One day I bought a game. I heard its multiplayer was great, so I wanted to experience it with my friends. With my four controllers plugged into the console the game was made for and a mountain of snacks to keep us fed during the weekend, I checked out my phonebook to see which friends I wanted to invite for this glorious weekend of gaming. Checked out the box once more to hype myself up for all the fun multiplayer madness we would have this weekend, only to read "One Player Local" on the back of the box. The whole weekend was ruined. Situations like this are far too common nowadays, and that is a complete nuisance. Welcome to another edition of Critical Hit…
Since the mid 2000s, online has taken over more and more of our multiplayer scene. It started earlier on PCs, but let's ignore PCs for this article as what is going to be discussed here never was big on that scene to begin with due to technical and practical reasons. I am not going to bash online multiplayer itself. It is a great option to play with people all around the world from the living room. The issue is, however, that online multiplayer, instead of serving as an option to local multiplayer, has started to replace it entirely.
Online multiplayer started to grow into a thing in the fifth console generation with titles such as Phantasy Star Online hitting the Dreamcast (and, eventually, the GameCube) and Final Fantasy XI doing its entrance on the PS2. However, this expanded greatly during the sixth console generation. Online multiplayer franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield started to grow bigger and bigger and cover more and more of the gaming sales than ever before. This is, also, not the issue. Instead, the issue is the consequence this online focus has brought upon the industry, and that is that more and more often, local multiplayer options are completely absent.
This phenomenon started to become more apparent during the mid-to-late sixth console generation and is starting to grow more and more of a problem. The reason this is problematic is because one of the best features with a home console is the possibility to sit down there on the couch and start up some great multiplayer titles such as Mario Party and start to play it with friends that are there in the same room.
"Why can we not simply play these online?" is a question that might get asked. Well, there are several reasons behind this. The first and most obvious one is that some games are simply not as fun to play together if the players are at different locations. Let's take Mario Party, for example. How fun would it be to play Mario Party with a friend who sits miles away? One of the very core experiences of that game is the fact that people get upset with each other and create pacts, something that is severely downplayed if playing online.
The second thing is the social aspect. Sure, with voice chat it could be argued that it is still, technically, a social experience. However, there is no physical contact and very seldom emotional contact - just commands getting shouted out between players. This creates a very dull multiplayer experience. Okay, it fits in with the competitive environment of the online community in Battlefield games, but it does not fit as well when four friends sit and play together. It severely damages the experience when the experience is forced to be online.
Besides these obvious things, there are other drawbacks with this. For instance, the online community in a lot of games is very toxic - nothing that fits a game between friends. There is also the good old Internet connection. For people with bad Internet this can be very painful and many would most likely be happy to at least have the option to take their friends to their own place to play.
One great example of a game that does not offer offline multiplayer, but that has gameplay that would work best for that, is Bayonetta 2. It is an extremely sore case because of the nature of the co-operative/competitive gameplay it offers. The multiplayer in Bayonetta 2 is of a nature that is strongly enhanced by local multiplayer. Can anyone here even think about a game such as The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords without local multiplayer? It would not be anywhere near as good an experience. While the case of Bayonetta 2 might be excusable as I have a feeling that it is due to technical limitations of the console and that the multiplayer is such a small part of the game, sadly it does show signs of an unhealthy evolution in the way multiplayer is handled.
Why can developers not work on and introduce local multiplayer in their games? Why are we forced to live with games that clearly have a multiplayer mode but no way to play it with our friends at home on the couch? I guess it demands some work, but let that work be put into the game. This is an important aspect! This is what multiplayer is all about: friends sitting on their sofas playing games together all weekend long.
Do you agree about the importance of local multiplayer in modern gaming?