Online vs. Local Multiplayer

local multiplayer is still relevant

The second bout of Game Show discussions takes place between Matty B and Raff and this time opens up debate as to whether multiplayer is better online or locally. Matty is in bold this time around.

As I’m a proponent for all things old-school, I prefer local multiplayer. Some of my favourite memories are of those gaming sessions spent in the company of friends playing Street Fighter II, SWIV, Super Off-Road, Micro Machines or any other two-plus-player game. Saturday nights all crowded around a TV playing four-way Goldeneye and years later the same experience with Halo. Pure gaming bliss – a room full of friends all having a great time. What could be better?

A room below 45 degrees? A big-screen TV all to yourself for better immersion? Drop in and out gameplay? Nah, nothing is better…
I loved playing local multiplayer with my mates and my brother when I was younger and in certain situations it’s still got its place in my life. But it’s a rarity as I just haven’t got the time!
An example, I love Borderlands and have gone back to it in a big way in the build-up to the impending sequel, and the original gives you a local multiplayer through both coop and arena deathmatches. I’ve tried playing both split-screen and the result somehow manages to be a tepid affair compared to playing online with some sweary teenage Americans. The old-school physically couldn’t offer anything but sitting next to your mate, but then again the SNES couldn’t offer more than two feet of controller cable.
Some multiplayer experiences just cannot be had on the same telly, and although doable with your mates, it is much more acceptable to play online in just your underpants and headset.

Ok I hear you; there may well be certain advantages to playing anonymously online, pants optional. But for me the real attraction of multiplayer is the social aspect. Sure, I can play Gears of War co-operatively with my mates over LIVE, but there’s something more palpable about sitting next to your compatriot, and physically pointing to a location on-screen: “There, that guy. Shoot him“.
A big screen TV is still a luxury to me. I have a monster set in my living room which I play current-gen consoles on, but the real gaming happens downstairs, where we shoot RetroBates. We’re playing on a 21″ CRT down there, and when that TV was new it was considered a monster itself. I can fondly remember playing 4-player split-screen Goldeneye on a 14” portable TV – that’s seven inches square each to play on. Nowadays people have bigger screens on their phones! Did we lament the lack of real estate? No, we didn’t. It was just as satisfying to win and even more gratifying to jog your opponent as he lines up that sniper shot.
Even on games that don’t have a multiplayer mode – the old level or a life system is gold. I don’t think online gamers would have the patience for such a thing.

I dare say that four people on a couch was the epitome of social gaming with your mates back in the day, but is it honestly more communal than 64 people on Battlefield? Although I wouldn’t tell many people face to face, I played a good two to three years in a clan across the CoD games and 8v8’s against a friendly clan, with people you play with night-in, night-out was ace and I miss it. There’d be drinking, arguments, and – shock horror – even a few girls playing in the team. There’s one thing missing from four guys sitting on a couch.
I’ve played both Gears and Halo 3 campaigns with you and of course, it was great. But I don’t think we were also playing for fun but as a challenge as we use hardest difficulty and it would take over an hour a level, and that’s something I don’t think I could stomach when partnered with a casual gamer. I suppose that was some of the charm of the previous consoles; there was so little content you could get plenty of turns in not much time and it wouldn’t matter how shit you were.
Lives or levels is still 100% the going rate with me, Trials HD, Tony Hawk’s and DJ hero being the recent standouts. As I’ve played these more than my mates I liken this method to playing Wii bowling with my mum – there is no real point, and it’s a bit family friendly. Also, it’s painful watching 500 fails on the same obstacle.

