In Search of Local Multiplayer

There’s something going on in gaming right now that’s really bothering me, and I wanted to address it today. The definition of multiplayer is changing.

Multiplayer used mean only one thing. That it was you sitting, around with one to three other friends, playing Mario Kart, Streets of Rage, NBA Jam or a million other titles for older consoles like Genesis, N64 and the like.

Today , it’s something very different. It simply means you’re playing with other people via the internet, and no one needs to be in the room with you. Your friends are no longer sitting next to you, they’re a garbled voice in your headset. And often, that’s the only way to play.

My friend is in town for the summer, the one I grew up playing those aforementioned games with, and we’ve been on the hunt for a good LOCAL multiplayer title now that we’ve worn out our enthusiasm for Call of Duty: Black Ops after 5,000 more or less identical matches. We were very pumped when that game offered split screen co-op, though it puts you at a significant disadvantage, as the tiny screen gives you poor vision of distant enemies, and the sound across both players mean you can’t tell whose being fired upon and who isn’t. But at least it has the option, unlike Modern Warfare which didn’t even bother with it, and I presume will have the same philosophy for their third game, out this fall.

Graphics so good, you won’t want to share them!

So we began a hunt to find a game we could actually play at the same time. First stop was Brink, where when it said “players 1-2” on the box, we hoped it might be something we could both play together. But after scouring an endless amount of menus, we found that the badge we needed to see on the back was “co-op,” as such a thing didn’t exist in the game, and I have yet to understand what “players 1-2” actually means.

We’ve tried games like Army of Two, which promise the entire purpose of the game as co-op, but it’s just a shit title. We could play Mortal Kombat for a while, but tagging in and out was only fun for a brief period, and you’re not actually playing “together” as it were. Eventually we headed to Gamestop to hunt down ANY title that would have split screen co-op. Rows and rows of games were either terrible, or didn’t have that magic co-op badge. What we decided on was Dynasty Warriors 6, a hack and slash that would hopefully be reminiscent of old beat-em-ups like we used to play.

Upon opening the box, it took about 45 minutes of Googling to even UNDERSTAND how to play the promised “co-op” on the back of the box. I figured we could create our own characters, start up Empire mode, and begin hacking our way to victory. But no so, first I had to win a certain number of battles by myself in order to convince roaming officers to join my team. Only then could I allow him to play, but stumbling upon his custom character in the game was practically impossible, and he was forced to make do with who was available. He had to share stats with me, and could barely upgrade his character in a unique way. And when we finally started playing? The game has the screen cluttered with so much information and text, that with split screens it’s almost impossible to enjoy. Why is a game that is little more than hacking up legions of enemies, obviously more fun with two people, make it so hard to play with a friend? It should be the foundation of the game!

“Only another hour until I unlock the option for you to play!”

What I don’t understand is WHY local multiplayer is becoming extinct, especially with the success of the Wii. Those in the industry must realize that the reason the Wii was fun for so many as is that it was entirely based around the concept of local multiplayer. Families playing Wii sports together, four friends fought in Super Smash Bros, the fun was had together. In person. The Wii has by FAR a worse online system than PS3 or Xbox, but it trounced those consoles in sales handily. The reason it was popular was because of the shared experience, and that’s something games are shying away from now. Come fall, if I want to play Modern Warfare 3 with my friend, I’ll literally have to send him HOME in order to do so.

There are fewer and fewer games that understand how to do this correctly. One shining example is the Halo series, which is one of the few titles in existence to still offer FOUR player split screen for those rare occasions when you might have more than one friend over. Yes, it does happen. Sure, it’s harder to play, but I’ve many a drunken fun night with friends goofing around in four player Halo. There just aren’t many games where you can have that same sort of experience anymore.

Co-op campaigns are getting increasingly scarce as well, though there are a few models to learn from. Borderlands is far and away one of my favorite games of this console generation, and it not only supported co-op, it ENCOURAGED it, as the game was built around classes that complement each other, and looted items that were meant to be traded. The game was infinitely more fun with friends, and between two playthroughs, and about four DLC packs, it was the best co-op experience I’ve had in years.

Killing: Better with friends.

Portal 2 recently also showed that any game can successfully adapt itself to co-op play. When multiplayer was first announced for the game, people groaned  at the thought, but when put into practice, it was almost more fun than the single player storyline. Working together with a friend to solve the mental puzzles was a blast, and coordinating strategies that required precise timing felt great when you were able to pull them off with a friend.

