But all of the titles mentioned above share one common trait: you're playing them with someone who's there in the room with you. Maybe it's split-screen, maybe it's system link, or maybe both characters are locked close to each other, but the co-op campaign is only available to you and a real life buddy. What happens when you take that proximity out of the equation?
Online co-op is what happens.
Dan and I have played together online. In theory, it's exactly like regular co-op, but without one of us having to drive four hours. We're all set up with Turtle Beach EarForce X11 headsets and broadband internet connections. To date, we've played Army of Two: The 40th Day, Splinter Cell Conviction, Resident Evil 5, Borderlands, and both Left 4 Dead titles in online co-op. They've been fun, but there's definitely something missing from the experience, a certain je nais se quoi. It might just be that we don't have the other person in the room to high five, shout at, or punch in the shoulder, but it could also have to do with unavoidable lag, dropped connections, crappy netcode, and difficulty communicating exactly where that last sniper is who's aerating my forehead. I want to just point and yell "there!" But I cannot, and my shouting only serves to confuse and frighten my co-op partner. It's something I miss from split-screen gameplay.
And that's perhaps the worst thing about the state of co-operative gaming today. We have these pervasive suites of online features permeating our console experiences to the point where online multiplayer is assumed and traditional, but local gaming is an afterthought. Sure, you can connect up to four controllers to a console (without wires, I might add), but how often does a popular multiplayer title actually allow you to have four players without popping online? Don't get me wrong: local co-op happens, but even when it does, it often feels kneecapped out of the gate. Some games will only allow system-link play, requiring two consoles, two discs, and two televisions less than a cable's distance away. Others will do split-screen, but their developers haven't figured out how to do effective split-screen on wide-screen monitors yet.
Resident Evil 5 comes to mind, filling the screen of an HDTV with more black-space than gameplay. Two tiny windows. This is completely unacceptable in a game that demands accuracy, lest you find yourself without ammunition. Borderlands? Forget it. Borderlands splits the screen vertically, but doesn't resize the menus. The ends of any window you open are cut off by your border.
It's these faux pas that make Gears of War's co-op such a standout experience. The game provides an online option, but its split-screen is still completely playable, all on one console with one disc and one TV. Two controllers, one couch, two friends bonding over slaughtering Locust and Lambent wildlife. Isn't that the way it should be?
By Shelby Reiches
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*