Drifting Away From Halo: The Removal of Couch Co-Op in Halo 5

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.

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13 thoughts on “Drifting Away From Halo: The Removal of Couch Co-Op in Halo 5

  1. Finally, someone that agrees with me ! Yes, couch co-op is slowly, dying, and yes, the fact that Halo, on of the franchise that was the flagpole of couch co-op, abandons it is very, very sad. I couldn’t agree more with what you said, and am sadden by the fact that, for the first time, I will not be able to share my halo experience with my friends like I used too. I will not share it at all in fact, since they do not have a Xone and will certainly not buy one…sad, sad times.

    1. Only reason I own an Xbox One is because I figured Halo 5 would be worth it. Then what I think is the most important feature was dropped. It’s just … god damned lame :[

      1. It’s a crying shame, man.
        It was my boys that discovered it, too. They thought it was a glitch in the Matrix when they tried to play together. Should’ve heard the sighs when they discovered it was only online co-op.

        343 pissed in my Wheaties then said, “eat up.”

        So Chad,
        Is it me or do you feel like we’re entering a dark age with these new gen consoles?

      2. @J Tucker

        Feels like a dark age, mostly because I’ve had more damn problems with my XBOXONE than I’ve ever had with my PC. Thing is so slow to update, crashes often, and nine gig patches on day one! What a mess.

  2. While I can understand your sadness at dying couch co op, the single reason it’s dying away is obvious. Hardware, technological and internet improvements along with the widespread availability of high speed internet access.
    I can understand on one hand your enjoyment of having a friend right beside you to enjoy in blasting baddies, but I tend to not miss that to much because I look at the other positive aspects to online multiplayer versus couch co op. Many of us are way too busy with ten hour work days, raising kids, busy life schedules etc. Looking from that aspect, the fact I can get my daily duties finished and kids in bed then sit down in the comfort of my home and with minutes connect to my friends and play destiny or any xb1 game with a headset, and very little to no noticeable lag or latency is by far superior in my opinion. Instead of being limited to only co op gaming on the one or two free nights a week i could find time to get to a friend’s house.
    Let’s face it, its just simpler, better, faster to be able to play online multiplayer from your home. Look at it this way, we still manage to have a blast and just as many nights while playing I’m discussing how amazing the bourbon or scotch is I’m drinking. Most times the friends I play with are having a few drinks also while playing. So yeah it removed some social interaction but we’re still technically drinking and gaming together, and guess what? Nobody has to drive home intoxicated after this online game.
    I guess I just look at it in more of a positive light than sadly missing the dying genre of couch co op games. Either way it’s still a great time to be alive for people who love videogames.

    1. It’s funny that hardware limitations are now a thing given we just got big, shiny new consoles to play on. Halo 4 looks gorgeous, both split screen or regular, and that was on the Xbox 360. I feel like the, “Well we have to cap it at 60 fps so it won’t work” is just a buzzword excuse because now everyone seems to care about the framerate of their games more than they used to. I’m perfectly willing to take a hit to framerate and graphics to get couch co-op back.

      I mean, this isn’t a one or the other kind of thing. There’s no reason we can’t have both, especially given all of the other Halo games have had both. Halo 4 looks way better solo, so if it was possible to scale things down in that one, it’s possible to do that in whatever new games that come out. It’s just a matter of taking the time to do so.

    2. I take it you don’t have an S.O. that plays all your coop games with you? Cause that experience is better than any online one, period.

    3. Chad Waller,
      I really appreciate this post. I’m glad somebody gets it.

      That being said,
      *sigh
      Oh Jared…
      Jared,Jared… Jared.

      I’ve been a casual gamer for more than 25 years, so I’ve got a little tenure under my belt.
      What you’re basically telling me to “deal with” is kinda’ akin to being thrown into prison and some dude named Jingles comes darkening my cell entrance declaring, “I’m extra wide, now bend over. That’s just the way it is around here… Get used to it.”

