Do you remember local multiplayer? Back when the Nazis were rampaging across Europe and the days when if you had suggested an “always online” experience you would have been laughed back to whatever pit you crawled out of. Man, those were the days…
You see back when I was younger, as far as I am aware, it was consoles which had the coolest and the best games. Computers did not have much in the way of power and I suspect they were more seen as work tools than as something which could be used for simply playing games. So it was that I owned a PS2 with Timesplitters 2, people were enjoying Gamecubes, and I suspect those who were playing games on PC were playing “grown up” games like Myst… Or Microsoft Flight Simulator. Of course I might be seeing that through the eyes of a child who knew very little about the world around him, but even looking back on it in an attempt at objectivity I still think consoles had the edge.
Of course, this has changed in the past decade or so. While the original Xbox and PS2 might have been for all the best games, following the release of the Xbox 360 and PS3 the gulf between the power of consoles and the power of PCs began to expand pretty exponentially to the state that even the most recent jump forward in console power probably brings you up to the strength of a good PC from a few years before. Yahtzee was the one who coined the phrase, but the rise of the PC Gaming Master Race began a good deal before he ever named it as such.
Now I remained one of the Dirty Console Gaming Peasants for a good long while, but to deny the superiority of PCs as gaming machines is ludicrous at best and so I like to consider myself part of the Mustard Race now (at least by proxy).
Nowadays a game designed for a console is inevitably made for PC as well, I suspect even those brand spanking new console exclusives won’t remain that way forever. This is great, obviously, because it allows devs to really stretch graphical and design boundaries with their games. It does mean though that even a game designed for consoles also has to be compatible with PCs, so that the Mustard Race don’t lose their temper. It doesn’t matter what the game is, one has to be aware that a PC port is practically inevitable.
This shift towards designing games to be played on PC has had a considerable effect on the way games are constructed and played. Because it is so simple to set up on PC, online multiplayer is now an absolute staple. As something which was a slow build up for consoles (with the early advent of XBL and then the PSN), PCs had been doing online multiplayer for years and nowadays it’s simpler than ever. If you and your friends have the same steam game it’s the work of a button click or two to join them. So, with that in mind, more and more games have been designed to have an online multiplayer component.
This itself has had a few effects. For example it’s probably due to the increasing ease of access to the internet that always online and multiplayer only games like Evolve and Titanfall are even possible (although selling them at the price of a full game still irks me in ways I can’t fully express). The other major effect though is perhaps even more upsetting, something which has been brought up amongst my friends numerous times as greatly disappointing: the death of local multiplayer.
Lets be fair, a PC is a superior gaming machine in pretty much all respects, they are more powerful and its far easier to jump online for a game of whatever. But there’s always been one thing which consoles have always been better at and that is local multiplayer. Even now when one could feasibly plug in controllers into your PC, it’s still just not really the done thing. So, because all games are made for PCs and all PCs can’t really do local multiplayer, less and less games have been including it and that is a true shame.
It’s a real blow for the semi-casual gaming crowd (where semi-casuals are those who just want to quickly play a few relaxed games with their mates and actual casuals are those who play Temple Run and Angry Birds and can git gud). Every time me and a couple of friends are hanging out and we decide we want to play something, we inevitably say the words “man it has been ages since a good multiplyer has been released” and then we turn to an older staple, in our case usually Halo 4.
Because you can’t slump down into a couch with your friends and play a game of Titanfall together. No, you need to be in different houses or at least different screens for that. You might as well just never leave your room frankly… The same could be said for proper, FULL, games as well as the multiplayer-only nonsense. Big names that come to mind are Destiny and Assassin’s Creed *huurrrk* Unity, both of which have multiplayer, but only the online version.
As always in these situations one has to turn to indie gaming and actually perhaps we may even see a revitalisation of arcade games of which there have been a few amusing ones over the past years (with games like N+, Splosion Man and Castle Crashers springing to mind). It is only here where we see the time-honoured traditions of local multiplayer kept up and, thankfully, we do occasionally see something wonderful as a result of it.
Towerfall *huurrrk* Ascension by Matt Thompson was released back in 2013 as an Ouya exclusive, which was a shame because literally nobody has an Ouya and so nobody could play it. Thankfully the game received a port to the Piss4 and to PC at some point last year (thanks Wikipedia!) and since then I’ve managed to give it more than a fair shot on Tim’s PS4. It’s a multiplayer, platforming archery game in which you and your friends are set either against each other or bots in a small map to do intense and swift battle.
It is a genuinely fabulous little game and quite possibly the most fun I’ve had in local multiplayer in a long time. It has everything one wants from local gaming, 1-4 players, co-op OR versus, ease of access and truly excellent gameplay. Provided with only a few arrows each game is a quick and brutally reactionary fire-fight, where sometimes it can be all about aggressive charging as much as about careful aiming. One can dodge and pick up spent arrows as well as the occasional power-up to provide another edge to each fight. Combined with a wide array of randomly generated maps which can have a variety of traps and map effects present, it’s a game experience that remained consistently fun and exciting for several hours of play.
It looked and sounded great too, frankly for all that it is an indie title from a small dev, Towerfall might well be one of the best local multiplayers I’ve had the pleasure of playing in a good long while (and it has even won awards to the same tune).
Of course, Towerfall IS an arcade game and that means that inevitably each game will become a bit same-y and the fights a bit repetitive. It’s perfect to sit down and play for a couple of hours, or if you have a larger group, in a small tournament of sorts, but one would never just sit down and play it for hours on end.
The slow disappearance of local multiplayer is a great shame in my humble opinion. Whether it truly is vanishing because of the reasons I suggest here isn’t something anyone could really say with any great surety, but I like think that my opinion on the matter is at least fairly plausible. If I am right then there isn’t really very much to be done about it, but I would say this: it has been a while since there has been a triple-A title to be released with a local multiplayer which really gripped me. Long enough in fact that I would anticipate any game which promised a decent multiplayer almost as much as I would another major single-player RPG.
Here’s hoping that the next Battlefront has the answers to all my prayers.