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Play With Me, Not Against Me - Where Have All The Co-op Games Gone?

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Why is it that no-one seems to make genuinely co-operative games any more?

Back on the original Xbox, there was a series of third person shooters from Pivotal that began with Conflict: Desert Storm in 2002, and ran through five iterations (although the final version wasn't a 'true' Conflict game). These games were, despite a number of technical and gameplay flaws, excellent co-operative experiences. I would play these with two or three friends, and we would each take control of a character from the stereotypical military shooter genre - a big machine gunner, a wile sniper etc. The key thing, is that we would then be able to play the main game, exactly as it is in the one player campaign.

The final 'proper', i.e. with this co-operative element, Conflict game was Global Terror in 2005. It seems to me that this game represented not only the true end to a great co-op series, but also the start of the decline of properly co-operative games, or at least those that allow for more than two players at a time.

I had this highlighted just this past Friday evening, when some friends came over to visit, and a few of us decided to indulge in some Xbox action. After giving up on NHL 12 following a particularly humiliating defeat, we decided to try to find a good, old-fashioned shooter to play together. Being the well-trained consumerist gamer that I am, I had a full array of the latest titles to try out. Well, imagine our disappointment as, one after another, we had to discard boxes when we discovered the absence of the little '2-4 Co-Op' logo on the back. We were even further embittered when, after finding this vital sign on a copy of Black Ops, we found out that the four player co-op was only available on a ridiculous, arcade style dual-stick shooter, and not on the infinitely more entertaining zombie killing spree levels. We ended up, somewhat morosely, downloading game trailers in the hope of finding a hint of future offerings that promised a proper team experience. Something evidently nigh on impossible to find today.

On the Xbox 360, for example, there are around 800 games available. Of these, according to Co-Optimus.com, only 61 allow for split screen co-operative play of the main game campaign. And out of these, only seven permit four players simultaneously. Seven out of 800. That is less than 1%. And most of those were Guitar Hero / Rock Band games.

Am I being incredibly unfair to complain about this? Am in a tiny minority of people who want options beyond games that force you to play alone, or those that only allow you fight against your friends?

Part of me accepts that this must be true. If hordes of gamers demanded a full co-op experience, then surely the developers would rise to the challenge. And part of me recognises that with production standards as high as they are, and with game mechanics growing increasingly complex, putting the additional demands of multiple players on an already strained game engine may be asking a lot.

But the more cynical part of me considers another possibility. That game developers don't want friends sitting around a single machine and sharing a campaign. They want each person to have their own copy of their product instead. Good business sense maybe, but it seems a bit antisocial.

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