I’ve never been much of a single player gamer. For as long as I’ve been gaming I’ve always enjoyed the comfort and security of having a buddy around to revive you when you inadvertently fall of a ledge or get caught on some clutter strewn across the floor of a level – designed to add richness to the setting but in fact amounting to another thing to navigate your character around.
Never has the value of having human co-op players on side been more clearly spelled out than when playing Left 4 Dead, a game which had a single player campaign in name only since even playing alone saw three AI teammates join you as you try to survive the zombie apocalypse.
Add in human players instead and, providing they are half decent, the balance of the game changes entirely and is far more entertaining. Original developer Turtle Rock (not Valve as I had first thought, who merely published the first and developed the second) have kept this point of difference in their new game Evolve.
The game is based around an asymmetrical multiplayer mode which pits four hunters against a monster. The monster begins fairly weak and must snack on local wildlife to evolve (ahhhh now you’re getting it) to become a force strong enough to take down the hunters one by one.
At the same time the hunters must try to find and take out the monster, and if they don’t kill it before it reaches its stage three of evolution, an all-out fight begins to either destroy or protect the power generator for that particular area.
Getting it together
What does this have to do with co-op I hear you ask? Well granted, for the monster there isn’t a lot of co-op to be had, but it would be a completely different game against AI rather than humans, since it is all about reading the opposing team, tricking one hunter into saving another so you can take them down too, for example.
On the hunters’ team, good communication and cooperation are vital to survival. It’s a game where you rely on your team just as much as in Left 4 Dead, except there’s no escape – you have to face this monster – and it’s a far more sophisticated predator than the likes of the Tank.
In the old days you’d need to get three (well four, really) friends around to complete your team for a game like this, and sofa and TV space are a precious commodity. These days co-op is far easier, with Xbox Live (and other services which I’m less familiar with…) connecting players across the world in seconds, and with minimal lag even at low connection speeds.
When faced with such a wide range of possibilities as that – even in a single multiplayer map with single character choices (of which there are in fact multiple, even for the monster) – it’s difficult to imagine a single player experience matching up to it.
In your own little world
That said, there are many who find escapism, solace and relaxation in single player, and I absolutely understand that. That experience will never disappear from games, but you only need to look at the biggest releases due for the rest of 2014 to see some clear signs of where console gaming is going – Destiny being a particularly high profile example.
The fact is that people are more easily connected than ever before, so it’s no wonder they want to share their favourite past time, but let’s hope the experiences we are presented with in co-op gaming going forward are well thought out, feature rich and diverse, and not just a clone of the main character bolted on to the campaign for the sake of it.
Many words have been written about the ‘blockbuster’ games of the so-called seventh generation of home games consoles, but, as we move into a brave new world in November, what will their legacy be?
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 boasted the biggest launch day sales figure in history (now more than likely claimed by GTAV) and Skyrim undoubtedly boasted the most hours spent by borderline-obsessed gamers indulging their fantasy lives, but some games made a more definitive impact (for me, anyway).
The titles below are the ones which made a significant impact for me on either Wii, PS3 or Xbox 360. (Sorry Wii U owners, but the real party is still to come, and also since I never owned a PS3, apologies in advance).
Resident Evil 4 (Wii)
Undoubtedly the most suitable and effective port of a game I have ever come across, Resi 4 had it all. There was a great, likeable protagonist, admittedly not the sort of guy you might want to go for a drink with, and an intriguing mysterious action/adventure (not survival horror) coupled with a drop of Japanese insanity to keep things interesting.
Whether it was the obsessive upgrading of my weapons – you never know when you might need an extra shotgun shell – or the cripplingly simple puzzles which I still couldn’t complete, there was fun to be had around every corner here, and on the Wii it took things a step further in terms of control and immersion.
Of course this wasn’t the arcade-machine-in-your-house that was Umbrella Chronicles, which was excellent, but flawed, but somehow there was something terrifying about the fact that you can’t move your character properly. It just added to the experience.
By the time you got to Resi 5 the magic had worn off, and the novelty of not fighting zombies but gunning down people infected by parasites unfortunately couldn’t sustain it through.
Guitar Hero III (360/PS3/Wii)
As much as its predecessor pushed the envelope over the first in the series, it was this game which really made its mark and told the world was here to stay (well, for a bit…).
The inclusion of rock icons such as Slash for the first time attempted to bring an element of narrative to proceedings, with mixed success, and shook off the legacy of Harmonix, the first game’s developer.
Like many Guitar Hero titles, the tracklist was key to the game’s success, boasting classics such as Pearl Jam’s Even Flow, Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnson and, most memorably, Through The Fire and Flames by Dragonforce – a fiendishly hard track unlocked at the end of the game during the closing credits.
There might not have been a huge jump forward from Guitar Hero II, but the style and execution was more polished, consistent, and fun.
The coop or head-to-head battles made for some entertaining late night entertainment, especially when arriving home at 2.00am at university, and there is the added benefit of being exposed to some excellent music from a variety of bands and years.
Rock Band 3 (360/PS3/Wii)
Of course, by the time Rock Band 3 came along, the music game was on its last legs, but this title is as close to entertainment perfection as I think any game has ever been.
The addition of downloadable tracks, which began with the first game, reached a peak in this title as new songs were added every single week since launch for years after the game first came out. Plus there was the chance for content creators to share out their own music on the service, and often get more exposure than they ever could have any other way.
The implementation of the keyboard could have been smoother, but it was still fantastic, and opened up the possibility of you actually learning keyboard through a console, something for which I’m sure Rocksmith is most grateful.
The title gave the most diverse range of songs to date and became a classic party game overnight.
The notes runway, developed by Harmonix for the first Guitar Hero, reached its peak with every song playing out its own way – even including space for some improvisation.
