As we head into the next generation of video games, we can only hope for new cooperative experiences that are better than anything we’ve played so far. We thought it might be interesting to review the best experiences available on this last generation, identify what they did well, call out these lessons for the next generation, and think about what we hope to see from these titles on the next generation consoles.
Here are seven great games from this last generation and the lessons they teach us that we hope to see more of in the next generation consoles.
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Gears of War
Gears of War was a revelation to those of us who were primarily Halo players for a very simple reason: its cover mechanic. With a click of a button, your character would conceal himself behind cover and – after that – the awkward positioning of a character behind cover seemed so unnatural that covering became as much a part of the shooter experience as left-trigger targeting. Rather than a slick space marine you played as a group of grunts across five compact levels, and the settings, story and gameplay made this title one of the first “must haves” of the last generation.
What Gears of War Teaches Us
Gears of War changed shooters forever and reminds us that there is always room for innovation. Something like bullet-time is fun but only works in some games, cover mechanics are now expected to be part of every shooter. Further, Gears of War has a simple game mechanic, a variety of weapons, beautiful settings and concise levels that provide a great gaming experience that is endlessly replayable.
What Gears of War Needs to Learn
Gears of War seems to stumble a bit whenever it tries to innovate with vehicle levels or end of level boss fights. Efforts to incorporate stealth elements were also awkward and not consistent with the game. The story has also never been a strong suit of the series. Gears of War seems to work best when it feels most like Saving Private Ryan, with you and your humble grunts moving across the front lines in a variety of contexts. Let’s hope we see more of that.
Portal 2 is one of those magically innovative cooperative experiences which does NOT rely on guns or violence. The heroes are a couple of buddy robots who are assisting GLADOS (the BEST villain of this generation) on a mysterious quest. Your only tools are portal guns that create doorways and using these creatively is the key to solving this game.
What Portal 2 Teaches Us:
Many games today include a multiplayer component that feels tacked on at the last minute. Portal does not. The single player Portal 2 experience is a must play (for Stephen Merchant’s work alone), but the cooperative experience is great in its own right. The incorporation of the single player mechanic into an entirely separate, cooperative experience feels almost like a spoil of riches as either game is worth a full-price purchase by themselves. Even better, Portal 2 is a great cooperative experience that does not rely on shooting enemies as its central dynamic.
What Portal 2 Needs to Learn:
Somehow, we have to find a way to make puzzle games more replayable. Portal 2 is a great cooperative experience but once you have completed it, there’s not as much fun in replaying the levels again. Some additional levels did appear after launch, but not as many as one might hope. Making puzzle games replayable is not an easy problem to solve, but if anyone can solve it, it will be these guys.
Saints Row is a great antidote for the seriousness of the Grand Theft Auto series. As funny and irreverent as other series are grave and dramatic, Saints Row offers a fun and often ridiculous sandbox experience as you and your friends take over the city of Stillwater from other gangs, corporations and – most recently – aliens. The game is crazy and silly and fun throughout.
What Saints Row Teaches Us:
Despite their gameplay (and release date) similarities, Saints Row seemed to move exactly opposite to Grand Theft Auto. You can completely customize you character’s appearance (you can even play as a zombie). The game satirizes other games and is actually funny when it does so (unlike so many other games). More to the point, the game offered online cooperative experiences well before Grand Theft Auto did and these experiences are hilarious. The highpoint for me are the insurance fraud levels where you and your partner make money by diving in front of cars and letting ragdoll physics toss you into the atmosphere. Keeping it fun and light when everyone else was playing it straight let Saints Row become a must play cooperative experience.
What Saints Row Needs to Learn:
Saints Row is already adapting to incorporate new elements and the most recent game gives you superhuman abilities though, sadly, a pretty drab and ugly environment. Saints Row could probably benefit from offering even more worlds to flip between. I could see a time traveling adventure in which you visit Stillwater at various points in history or travel across various dimensions. The challenge Saints Row will face is how to expand the world while keeping the game funny and providing the fun, lighthearted counterpoint to the seriousness that permeates most every other game.
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
The Lego games were a great addition to the last generation. Starting with Star Wars and leading to superheroes, the Lego games have been a terrific franchise but, for our money, the best of the best is Batman 2. Incorporating a variety of superheroes and an original story, the game is a blast all the way through.
What Lego Batman 2 Teaches Us:
Batman 2 is fantastic because the gameplay is simple and the worlds are enormous. Gotham City is a large and varied environment with fun vehicles, tons of collectibles, and lots of unlockable characters. The real triumph in Batman 2, however, is when you get the play as Superman. The original John Williams score comes up as you zip around the city and you realize that this is the first video game in decades to provide a fun experience as Superman.
