The decline and death of couch-based multiplayer

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Imagine owning a Sega Mega Drive in a time when 64-bit gaming was advance tech, the Internet was dial-up, floppy disks were sufficient storage spaces, and DStv was still brand new. For those of us born before the 00’s, that’s not a hard period to imagine because we lived it. Some of my fondest memories of the 90’s was spent sitting cross-legged on a carpeted floor in front of a bulky cathode ray tube TV, and playing as player two on cartridge games such as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, Batman Forever, Mortal Kombat 2 (yes, I totally was underage), and Sonic 2 hours on end with my older and younger brothers before upgrading to the more advanced Sony PlayStation in ’97.

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Since then technology has come a long way and so have video games: passwords and memory cards are novelties, virtual reality isn’t the stuff of sci-fi, and consoles have become multipurpose devices. A lot has happened from the Magnavox Odyssey (first generation) to the Switch (eighth generation), and in that time some things have changed. One such change is the evolution multiplayer has undergone.

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Whether it’s cooperative or competitive play, multiplayer typically represents the social side of gaming. Single player games are a lot of fun with many amazing titles on offer, but multiplayer games reach a broader audience – look at Twitch for the highest streamed game (spoiler alert, it’s Fortnite: Battle Royale).

Once upon a time, the image that would come to mind at the mention of ‘multiplayer’ was one of two (or more) people familiar with each other seated in front of a screen. Inevitably they’d be duking it out either on Street Fighter II or GoldenEye 007 or overcoming obstacles together on Streets of Rage 2 or TimeSplitters 2. Typically, split-screens were the default setup, and depending on the nature of the game (competitive or cooperative) a lot of jostling, ribbing or plaudit was involved.

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Since then times have changed, and outside of specific genres, it’s unusual to find favourite multiplayer games that are focused on local play. Games like Fortnite: Battle Royal and PlayerUknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) best embody this change; they cannot be played against AI opponents, and neither one has local multiplayer. The games are restrictive in their designs, disallowing those without a semi-decent Internet to play, and yet despite the lack of options outside of an Internet connection PUBG has sold over 25,000,000 copies.

Overwatch, Sea Of Thieves, and Destiny are more examples of successful multiplayer titles that are trading couch fun for virtual space. While these games can be played and enjoyed alone, the best of what they have to offer only become available when you get online and link up with others. It would seem that the trend is to discard local play and embrace online.

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However, despite the current trend, games are emerging that defy the current norm. Overcooked is one such title, and the recently released A Way Out is another example. From the director of the critically acclaimed Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, A Way Out calls back to the multiplayer of old when split-screen play was the norm. By offering a game that has no single-player option, Hazelight Studios has players teaming up to navigate prisoners Vincent Moretti and Leo Caruso out of jail and on a revenge mission by accomplishing tasks that would be impossible to do alone.

Even though you can’t play solo, online co-op is available. Whereas Overcooked is addictive local play mayhem that can involve up to four players controlling chefs in a kitchen and having to work together to prepare ingredients, cook meals, serve them, and clean up all under a time limit. Progression happens through levels and the difficulty increases by the structure and location of the kitchen changing as you get on with the game.

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For those who lament the decreased availability of couch style co-op games, it’s not all doom and gloom out there; online multiplayer games are predominately shooters, therefore outside of this genre there are still titles available that’ll always have a local component, you have to be selective. Genres such as sports (Fifa 18), racers (Forza Motorsports 7), party games (1-2-Switch) and fighters (Dragon Ball FighterZ) are still options you can have fun with alongside someone else from the comfort of your couch.

Last Updated: April 19, 2018

Maxwell Kamlongera

PlayStation owner with a toxic love for all things gaming; a self-confessed fan of shounen anime; an enigmatic wordsmith; and a Chelsea FC nutter. In other words, just your friendly neighbourhood gamer

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