families or a mixture of other issues that means our time window for gaming as a group is severely limited. It’s a rarity that we could go 20 let alone 50 waves of Gears of War horde mode in one swoop. This is where poor design kicks in. Moxxi, Mad Moxxi, sexual temptress of Borderlands and hostess to the worst horde mode yet seen in a AAA game. Not only was the mode bland (limited maps, limited enemies) but there was no ability to select a level, no system to remember you made it to wave 19 of 20 but your best mate’s kid threw up over his Xbox so you had to stop for a bit. To have to play that mode end to end on several occasions to help friends out send me a little insane – particularly when they decided they’d had enough about halfway through and wasted a good couple of hours where I could have played something with a pulse of excitement. This isn’t the fault of my friends; this is bad game design. Gears of War 2 and Red Faction: Armageddon had it right, let them pick back up where you had left off. Red Faction even counted broken-up progress towards the complete all 30 waves achievement and this was a great thing indeed. In fact that mode (Infestation) was actually good fun too, and probably a close second to the original Gears of War 2 Horde compared to other variants for fun and longevity. As a relatively new method of online play this, I hope, will only get better in time and the mistakes made thus far will be learned upon.

Moxxi... she may be a sexy bitch, but she's more twisted than Charlie Manson on a helter skelter!

Finally the last bastion of multiplayer and the least offensive to me… the realm of the co-op. You and a buddy teaming up to take on the campaign, or a sub-story, or something. While this also suffers from reality and availability, it is generally a lot easier to find just one friend with the same game and a valid time window in which to play. Unfortunately, a lot of issues still harass co-op games. Borderlands ended up a single-player experience for me (and an awesome one at that) purely because I wanted to play more, my friend only wanted one character and the co-op couldn’t nicely handle differences in level or quest completion. One of you would always end up chasing the other trying to keep up unless you were meticulous about playing online together and only together at all times. Other games suffering achievement woes were ones where the guest gets nothing for their effort requiring a second playthrough to even out the gamerscore. As games offer more and more players the chance to co-op together, this process will get more confusing and increased save checkpoints or drop-in/drop-out play (without penalties for those with less time to play) will become vital in keeping it a fun and less infuriating experience.

So that is it, my gripes against the multiplayer machine all laid out on the table. Oh, in typical Columbo style… just one more thing. Why does any matchmaking process waste so much of my life? A more efficient way of getting online and alerting friends is needed. You agree on a time and, being a good human being with manners, you turn up on time. Twenty minutes later another logs on with a half-baked excuse about a cat getting in the microwave and partially cooking itself, with so much time wasted just hanging around not being able to get into another game in case they logged on mid-level and you couldn’t save. Then there are the pauses, the bio-breaks, the inefficiency of other players, the loading times; each little thing adding up to a brain tumour inducing stress level that does the complete opposite of why I game (which is to relax and escape this world of idiots in which I walk every day).

I don’t want multiplayer to die; in fact I adore co-op when it is done right (Splinter Cell: Conviction and Gears of War I’m looking at you) but I just hate that because some idiot said multiplayer is the way to add longevity to a game, every developer is throwing in a mode – mostly unwanted or unneeded. The proof is in the gaming with Red Faction: Armageddon being a desolate online wasteland yet only being released a couple of months ago. So many games take valuable development time away from an extra chapter of a campaign, extra polish, extra bug-fixing all in the name of adding a mode that’ll be dead within a short space of time, doesn’t fit the main game, and frustrates those who have thoroughly enjoyed a series based on single player campaigns.

I game to have fun, and if hanging around waiting for people in lobbies, getting abused by randoms and a constant stop/start is fun then go ahead and have your World of Warcraft raids, your MW2 deathmatches and your Portal 2 playthroughs. Just please understand that just because social media/gaming is all the rage, it doesn’t mean all of us want to jump into bed with a game that whores itself out to the online masses. Some of us want to go home, sit in silence, pour a large drink to erase the memories of the day and get pulled into a fantasy world where we are the sole master of the universe for a few hours. I don’t always want to have the forced social interactions of a multiplayer game, sometimes there is nothing worse than to finish the day with that prospect.

Last five articles by Stu


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