I’ve been playing Gears of War sporadically over the past week. Ultimately, I was left ambivalent about the game. Looks good, sounds good, great voice acting. But the main gameplay mechanic is ‘learn through failure’, the difficulty levels need an extra step, and there’s a whole hell of a lot of instant death, despite the forgiving health mechanic. So I was playing it, but not really enjoying it that much.
Enter Xbox Live. Got an invite to play last night from a friend. We did a bit of 1v1 deathmatch. Which had a couple fun moments, but ultimately, was a game not built for 1v1 play. But then I suggested he join me via co-op and give me a hand with a boss.
What followed was two hours of some of the greatest gaming I’ve had since Halo. Why? Because co-op simply makes everything better. It can take a mediocre game (eg. Gears of War, Halo) and turn it in to a fantastic experience. Because you are no longer just playing a mediocre game. You are playing a mediocre game with a friend.
But above and beyond that, Gears of War’s implementation is absolutely fantastic, and as much as I avoid heaping praise on Epic, purveyors of everything sci-fi and deathmatch generic, they deserve some kudos for this one. First of all, with the exception of choosing how you start the game, the implementation is totally transparent. You can have a friend hop in to your in-progress campaign. Progress made in co-op saves to your single player campaign as well. Hell, I’m probably going to get in the habit of starting a game as a private co-op host, simply so that if I feel like it I can invtie a friend in.
Online co-op is the future. Developers take note. You skimp on multiplayer co-op, it’s a black mark against you. In the coming years, a common line in a review will be “But it would have been so much better if there’d been co-operative online play.”