What Lego Needs to Learn:
As fun as it is, Lego always seems to be a few steps behind on technical innovations. For example, Lego didn’t allow players to split the screen and venture off independently until recently (despite the fact that some great games had done that years ago!). Even the newest games still only offer local coop. Lego also needs to have more faith in its original stories. Batmans 2’s original story is more fun than visiting all the movie set pieces in Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. The story is hilarious and, after all that time in Arkham, it’s nice to have a lighter Batman adventure.
Left 4 Dead 1 & 2
The Left 4 Dead series is one of the best shooters of this generation. You and three friends (or AI companions) battle through four or five episodes against hordes of zombies (some of which are more powerful and annoying than others). Endlessly replayable, the game provides a streamlined hour-long experience that varies just enough each time to keep you on your toes.
What Left 4 Dead Teaches Us:
Left 4 Dead teaches us to keep it simple and provide a fun experience that is flawlessly done. There’s no leveling up to lead to imbalances between you and your friends. Zombie killing is endlessly enjoyable (on any medium) and the “director” who tailors your experience to your abilities keeps the familiar experience different and unpredictable enough that each playthrough leaves you with stories to tell.
What Left 4 Dead Needs to Learn:
Keep the content coming! Borderlands 2 has been releasing news levels consistently since launch while Left 4 Dead seemed to run out of steam last year. If the strength of your game is that it’s a concise experience delivered well, then one anticipates that more content will follow. More levels would keep this game at the front of everyone’s playlist. No one needs much innovation here, but more levels, new weapons, and new heroes would make this game the one that lives in my Xbox.
Cooperative Minecraft is a bizarrely fun experience. You and your friend are dropped into an 8-bit-looking world which is loaded with wildlife and landscapes to explore and, at night, a variety of monsters to deal with. Your immediate need is to survive the first night which gives the initial hour of the game some focus, but as you progress in the game and learn how to survive, more and more gameplay options open up. It is the kind of game you try out for ten minutes and wind up spending three hours playing.
What Minecraft Teaches Us:
Minecraft allows players to play as they want to play. Minecraft can be Animal Crossing, Left 4 Dead, or Spelunker depending on how you want to play. Even more fun, you can play one way and your buddy can play another. The open-endedness allows the game to adapt as well, so for those who wanted an ending, the game could provide a final boss. Players have embraced this flexibility and the ability to express themselves creatively despite the basic graphics and simple gameplay.
What Minecraft Needs to Learn:
It’s hard to argue which direction Minecraft needs to go from here, but it definitely has room to play with. On the consoles, gamers need to be able to visit each others’ worlds more freely and upload levels into a common server where others can access them. Further, players seem very interested in expanding into machinery. It would be fantastic if you could build a car or, even better, an airship to tour around the randomly generated world. Incorporating the customizability of other games (though almost entirely in weapons) into this gameplay would open up some fantastic possibilities.
You could make the case the Borderlands 2 represents the best cooperative experience on this generation of video games. You play as one of six character classes as you battle weirdos in a variety of environments, collect a variety of loot, and ultimately face off against one of this generation’s most enjoyable villains, Handsome Jack.
What Borderlands 2 Teaches Us
Borderlands 2 is a solid shooter with a variety of enemies, environments and experiences, but – in terms of cooperative gameplay – the game makes two important innovations. First, gamers frequently complain that they cannot interest their significant others in playing video games. The inclusion of the mechromancer character allows players who do not usually enjoy shooters to have a positive gameplay experience. Whenever things get too difficult, the mechromancer’s pet robot (Deathtrap) can be released to even the odds. The second, and far more important, innovation is the inclusion of loot. Borderlands is great to split money and experience points between characters but it is also really wise to give those special weapons to only the ones who find them. This is a great way to incorporate an individual experience into a cooperative one. Sharing the experience points keeps everyone at the same level but the unique weaponry give the player an experience all her own. Borderlands is a pioneer at giving unique experiences within cooperative ones.
What Borderlands needs to learn:
There’s not much that needs to change about Borderlands though arguable it does seem like many enemies are ammunition sponges who don’t seem to react while you bathe them in acid-loaded bullets. It would be interesting to see Borderlands open its world up more and use this next generation to create a large open playground which could be crossed without loading screens. Driving from the ice fields of Windshear Waste to the Arid Nexus to Sanctuary would be a blast.
Who knows what’s coming next? Well, we do. All of these games will be back with us – sooner or later – on the next generation.
These titles were some of the best cooperative experiences of this generation, let’s hope they offer even more on the next round of consoles.