Multiplayer experiences have become a big thing in video games this generation. The shared experiences brought by them can help create memories and help to drive DLC for developers. But sometimes I feel the industry forgets that not everything needs to be online or always tied together. As Resident Evil 7 is showing, sometimes a really great single player experience is all gamers need for a truly memorable outing.
Not having to worry about other gamers means I’m free to enjoy the experience at my own pace; without the push of the social experience. For other gamers I get it, bringing friends into the experience is what really makes a game memorable. The rise of online only, multiplayer focused games has become big business for video game companies and will likely only continue as we march forward. One of the franchises I feel that became too entangled in this ever depreciating race to hold relevance was Resident Evil. Co-op
Yet for every big game seems to come bundled with some co-operative or multiplayer experience these days that cuts into the single player experience. Gamers have never been more connected and developers have afforded them all the tools to bring their friends (and even strangers into the experience). It’s not just us thinking that, EA’s Frank Gibeau spoke in 2010 about the how company see’s connected game play as the future;
“I volunteer you to speak to EA’s studio heads; they’ll tell you the same thing. They’re very comfortable moving the discussion towards how we make connected gameplay – be it cooperative or multiplayer or online services – as opposed to fire-and-forget, packaged goods only, single-player, 25-hours-and you’re out. I think that model is finished… online is where the innovation, and the action, is at.”
Yet the more I think about this future, the more I feel gamers are losing out. In multiplayer focused games there’s less sense of personality on proceedings. Games like The Division and Destiny let you wear hats and customize Armour – but the narrative feels coldly detached from you. You never feel special as you’re made aware that you are one of many. It’s a reason I’ve never bought wholeheartedly into the MMO genre – the story feels too much like a one-size-fits-all drag. It’s also one of the reasons I’m not a huge lover of Grand Theft Auto Online – the sense of chaos other gamers creates can ruin the pacing a game wants to invite.
Of course sometimes that’s the kind of thing gamers want, that unrivaled chaos that playing with friends. But when it’s shoehorned into the experience as a means of artificially extending the lifespan of the game – perhaps its best left out altogether. Nowhere was this showcased than in recent Resident Evil titles, where co-op became a bizarre fixation with the series. It seemed the series couldn’t escape the hole it found itself in – becoming so distant from the things that made the series so great that many fans couldn’t accept what they were seeing.
I enjoy the narrative pull of games like The Last of Us – the sense of danger that they bring out of the experience. I enjoy playing games like Tomb Raider alone because the sense of impending danger feels like its happening just to me. Games like Elder Scrolls work so well because the narrative is designed to make you feel like a special hero. It’s also why the Elder Scrolls Online has failed to engage with gamers on the whole – it’s story feels more generic and less like a pull and more like you’re being pushed from quest to quest. Likewise games that have had multiplayer pushed in for some ill-advised game extending mechanic add nothing but frustration to the mix (Looking at you Dead Space 3 and Mass Effect 3).
These two last games in particular showcase the awkwardness of handicapping games with multiplayer segments. Progress in Mass Effect 3 is stunted unless you dive into the online offerings, an awkward proposition for a series that up to that point hadn’t dabbled with the idea. Dead Space 3 meanwhile suffers from the same issues that plagued Resident Evil 5 and 6 – namely that it removed a large slice of the tension. Sure the game wasn’t awful, but it’s hard to say that EA’s desperation to get online components into the game made it better.
At the end of the day I appreciate a great single player experience more. Dead Space 2 easily beats out Dead Space 3, while Resident Evil 4 is still held up as a series high point. I’m not a huge fan of forced online gaming – one where we’re all corralled into communal experiences. It’s why the tension in Resident Evil 7 works so well, it doesn’t need to be experienced by a group. I’ve seen some gamers complaining about the games lack of multiplayer/co-op features – and to these people I say why ruin a good thing? As showcased in the series before, the awkward introduction of multiplayer removes the tension that’s so required in the Resident Evil series.
It’s nice to see in 2017 that one of the biggest releases isn’t handicapping its vision in the chase to awkwardly extend lifespan. That the core video game experience is more important than breaking the experience – and I hope other games follow its lead. Sometimes multiplayer just doesn’t fit – and developers need to stop shoehorning it in where it doesn’t need to be.
Single Player games will always have a place in storytelling.