Co-op rocks. For über-competitive gamers such as myself, co-op presents a way for small-scale multiplayer to occur without the ensuing rage. Better yet, co-op also allows for one player to be a whole lot better than another, without it necessarily affecting the multiplayer experience. It’s a whole lot more fun, for instance, to play Left 4 Dead cooperatively with a rookie gamer, given you can cover/revive them, than it is to jump into 1v1 Counter-Strike. Whether you’re the good or terrible player, competitive small-scale competitive multiplayer will quickly get boring for one or both parties.
Thankfully, a lot of developers are cluing onto the harmonious multiplayer appeal of cooperative gaming, with more and more titles sporting some kind of cooperative mode. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for every game; or, more specifically in this instance, it doesn’t mean it’s right for every genre.
If the IGN-sparked rumours are to be believed, Isaac Clarke’s next foray into the horrors of space is set to boast drop-in/drop-out co-op support. As a fan of the Dead Space series, and a lover of pretty much all-things co-op, I can honestly say I’m not a fan of this idea. Dead Space 3 should remain a single-player experience.
Why? Horror is a dish best served in solitary confinement. As soon as you throw co-op into the mix, things start to get a whole lot less… horrific. The reason you felt tense in those confined corridors on the USG Ishimura in the original Dead Space was because you had no-one to watch your back. When it’s just a single player versus the orchestrated horrors of space, it’s easy to create a whole lot more tension along with those crucial scares that remind you that you should never feel completely at ease playing a horror title. Playing the original Left 4 Dead alone was a tense experience; as soon as other players were thrown into the mix, though, that tension was greatly reduced.
I like co-op action experiences as much as any fan of cooperative gaming, but if the rumours are true about the drop-in/drop-out part, this means that each Dead Space 3 level would have to be designed with the potential for two players in mind. The easy solution to this design problem would be to emphasise the action elements over those aforementioned scares, which are tricky enough when you’re working with the reality that a single player might not be looking in the right direction, let alone throwing another player into the mix.
I’d love to be proven wrong and play a cooperative horror title that still manages to maintain tension but, given the history of cooperative horror titles and their tendency to favour action over tension, I don’t see that happening.