But these games are the exception, not the rule, and so many titles these days are not putting in the necessary effort to  make local multiplayer a viable option, despite the fact that after all these years and all this technology that can let me play with my friend across an ocean, it’s still more fun if they’re in the room. Whatever the next console generation shapes up to be, I hope that there’s a return to proper multiplayer that comes with it, as I’m tired of shouting into a headset when I’d rather just turn to my right.


  • badlands

    try the ultimate alliance games

  • rcunn87

    MW2 had the spec-ops mode, which you could play online or split-screen. I loved this mode and was disappointed when they didn’t release more ‘maps’.

  • Jake

    I couldn’t agree more. Is it so hard to include just the option of split-screen multiplayer?

  • jibson

    All my friends and I play are tennis games or football (soccer) games which haven’t evolved in ten years.
    Also, Dead Nation’s coop is pretty fun but other than that we bust out the wii for some mario kart

  • Crentist

    I couldn’t agree more. I just recently figured out why my interest in gaming has been so stale, and it’s because almost all new games are the same and only a few support real couch co-op or multiplayer, wich is the most vital part of video games IMO.
    A week ago, me and my friend went out and bought Diablo 2 for pc, and as recent as an hour ago, we played Baldurs Gate on my old xbox. Why wont developers make games like that anymore?

    And by the way Paul, check out if you want to see what games support co-op and splitscreen and whatnot.

  • jrock

    I really hate this trend and I have a similar problem as you. The friend I grew up with playing games with and now when we get together we usually just watch each other play because neither of use own many offline multiplayer games. Borderlands was an excellent experience, but now we are first person shootered out and there really is not much else to play. We stumbled upon Sacred 2 for the X-Box 360 recently. It’s sort of an offline WOW clone where you just do repetitive quests and collect excessive amounts of loot. It’s nothing remarkable, but if you’re a fan of the genre, and have someone physically sitting beside you to play with, it can be hours of fun. I also found this website which can be very helpful in identifying games which are actually offline multiplayer.

  • =DocDoom1=

    Just bust out your Genesis and play Gain Ground or General Chaos.

  • Tim

    It’s all part of a racket for game companies to get more dough for the same game.

    @DOcDoom — Gneral CHaos is awesome!! I had just fired up the Dreamcast and my Genesis disk about a month ago and me and my friend played the hell out of that.

    @ Paul Tassi – This is totally unrelated… I know you’re not much a of a wrestling fan (I’m assuming), but I saw your post about remembering Randy Savage, so I thought maybe you have a nostalgic fondness for it. Anyway please search for “CM Punk’s Promo from Last night’s Raw.” It’s one of those events that transcends wrestling, and quite frankly was the most entertaining thing I’ve seen on their show since 2001. It’s simply worth checking out if you’ve had or have any interest in wrestling. It was his “Austin 3:16” moment.

  • chandamyaya

    Our internet connecton is dubious, so my husband and I never play online.

    We’ve always loved to play co-op, and we look for games that we can seriously co-op, not just fight each other like DOA. And we’ve made that same mistake — thinking that 1-2 player includes co-op.

    I want to try Borderlands.

    We did try Ultimate Alliance, as Badlands suggested above, but didn’t like it much.

    Our co-op favorites: Gears of War and Left 4 Dead.

    But I dn’t think we have an ounce more fun than we did playing Golden Axe on Genesis!

  • Hopton

    co-op game means:

    2 players, 1 game, $60 earned by the company.

    multiplayer means:

    2 players, 2 games, $120 earned by the company.

    Guess which one they like more…

  • Paultera

    I absolutely hate that games have gone this way but guess what? Xbox and Playstation make gobs of money off of Live (and whatever Playstation’s version is called) subscriptions. They’re also funneling the technology towards where it will inevitably be down the line. Games won’t be available in any other form except downloadable content. They’ll save a ton of cash from eliminating manufacture of a physical game while charging the same amount for a digital copy. Meanwhile, if you want to play against/with something other than the computer, you have to pay more.

