Playing video games with my friends and family has always been the medium’s biggest draw for me. To partner up with someone you care about and take on a world of monsters, zombies, and aliens is truly something special. When I look back at my earliest gaming memories, I see that they all involve other people: Playing through Sonic 3 as Tails and flying my friend away from harm; using an infinite lives glitch in Joust and getting to level 100 with my brother; racing alongside my neighbor in Mario Kart, trying to best all of the AI players who were much better than us.
All of these memories stand out because I was sharing the fun. Saving the world is simply better with a partner and a bottle of whiskey close at hand.
Over the many years I’ve been gaming, Halo has become my favorite vessel for cooperative play. I love everything about the series, from the lore to the guns to the difficulty spike that is Legendary Mode, but most of all, I love that I’ve been able to share this series with my brother.
While I had played Halo 1 on the PC when it first came out, it wasn’t until 2007 that I really got into the series with Halo 3. Up until that point, my gaming attention was divided between the PC and the Gamecube, and I could best be described as a Nintendo fanboy. But Halo 3, that game changed it all. My brother and I went in on an Xbox 360, purchased Halo 3, and were blown away by what we got to experience.
To this day, I still believe that the last level in Halo 3 is one of the best last levels in all of video game history.
When playing through the campaign again and again finally lost its shine, we hit up multiplayer. 2007 quickly became the year of Capture the Flag, Disturbed’s album Indestructible, and Captain Morgan spiced rum.
In 2008 Halo: ODST came out with Firefight, which brought a whole new level of cooperative fun. In 2010, the Halo train continued with Halo: Reach. It was around then that playing every weekend on Friday, without fault, became a tradition that is still going on to this day.
College and work separated us, but we still make time to get together, sit on the same couch, play loud music, drink and kill aliens.
And then a week ago, Game Informer published a big list of new information for Halo 5, and hidden within was the removal of local campaign co-op.
Up until that point, Halo 5 was easily my most anticipated game of this year. It’s a game I’ve been following closely, and I’ve now lost count on how many conversations I’ve had with others, speculating on what Master Chief is up to and wondering who Agent Locke is. Halo 5 promises a better campaign than Halo 4, which is my favorite of the six primary Halo games.
In one quick swoop, 343 killed all of my enthusiasm for a franchise I’ve been playing for over seven years.
Even now, with E3 upon us, I’m watching the new Halo 5 campaign trailer and only feeling something akin to bitterness. I see all of these tactical, squad-based movements and can’t help but wonder why couch co-op has been taken out. Pushing a button and directing an AI player is nothing when you’re arguing with a real person, someone right beside you, that he should go first because “he’s better” and “No I won’t stick you with a plasma grenade, honest.”
I am disappointed, but not just with 343 and Halo; I’m disappointed that couch co-op is dying, considered old fashioned, and according to the comment sections on some websites, not something that will be missed.
I’ll miss it; I’ll miss it very much.
I want to take a quick moment to look at some numbers, not in a specific sense but in a general one. There’s no precise way to really measure the death of this form of game play, at least not easily, but http://www.co-optimus.com does provide a few fun tools to work with. We can at least notice a trend.
Because my primary console for the last decade has been an Xbox 360, I’m using that as my platform base. My search criteria are couch co-op and co-op campaign. I realize these parameters are a little unwieldy given the nature of some games, especially move tie ins which normally aren’t good or might not have co-op as a defining trait, but we’re looking for trends, not hard numbers.
- 2007 had 22 games with campaign couch co-op
- 2008 had 24 games with campaign couch co-op
- 2009 had 28 games with campaign couch co-op
- 2010 had 22 games with campaign couch co-op
- 2011 had 34 games with campaign couch co-op
- 2012 had 22 games with campaign couch co-op
- 2013 had 17 games with campaign couch co-op
- 2014 had 10 games with campaign couch co-op
Between 2007 and 2010, the numbers are a little scattered, with some years having more couch co-op games than others, and that’s not unexpected. Years differ greatly in what’s released. However, between the years 2011 and 2014, the numbers do nothing but decline, and by 2014, we don’t even have a dozen games to work with.
For someone like me, who primarily plays console games for a cooperative experiences, that hurts. I’ve gone out of my way to buy games that some consider bad or I might not generally be interested in because they had a cooperative campaign to play through. Resident Evil 5 and Diablo 3 come to mind, both of which are amazing cooperative experiences that I imagine are no fun to play solo, the former due to buggy AI and the latter because it’s repetitive to a fault.
If you asked me why couch co-op was on the decline, I’d be hard pressed to give an answer. It certainly can’t be due to hardware limitations as by 2014, every developer new how to push the Xbox 360 to its absolute best. Perhaps it has to do with games themselves. The medium has certainly grown over the last decade, especially in its ability to deliver a true narrative experience. I can see developers not wanting a secondary screen around to muddy the hard work they’ve put into their environments or stories, because let’s face it: It’s harder to pay attention to what’s going on when two people are sharing a screen.
Or perhaps it has more to do with the way we as a gamer society have changed. Internet access isn’t just common but a household necessity now, and all of the new shiny consoles require it. Plug in an Xbox One and the first thing it wants to do is update; the same goes for the PlayStation 4. So you combine widespread internet with the widespread availability of microphones, chat software like Skype, and one has to wonder why anyone would leave his house to visit another to play video games; it’s just easier to just stay at home. You can still talk to your friends, join their parties, drink, and kill the bad guys to your heart’s content.
Granted, you’d technically be drinking alone, but only technically.
I sincerely hope that isn’t the case though, because I don’t want society to be okay with considering talking through a headset the epitome of social gaming interaction. It works, and I’ve certainly done it and had plenty of fun, but it’s not the same as being in the same room with someone. It’s a simultaneous experience, but not a shared one.
And for what it’s worth (and we can put a price tag on this), it costs more to have two Xbox Ones, two TVs, two Gold accounts, and two copies of the same game. The shared-experience method isn’t just more fun, it’s also much cheaper.
To be honest, I’m not sure I really noticed a decline in couch co-op games until recently, when I exhausted the ones I owned and started looking for something else I could play with my friends and family. I play console games so infrequently that there’s always something to check out though, and I don’t mind delving into a console’s past to find some gems. A game doesn’t need to be new to be new to me. Earth Defense Force 2025 came out in 2013, yet I didn’t get to it until late 2014. It’s now one of my absolute favorite games, and that has everything to do with how insanely fun it is to play with others. The constant yelling of, “Oh my God, that just happened” is infectious, especially when the dragons show up.
Noticeable decline or not, Halo always promised to be there for me, to fill the role that games fill best. It’s part of a wonderful trinity, standing tall next to Borderlands and Gears of War, both of which I’ve spent many hours in with friends and family.
Now it’s gone. Halo 5 is the first primary Halo game to not have couch co-op. It’s broken a six-game run, and I can’t help but feel like the video game medium has suffered a big blow because of it.