Okay, I’ll relent on the fact that your average 90s gaming group was smaller than the masses of players afforded by modern technology – even ten-player Bomberman on the Saturn can’t compete with that.
I’m not on the same lines as you where you say previous consoles had less content (and I can see you goading me into that one) – Medal of Honour on the PS1, Goldeneye and even older games like Gunstar Heroes on the Mega Drive had long levels filled with challenges and tasks to complete. Gunstar Heroes in fact had an awesome co-op mode to boot, and was jack-hard even by today’s standards.
I’ll definitely admit to you that playing with a sub-par gamer is a really hampering experience. Playing with BattleTobes for instance – on nearly any game – is a painful venture. But my argument would be that if you’re pairing with a friend online then there’s no guarantee that the gaming is going to be better – say you’re playing Dead Island and you get partnered randomly with some irate Texan fourteen-year-old with no co-ordination. That’s ruined your gaming session and you’re left with no option to frag them, Viet Nam style.
On the subject of family friendly entertainment, take the Lego titles. Sure, they’re not likely to make any discerning gamer’s top ten list, but the games are fun – doubly so when you can play with two or more people. Tt has actually held back on integrating online co-op, willing instead that gamers sit together to play the game. That tangible sense of duality reinforces the sense of partnership inherent to that play style. Admittedly, Lego LotR will have online co-op built in, so they’ve caved there. My point is, the Lego games are great fun. Nick and I played Lego Batman 2 together and it’s a great laugh. Nick’s pointing to the things on screen saying “Freeze that” or “Smash this” all the while there’s absolute bedlam kicking off on-screen. I’m sure the experience would be as fun if we were thirty miles apart but I still feel that something is missing.

Playing with just one other person is not what I would consider the multiplayer experience that you were referring to with your opening gambit and Dead Island is a bad example and a null point with your argument. A whole group of friends are not going to sit round and watch two people play an RPG but they would watch an FPS such as TimeSplitters. Couch coop on TimeSplitters with bots making up the numbers was excellent but it was still not as good as when the series finally took the leap to online with the last title, Future Perfect.
All Super Smash Bros. titles are ace, probably the epitome of recent local multiplayer. It’s a bit gash playing it on your own though, so it was an excellent addition to add online support on the Wii and extends the amount of time you will sink into it. Creating and sharing maps with friends is not something you can do on the same telly.
Back to Dead Island, I certainly wouldn’t be playing that with a racist, homophobic mouth breather. I have a pretty extensive friends list, so I normally will end up looking as to what others are doing online and play that game, or just play on solo. I had a pretty rubbish time playing Portal 2 online with strangers without headsets – I learned my lesson, and so would rather not bother.

Yeah ok – fair point, maybe two people playing Dead Island doesn’t count as multiplayer. Street Fighter does. Actually here’s a real point of consternation; playing SFIV online is absolute bullshit.
I went to a house party a few weeks back – my night consisted mainly of drinking avaricious quantities of cheap French brandy and playing a whole heap of fighting games. During the course of the evening we bashed through SSFIV, MvC3, SFxT and even a bit of SFIII Third Strike. I was playing against the whole strata of gamerdom; the beginner, the intermediate and the expert. I won some, I lost some – I had a good time. At 5:00am BattleTobes even beat me at Soul Calibur 5!
On another note, I put in regular appearances at Kevin McDonald’s house – we’re guaranteed to rock out at least one version of Street Fighter and MvC whilst I’m there. We’re about evenly matched – I win, he wins – we both have a good time. My point in all this is that the gaming is enjoyed by all parties, win or lose. I gave up playing SFIV online because people will drop out last minute to preserve their win/lose ratio. I’m happy to get beaten. I want to play. What I don’t want is some D-bag who’s going to come and play me, get Tiger Uppercutted to Hell then just drop out to preserve some imaginary number. If I get my ass handed to me I normally curse the bastard who did it but I take it on the chin like a man and move on. In a local environment there’s no option to throw in the towel – you fight until the end of the match. If there was an option to drop out in local multiplayer, it would lead to world record highs of dead arms.

Okay so maybe that’s a little too specific. The dead arms bit stays though – that’s another integral part of any multiplayer experience. Here’s another thing I really dislike about online multiplayer – waiting. Waiting for players, waiting for the server to respond, waiting for the map to download. When you’re playing a four-way Turokfest it takes this long: “Everyone ready? Cool, let’s play”.

So what do you think Game Show fans? Who makes the most compelling argument this time round? Do you relish the ability to play with many gamers the world over, or are your favourite gaming sessions the ones where it’s a few buddies chilling with pizza and sodas? Sign in and comment below!