      To that I say… Go pound sand, Jared.
      You’re worse than a fan-boy. You’re a fan of the developers. You’re a Dev-boy.
      You’re conditioned by the system and obviously enjoy the taste of corporate cum.
      I get it. I get… You must be a plant towing the company line. Joke’s on me. My bad.

      Jared, I’ve played online, with my best friend no less, and guess what? It’s a piss-poor excuse to good ol’ couch co-op. And don’t get me started on being paired with the general public online.
      Yeah, it’s not couch co-op. More like a goddamn chore well along the the lines of bringing the office environment home and being told to enjoy working (in this case, playing) with douchey strangers.
      Now I have to pander to them to enjoy a raid on Destiny?! Oh yeah, I forgot about them pussing out at the end, ruining the raid for everyone. Thank you online multiverse! You’ve advanced us so far into the future!
      I never recall a bud bitching out on the good ol’ sofa.

      Online multiplayer. What a pain in the dick. I’ve tried it. Nothing to write home about. It’s only enjoyable when I team up with a friend… on the couch. See a recurring theme here, Jared?
      I don’t have many friends that game, not on the same system anyway. So, if I have to choose between suffering random d-bags online or waiting weeks to sidle up with a bud-booze-n-pizza, well, I don’t think we need Hawking to break down that equation.

      Yep, I found out too late that halo 5 is couch-less. After almost 15 years of enjoying co-op on this game, this was cause for quite a bit of butt hurt. After my kids and I came to this horrifying discovery, I couldn’t even stomach to play the game. And I sure as hell ain’t gonna watch over someone’s shoulder. That’s just gay.
      I’ve NEVER IN MY LIFE vacillated on playing any Halo offering. Used to be out of the box, into the system, plug-n-play. Oh yeah, I can’t even do that anymore! Gotta’ wait for the betch to load for 10 hours first. I’m told to get used to that as well! Christ. I’ll save that rant for another post.

      Halo 5 is out and it’s been 2 days and I haven’t even touched it. Don’t get me wrong, I will, eventually. But you see what’s happening here, Jared? Peep’s is moving my cheese and chasing after it is not justifying the means for me.
      Give this consumer what he wants or I boycott your product and move on.
      And don’t give me that techno-babble bs about dev’s not being able to split the screen. Wipe the spunk from your mouth and stop performing corporate fallatio.

      In retrospect, I’ve noticed I’ve bitched and moaned more about this current gen of consoles than their predecessors.
      I feel I grew up in a Hellenistic age of gaming with PS2 and 360 being it’s pinnacle for me. Those consoles and their offerings were thousands of hours of good times and beer bottles clanked in celebratory victories… with a buddy doing couch co-op.
      Now it feels like we’ve entered a dark age of sorts:
      -No more plug-n-play. Games are so huge and complex you must wait. Deal with it.
      -Impending extinction of couch co-op. Deal with it.
      -It’s 1984. Don’t ask questions. Do as you’re told. Deal with it.

      Jared, I agree with the improvements you mentioned, but ya’ know, both can be offered. There’s just more money in the tagline you’re obviously buying.
      When I hear of a father purchasing 4 flat screens, 4 Xbox One’s, etc., so the whole fam can play Destiny together, I just shake my head.
      I don’t have to deal with it. I just walk away, middles to the industry.
      Suppose I’m just too old to rock-n-roll.

      Well, onto more productive things in life.
      Your loss gaming industrial complex.

  3. Chad,

    Yeah, I got a real long hair up my arse about the whole situation. And reading nut-hugging comments, like the aforementioned, really gets my goat. Nigga’s need to recognize, ya’erd?

    Basically, don’t tell me couch co-op is dying when both online and split screen can be offered.
    I’d have more respect if one were to admit, “The industry is just out to maximize profits.” Don’t insult me with bs I can smell a mile away.

