A lot of things are retro in games nowadays; pixels, 2D platforms, colouring, box art, gaming manuals, even gamers themselves, that were so new and scary not too long ago, have been transformed into nostalgia-baiting digital MacGuffins, destined to be embodied on T-Shirts and tittered about on about twelve tons worth of “Top 100” shows forever more. But did anyone ever really think that, of all the things that are retro in the world of gaming today, good old two-player functionality would be one of them?
It seems like only yesterday I was sitting down in front of a little black and white TV with my younger brother beside me and a copy of WWF Royal Rumble in the Megadrive, teaming Bret Hart and Hulk Hogan for a shot at the tag belts, or re-igniting that age old blood-fued between Undertaker and…uh, Crush (Give me a break. I was like 11 and he wore a very colourful costume. It’s still real to me, dammit!).
We would bicker. We would argue. We would tap the buttons on the other’s controllers in order to gain the advantage, and we’d probably end up not talking for the rest of the night. But damn it all if we didn’t have fun doing it. But those days are gone, lost forever to the dim vestiges of time and age. And, since then, what has become of multiplayer?
It’s become a monster, that’s what. Not necessarily a bad monster – think more like Venom than Godzilla – but a monster nonetheless. Thousands, probably millions, of gamers are taking advantage of the next-gen consoles’ online capabilities and are joining together to play with and against one another on the massively multiplayer stage. A huge community of like-minded, polygon-fed individuals pushing into the 21st Century at light speed. And, it would seem, leaving behind the old two-player to die a slow, painful death.
Two player has survived a lot over the years, from multiple ports, to Multi-tap adapters, to peripheral ports stuck right inside the game cart. But it looks like online multiplayer is the straw that breaks the camels’ backs. Camels. Plural. Because there’s two of them…uh……moving on…
Granted, there’s a huge sense of community in online multiplayer. There’s a digital society, where you can become your fantasy person, do things you couldn’t otherwise do, team up with strangers, make new friends, and all that wonderful sociological stuff that makes philosophy so very important and so universally reviled.
But it’s not the same as that awesome feeling you get when it’s you and your best friend huddled in front of a TV pitted against a gazillion soulless electrical enemies programmed specifically to KILL YOUR ASS. While you might get the awesome feeling of being like Frodo in Lord Of The Rings when you pull together a team for a quest in EverQuest or the like, when it’s just you and a friend, you’re Tango & Cash, Riggs & Murtaugh. You’re Dolph Lundgren and Mark Dacascos in Showdown In Little Tokyo. You’re two bad motor scooters who like to take names and kick ass, and not necessarily in that order.
It’s a feeling that huge open game-worlds don’t seem to be able to generate. Even when it’s two players against each other, there’s a mutual respect. A good player will school his opponent sixty times in a row in Street Fighter II, but will still offer the loser a “free shot” and a second chance out of pure good sportsmanship. And who can forget the endless “Winner Stays On” tourneys, where groups of five and six eagerly waited their turn for a chance at greatness? Who can forget the euphoria of winning the right to claim that last Freeze-Pop that the guy who owned the console had in the fridge, and foolishly wagered in hopes of winning more than 5 straight times in Mortal Kombat II?
And what do we have now, in place of that respect and that unspoken rule of “If you touch the other guy’s controller, you’re a wimp”? Halo Warriors indulging in the largest amount of tea-bagging outside of a tea bag factory, and so many videos of reclusive angry young men screaming at things that don’t exist that you would think there was a conference call of the Alien Abductess of the United States taking place. On the one hand, there was a couple of buddies wiling away a summer twatting each other at Killer Instinct, on the other, there’s NooB lynchings, PWN-a-thons and language so viciously offensively foul as to hurt the ears of Samuel L. Jackson. Suffice it to say, it’s not quite the same.
There is hope for the survival of the two player experience. There’s titles like Army Of Two, Virtua Tennis, Gears Of War and others that contain good, long, solid campaigns based solely on two-player co-op as well as online functionality, and Street Fighter IV, Virtua Fighter and the glut of downloadable fighters available from the various online stores means there’s still options out there for those of us who want to exert our superiority over friends and relatives.
But still, it’s just sad that there will be a generation of gamers out there who’s idea of “multiplayer” is screaming sexual insults down a headset at someone who probably doesn’t deserve it just because they didn’t quite shoot someone in the head on Modern Warfare. And when that generation go and eat their Freeze-Pops, they won’t have the same feeling of victory. All they’ll get is frozen water and flat cola flavourings. If they’re lucky.