  • Paynus

    I agree with you wholeheartedly, I miss the good old days (but then again thats why they’re the good ones). As, Ive been faced with the same issue, ive listed some good games to try:

    Dead Nation
    Tomb Raider: Some Guardian Related Name
    Castle Crashers
    Scott Pilgrim
    ^ all Downloadable

    Killzone 3
    NHL or FIFA or NBA Jam (Even if you dont love sports games, still a blast)
    Little Big Planet 1 or 2
    The Simpsons Game (infinitely better if you are Simpsons fan)

    Strange it seems to be more downloadable games pull off local co-op better. Maybe those are old school gamers making those low budget games with personal nostalgia in mind?

  • One of the reasons I put emulators in my Wii.

    Portal 2 is really good coop

  • Bad Acid

    Hah, I miss this, too. I’m more on online multi-player games now because I’m in grad school away from all my undergrad buds, so TF2 and L4D2 suit us great.
    I remember huge Halo LANs at my friend’s place back in H.S., he had 4 TVs set up with like 2 X-Boxes and 2 more that people brought. Oh god the shouting we’d do, through walls and upstairs. Oh, and if 1 TV set had people on opposing teams, the “Secret Weapon” maneuver where you’d reach over and flip the controller out of their hands (Hah, I was an ass sometimes).

  • EarthThePlanet

    You’re right, I was so disgusted playing MW2 when my buddy and I could not play the co-op on the same console together. At least Halo Reach will let you play local or I’d go crazy. Resident Evil 5 has a decent co-op once you get the hang of the controls.

    Otherwise you may have to go back in time a little bit to some older games, or look to the Xbox Arcade. Castle Crashers is a great game with up to 4 people. You could always dust off the Gamecube and play some Time Splitters 2, or you might have to look at the Wii. There are many multi-player titles there, like Smash Bros. Story Mode or Super Mario Bros Wii.

    Good luck, Cheers

  • Best local multiplayer game of all time is, and will always be, You Don’t Know Jack.

  • Guy Incognitus

    On PS3 you could get Resistance or Little Big Planet for some good co-op. Gears of War is all that springs to mind for Xbox.

  • pbittner

    Some gaming companies are getting the message. An ad for Dungeon Siege 3 bragged about “couch multiplayer”.

  • IcemanD

    Haven’t been here in a while but since nobody mentioned it:

    Earth Defense Force 2017

    This game is a ton of fun to play split screen with a buddy. Highly underrated game IMHO. The sequel comes out in about a week.

  • Bigdog

    New Super Mario Bros Wii, best local multiplayer game this gen IMO. The more people, the better and you don’t have to worry about split screen.

    Super Smash Bro, NBA Jam, Mario Kart, Goldeneye 007 are quality titles too.

    Like you said, the Wii dominates local multiplayer. But really, when you look at the target audiences it makes nothing but sense.

    It’s why I think a person that wants to get a full snapshot of the best of this gaming generation should own 2 out of the three consoles, one being the Wii.

  • IcemanD! Why have you left?

  • There’s a new D&D downloadable game on the XBox that allows for co-op. My husband and I haven’t played too far in yet, but it has a Balder’s Gate vibe to it, if you’re into that.

    I definitely feel your pain on this one. As someone who gets motion-sick watching FPS games, finding a co-op game that is top down or even 3rd person that I can also play with husband is a royal pain. And while competitive games are okay, sadly I beat my husband at almost all of them, so he gets tired of racing or fighting games pretty quickly (button mashing ftw).

    Also, music games are a good game for the same room multiplayer option. I’m not a huge Guitar Hero / Rock Band fan, but my husband and I still enjoy playing epic bouts of Frequency and Amplitude.

  • aguynamedmike

    This has been frustrating me for years. I don’t know why the PS3 has the ability to use up to 4 controllers on one system if they never planned to make any decent games for 4 people to play at once. Little Big Planet can be fun or extremely frustrating with more than 1 person (I play it with my wife and daughter). The best option I’ve found is to just play some of my old PS2 games like Champions of Norrath or something.

  • xXburekXx

    i agree, nothing is more fun than trash talking with your friends when they are in the same room as you, that satisfaction of winning cant be matched online. the wii like you said is great for this, whenever i have friends over we head to the wii and play super smash bros, we dont even need to say anything, we just go and play, and it never gets boring, if we do get bored we play mario kart, or goldeneye, meanwhile my xbox sits in the other room.

  • Sam

    Playing the marvel ultimate alliance games with my friend is one of my best gaming memories. The first one is a really fun game and the second one is fun if you turn it into a sort of mst3k vibe and make fun if how awful the game is.

  • Lacy

    Splosian Man is a great co-op game.