The instruments were slightly hit and miss compared to rival title Guitar Hero: World Tour, but the travel version of the game’s cumbersome drum kit quickly made the entire package more accessible.
This game defined multi-instrument gaming to an extent that it has never been bettered since. Some might argue that it was the final nail in the coffin of the music game era, but to finish with an encore like this? Not too shabby.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360/PS3/Wii)
Probably the most influential game on this list. It spawned an entire generation of modern military shooters, many of which carrying the COD moniker, and the twitchy-action and gritty fast-paced style of the game was aped just as often as the gameplay.
The nuclear destruction of the protagonist mid-campaign, a tragedy the player could do nothing to escape, was one of the most dramatic moments in video game history. To take such a bold step was something which, unfortunately they weren’t able to live up to in subsequent iterations.
The execution of the gameplay is undeniably one of the most well-produced of the generation, and still holds up well today. Campaign mission ‘All Ghillied Up’, a flashback featuring the player taking control of series regular Captain Price on a stealthy sniper assignment, remains one of the most tense and memorable missions for a first-person shooter.
Although the multiplayer wasn’t for everyone, it undeniably set the standard with its level design and perks system, even pushing the envelope in terms of Downloadable Content, something build upon significantly in later games.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (360/PS3)
What Modern Warfare did for shooters in general, Bad Company 2 did for vehicle combat.
Battlefield has always been about team play and the epic scale of war, and this title created a feeling of immersion within vehicles which I had never experienced before.
Not that it was the height of realism, but the map design and balance of different vehicles made it an incredibly compelling multiplayer experience. Flying vehicles were tricky, and arguably are still a little fiddly even now, but definitely good fun.
More impressive than the gameplay aspects though, where what developers DICE did with their new engine, Frostbite 2, which offered destruction even more impressive than that seen in Red Faction: Guerilla.
Buildings and scenery crumbled under the might of tank shells, with wood splintering, concrete disintegrating and the ground developing huge holes.
On top of that you add some of the most entertaining game modes out there for online multiplayer and you had a fantastic game. The only thing which pushed it that little bit further was the DLC expansion, Vietnam.
More than just DLC, the addition added new maps, vehicles and weapons to completely change the tone of the game within its own digital playground. Most importantly of all, it pushed the fun factor up to 11.
Left 4 Dead 2 (360)
In terms of multiplayer re-playability, there’s little which stands in the way of L4D2.
Although the game came out a little close to its predecessor for comfort, it managed to bring most of that game along with it through a number of DLC updates (which, admittedly, took some time).
The AI is what really impresses me about this game, as each of the special infected act differently and never fail to catch you out, no matter how many times you have played a particular level.
The feeling of panic as the horde rush mindlessly towards you far outstrips that of your average horror game. The sheer number of infected is overwhelming, not perhaps in the way as they are in Dead Rising, but because of their speed and relentless nature you quickly find yourself flailing wildly to escape.
The AI director, who silently changes the game behind the scenes to make a different experience each time, acts as an evil torturer at times, gifting the odd health pack before hitting back with a world-ending Tank.
Being a Valve game, the attention to detail is excellent and the level design is second to none – every time you play a game you find a different aspect jumps out at you (not literally, mostly).
It might have taken some time to become the game it is today, but that’s Valve, and there’s no doubt that it is the crowning glory of asymmetrical multiplayer.
Grand Theft Auto IV (360/PS3)
It might be the fifth iteration which is grabbing all the headlines for its billions of sales, but it’s the fourth instalment which really put the franchise on the map.
After swinging between realism and caricature for years with various games on the PS2, Rockstar decided to go all-out with the vast expansion of its world.
Comedy clubs you could visit, bowling, drinking, and a plethora of other sights were on show in what was the biggest and most detailed parody of New York City that has ever been created.
From the ‘GetALife’ building to the Statue of Happiness, the parody is flawless, mocking American culture at every turn. All to the effortless soundtrack of the Liberty City radio stations, which take things even further.
While the gameplay might not be the best aspect, in fact many aspects such as driving or combat are done far better by even similar games released around the same time, but it’s the overall convincing nature of the game’s world which makes the title truly compelling.
The story wasn’t anything ground breaking, but it fitted in with the game’s world well, offering insights into the life of Niko Bellic. How the player chose to make that character act is another story.
Mass Effect (360)
Mass Effect undeniably has the greatest story of any game I have ever played. Not least because it’s a story I wrote (sort of).
As the first chapter in the most exciting and varied piece of interactive story-telling in history, Mass Effect claims the crown over other RPGs (or, later, ‘action RPGs’) by making the player the centre of that universe so completely that they believe it has been created just for them.
The decisions you make throughout the story continue to shape the universe for years afterwards, cutting out entire characters from the subsequent games or changing alliances between races.
The controversy of the ending was inevitable with so much scope, but I believe that, all things considered, developers BioWare did well.
It’s one thing to create characters people love and care about, it’s another thing to feel like you really know them, love them, miss them when they are gone.
Garrus remains one of my favourite characters of all time, in any media, purely because of the journey he has joined my version of Shepard on. The emotional investment with this franchise, for me, is something which I haven’t experienced since Star Wars.
In the end, it is the experiences we have all had with these games, more than the games themselves, which will ‘define the generation’.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration or a grandiose statement to make to suggest that this is the most variety we will ever see in any generation of gaming ever.
The difference between the games which began it, like Perfect Dark Zero, and ended it, the likes of Watch Dogs and plenty more still on the horizon, is vast. The one thing which they do have in common, is the player, and for me, this next chapter of gaming remains just as interesting and exciting because of the new types of experience it will inevitably bring.
So there you have it, my not-quite-top-ten. Which games would you choose?