    I’ve a friend who almost exclusively plays PC, and even he says, the rare few times he does play console, It’s for the couch co-op experience. Because it’s just that… An experience.

    If they’re truly after more profits, they can make concessions. Losing even a 10th of a market is still a loss.

    1. I mostly game on PC and the only times I hit up a console are for couch co-op. I’ve been playing through Halo 5 (bro bought it) and it’s really not all that fun without a second person. I mean, I’m enjoying it, but by a large magnitude less.

  4. I’d like to add something that may be so obvious that it has been left unstated: WALL-E is prophecy, not fiction, and this is one of the first salvos. We would rather be staring at screens, in the comfort of our own lazy-boys, than sitting next to each other, knee-slapping and smack-talking and holy-shitting and that-was-awesoming and *actually* *hanging* *out* *together* now… apparently. This is implicit in most of the above, but it is a stark and genuinely terrifying precedent that (as the author rightly recognizing) has been growing for some time.

    I have never been a gamer. I only bought an X-Box because a roommate in grad school showed me the first Halo, and we played through the campaign together. Yes, lan parties and drunkenness is probably half the reason that I survived getting my PhD, but especially because there was nothing like getting four people in a separate room with TV and xbox, and the four of us in our room would plan strategies (A is better with the sniper, I’m the wheelman, T is the consummate close-range guy, and K is constantly throwing bombs–half the time to no effect, but good for distraction)… and when we channel Hannibal and the “plan comes together,” hearing a room-full of “FUCKYOUGODDAMNITBASTARDS!” coming from behind the door… Glorious.

    I only bought the Halos for years, but bought every one on day-one, full price. I played with roommates, girlfriends, family members, etc. I loved the story as well as the camaraderie. What is most important–and, sadly, most economically viable as an argument, but nevertheless is lost in their basic cost-benefit models–is that I converted plenty of people to enjoying and even buying Xboxes who were not “gamers.” That’s what irks me the most: it may be a small market, but (1) as even the Halo franchise has proven, they can provide high- and low-versions of their games (at least for download, without terrible difficulty or trepidation for the engineers), and (2) couch-co-op is a conversion market. I couldn’t agree with the author more about the galaxy of difference between playing “with” some faceless person–nameless or friend–online, and that of playing actually *with* someone. But I also wish it mattered to the makers that this is not just a small niche market, but also that this specific market seems to be the most effective (in my experience, and that of others whom I know) at converting. You don’t get someone who doesn’t enjoy gaming to randomly buy an Xbox, or to sit down and play an RPG or a shooter and convert. You get her to convert because you sit down and play Halo with her sister and sister’s fiancee and the four of you drink and somehow four and a half hours disappear while you were laughing and yelling until you are hoarse. And then you run to a local diner and eat breakfast at 2 AM. And then you come back and play some more.

    Finally, you are absolutely correct about the financial elitism in the background. This isn’t just a slap in the face to those who are nostalgic, and thereby “who cares–you’re a dinosaur.” It also is a statement about who the engineers care about when it comes to designing games. Not everyone can afford the several commitments that come with buying a single game (which, all told, can run upwards of a grand when you include year-long high-speed internet, gold membership, Xbox, controller, headset, etc.) I have plenty of friends with whom I would play who couldn’t afford their own setup, but this was a fun way for us to hang out. I literally bought all three consoles solely for the Halo games, and I have played through each with multiple friends (as well as embarrassing amounts of online co-op multiplayer) as a way to actually do something together with friends–

    You know, that thing people used to do when they actually, physically hung out together. As in: in the same room. Spending time with each other. In proximity. Together.

    To call that “old fashioned” is to call WALL-E prophecy rather than fiction. More’s the pity.

    I honestly don’t think I’m going to buy this one.

    Thanks for giving voice to this. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone is listening, because we don’t represent enough dollar-signs. (And kids genuinely don’t care. Because: WALL-E.)

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