  • Jake Stone

    Good job and “it’s” “its”. The same philosophy applies to “who’s” whose”. If you are taking out a letter, use an apostrophe. Your statement “…players mean you can’t tell whose being fired upon…” means “who is being fired upon” and should read “…who’s being fired upon…” ‘Whose’ is possessive. Love the site!


  • mergedloki

    as others said MUA both 1 and 2.

    Scott Pilgrim, awesome, hard fun old school game, which sadly it’s main issue is it’s ONLY local MP. and my buddy and me that have the game live across county thanks to work.

    I figured an online patch would come but no.

    it is hard finding A. games that are online and local MP and B. games that do it well.

    I seriously considered dungein siege 3 as it’s hack n slash rpg action which i like. and it said co op till i found out the co-op was fable 2 co op… no character creation, no SAVE GAME for the guest it was all on the hosts file.

    oh yea and fable 3’s co op isn’t a whole lot better than 2. it’s at least your own character… but thats it.

  • Nick D Pags

    Micro Machines V3 was the best multi player game of all time.

  • Asogan

    The wife and I loved Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance II, Champions of Norath and strangely enough, Lego: Star Wars.

    Just picked up Dungeon Seige 3….

    We also dislike the split screen. It’s disorientating.

  • fxxl

    It’s even worse with PC Gaming, where they even remove Coop Features from the PC Version of the game. (->Ghostbusters 🙁 )

    Another great Coop-Game, besides Portal 2 and Borderlands is:
    – Resident Evil 5

  • G30ff

    Castle Crashers all the way.

  • arashi

    I’m probably gonna get beat down for suggesting this, but I think anyone craving co-op action play should check out Monster Hunter. There’s a gadzillion versions but the latest PSP one is really quite amazing. I’ve spent over a thousand hours on this series playing with all sorts of folks, in all kinds of places, over the ad-hoc network. It never gets old.

    I used to play Contra, Streets of Rage, Herzog Zwei with my brother (yeah my age is showing), then moved on to RTS. I always missed the feel of the older stuff… nothing like sitting next to someone and blasting a boss together. With Monster Hunter, the magic is back and it’s soooo worth it to take down some huge-ass T-rex with a team of sword, crossbow, lance, yelling to your teammates, “Set the bomb!” “I’m switching to grenades” “Sh!t Combo! I’m gonna dieeeee! Oh hey thanks for the heal” etc.

  • Darren

    Tomb Raider: Guardian of Light is an excellent co-op game for XBOX Arcade.

    My friend and I have resorted to actually having me bring my xbox over and we setup his old projector and screen so that we each have a screen to play on. This removes the negatives of split screen and opens up a lot more options for games, but still gives us the fun of trash talking and drinking beer together.

  • Camden

    Gears of war 1 and 2, Scott pilgrim, castle crashers, Halo Reach

  • Kasigar

    all of the recent Lego games have stellar local co-op. Some are far better (SW3) than others (HP) but all do local co-op very well.

  • iiiears

    Racing games Need for speed hot pursuit. Have your friend play the cop.
    The first Unreal.
    Nevewinter Nights, Icewind Dale.
    Many of the “Humble Indie Bundle” games.

  • PerryDigital

    How has nobody mentioned Splinter Cell Conviction? That had an incredible co-op, and once the missions were done with there were a variety of other modes. Hunter/Last Stand/Infiltration.

    I still play it. It’s done the best co-op in years. Perhaps Portal will beat it once I get stuck in a bit more.

    Is Halo Reach four player on one screen? I seem to remember trying to set up a game recently for three and it laughing at me.

  • IcemanD

    @Paul Tassi: Honestly man? I mainly came here to read Madison’s posts. I really enjoyed his posts (we agreed on just about everything) and when he left I found the sites content didn’t appeal to me as much. I’m not into cosplay or Pokeman at all. Though I’ve swung by a little more often lately and you guys seem to have toned that stuff down a bit.

    Not a slight to you as I do still swing by True/Slant to read your posts there.

    Anyway, judging by the number of comments, you guys don’t seem to have a problem with traffic. I remember when you would rarely get more than five people leaving comments on a post. I’m glad you guys are doing well. The interwebs is a vile mistress.

  • Crentist

    @IcemanD: You’ve got great taste if you like EDF. Probably the best shitty game ever. EDF, beer, music and some friends makes for a perfect preparty