If you played Gears of War when it first came out, there's a strong possibility that you were enamored with the changes it made to the age-old shooter formula, to the ways it shook up your expectations and enhanced your vocabulary as a gamer. A snap-to-cover system, the close, over-the-shoulder perspective, and the active reloading all came together with meaty sound effects, weapons that felt powerful, and the gory visual panache afforded the game by the Unreal Engine 3.0 to create a game experience that redefined visceral.
But Gears of War drew praise for more than just its gameplay innovations. It was also lauded for its strong multiplayer experience, which included the complete single-player campaign in two-player co-op. As enjoyable as the game was on its own, having a live buddy standing in for your typical A.I. companion tremendously enhanced the experience, opening up new strategies and creating a powerful, if temporary, bond between the two players.
When Gears of War 2 came out during my senior year of college, I was living in a closet-sized room at the International House in Philadelphia. My Xbox 360 was hooked up to a more-or-less square, three-year-old, 17-inch LCD monitor. That night, I walked over to the 7-Eleven on 38th and Chestnut, purchased the game, and invited my closest friend, Dan, to come over. It was late, coming up on midnight, when we sequestered ourselves away in my room—I took the bed and he claimed the desk's wobbly, wooden chair—and popped Gears of War 2 into the system.
We watched the ending cinematic as the first rays of the morning sun stretched over the city and pierced my blinds, then went to Philly Diner and scarfed down pumpkin pancakes.
Co-op is a tremendous part of the Gears of War experience. Playing alone, it simply feels like half a game, and competitive multiplayer has never been my thing, as I don't get enjoyment out of dominance. Co-op can enhance an otherwise sub-par game, such as Army of Two (and its all-too-short sequel).
Dan and I eventually played the original Gears of War together, though it was in a comfortably open living room on a big-screen HDTV. We now live states away from each other. He's working in Maryland and I'm up in Connecticut, writing for this site and teaching Taekwondo. We both have Xbox 360s and Live subscriptions, so the question was inevitably raised: should we buy Gears of War 3 and play the campaign together?
Neither of us was ready to give it an enthusiastic "yes."
Understand that this is not a comment on the quality of the games. The Gears of War titles have been good to us so far, and Gears of War 3 looks to up the ante in all the best ways, with more weapons, faster gameplay, and even a four-player campaign co-op. No, the issue is simply the distance between us.
Co-operative gaming is the logical successor to hot-seat multiplayer. As far back as Super Mario Bros., I remember switching off with a friend after each death, taking turns trying to get as far as we could. The co-op bug first bit me, though, in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. Two turtles on the screen at once, two players, seemingly endless throngs of Foot soldiers. These early arcade beat'em ups and their console ports were among the first that offered two players the chance to work together toward a common goal. Double Dragon, Final Fight, and Streets of Rage all spring to mind. These titles prepared me for the modern manifestation of co-operative gaming, which I first fully experienced in Halo: Combat Evolved. A shooter with a co-op campaign? Yes, thank you.