Most people have, at one point or another, played a single-player game and said, "I wish I could play this with my buddy." Cooperative gaming has become just as important to gamers as the single-player campaign. Co-op can be as simple as Super Mario Bros and Streets of Rage and as competitive as the highly-addictive multiplayer that currently dominates the online community.
While the thrill of taking on five enemies single-handedly is exciting enough, nothing's as good as having a partner in crime to back you up in old-fashioned Bad Boys style. With the inclusion of an online community, co-op isn't as simple as just picking up a controller with a friend anymore; players can team up with anyone, anywhere, anytime. The question is, though, which is better, local or online co-op?
Let's start with what came first – local co-op. This is the old-school style of multiplayer, where a player and a friend get together, sit down in front of the TV screen, grab a controller, and have a good time (unless, of course, your friend's the sort who shoots you in the back for a laugh or runs off when the going gets tough, leaving you to deal with hordes of angry enemies). Co-op is about being social, and what better way is there to interact with someone than to actually be in the same room as them.
Some of the pros of local co-op include the most simple of reasons: local play allows for an easy connection between two players. Since your friend is in the room with you, you don't need to connect to servers. Communication is also more convenient. Headsets can be irritating – the ear piece doesn't fit properly, the plastic digs into your temple, and there's a big foamy thing trying to poke its way into your mouth. They might also cut out at times due to lag. Being beside a friend lets players acknowledge what their teammate is doing because they can easily ask or see via the split screen. Communication is key to a co-operative experience, especially if players rely on one another for protection or revivals.
One of the problems with local co-op is the split screen. While some players may be able to handle it, others cannot stand the reduction of the normal screen size. When the screen is split into two, players lose the awareness of the game world that they would have had if they were playing alone. The Dynasty Warriors franchise is a good example of this. In single player, all enemies are visible, but when in split screen, small (or sometimes large) groups of enemies disappear completely yet are still able to attack you, making it difficult to battle them. Other games don't use split screen at all and trap both players in one section of the game. Players can only move on provided both are travelling in the right direction. Fighting enemies, gathering collectables, or solving puzzles becomes extremely frustrating if your partner is constantly trying to run in the opposite direction. Because of this, traversing a game world is restricted, denying both players full exploration of the environment.
Online co-op has given cooperative gameplay a completely different angle, but like anything, it too has its pros and cons. There's no need for split screen, so players will have a full view of the game world just like in single player. Everything is as visible as it should be, and there's no distraction from a partner's screen. Players have full access when traversing the world as there are no shared screens and complete freedom.
As stated earlier, communication is key to co-op play. If players don't own a headset, conversing with their teammate in online co-op is not an option. Although most people can still play a game together without chatting, talking through tactics and making up plans is always a helpful aid. Even more problematic than not having a headset is not having access to the internet. For example, not every Xbox 360 comes with a built-in wireless adaptor, and not everyone chooses to buy one. And instead of just grabbing seats on the couch together to play a game, players have to schedule a time to sit together and play.
Co-op is not only limited to either local or online play though; there are some circumstances where the two are combined. For example, games like Call of Duty: Black Ops, Halo Reach, and Gears of War offer players the best of both worlds. When a player goes online to compete in multiplayer games, they can be joined by a friend on the same console.
So, which is better: local co-op or online co-op? I cast my vote for online co-op. If you can look past the problems, playing co-op online gives players a more rounded experience. It combines not only the fun and comradeship of local co-op, but also still retains the feeling that you are very much on your own personal adventure. Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.
CCC Freelance 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.*