In multiplayer gaming there are really only two broad categories of gaming, versus or co-operative, at least for the purposes of this article.
When you play a multiplayer game versus other people, generally you can drop in, blow some noobs back to the stone age, check your kill:death ratio and your achievements then go back to whatever it was you were doing before the urge to distribute brain matter came over you.
In co-operative multiplayer you generally join a small group of friends to work you way through a campaign of some sort, be that slaying dragons or breaching a safe house full of terrorists.
Fable 2 had a co-op system which relied on finding a friend who didn’t want to actually play their own character while helping you complete your game with no reward for them, nobody like you that much buddy, big mistake Fable 2, fail. The co-op mode in Crackdown 2 also only progressed the game of the host, leaving the other players as nothing more than hired lacky’s who gained nothing from the experience, we could call this the Fable 2 co-op model, very broken, very wrong.
Saints Row 2 also included a co-op mode and while you could play through the campaign with a friend it was way too much fun to just surprise them with an RPG to the face, over and over and over. That never got old and unfortunately it severely impaired progress through the campaign.
Which brings me to Halo:Reach. A game which has nailed the co-op campaign like no other, while it doesn’t support drop in/out in the co-op campaign it does allow you to play through with a friend (or up to 3 friends) with your own customised character and allows you to bring in the items and character from your single player game in to the campaign and firefight (versus) modes. Almost a perfect co-op experience.
Which brings me to the co-op conundrum.
A game which doesn’t allow drop in/out, but does allow you to play through the campaign with friends where everyone gets credit for completing the campaign introduced a dynamic whereby you need everyone who started the campaign with you be available to play at the same time in order to progress.
Unfortunately, for me at least, your friends all have families, with kids or other commitments (or just other games they play, I hate you WoW) and it would seem that the chances of assembling four of you at the same place for any considerable period of time is approaching impossible in a logarithmic progression the more players you add to the mix.
Obviously, the chances of getting game time in a single player game is 100%, but as you add players, the chances that you are all available in a coherent block of time approaches zero, this dynamic works for as little as 4 players depending the age of the player.
For example, when you’re 15 years old and you’de done all your homework and you parents will let you play, you may be able to get 3 of your friends in to a game maybe 50% of the time, like so:
Single guys, around mid 20′s (or maybe any age) probably still living in there mothers basements have a much easier time of it.
35+, with a family, four player co-op? Forget about it.
I fit in to this last category of course and I know these numbers are scientifically proven by empirical evidence collected over the last 40 years, it’s real science, you can’t dispute my findings.
What these finding do tell us is that as an Angry Old Bastard gamer the most you can hope for in a game like Halo:Reach is to be able to game with one buddy, add more in to the mix and you’re just asking for a world of hurt and frustration. Of course, there will be exceptions and by changing the variables (for instance adding drop in/out to a co-op game, like Diablo 3) and the chance of achieving gaming nirvana are increased.
So, if you’re old and stupid and still manage to co-ordinate both thumbs at the same time through all the arthritis pain grab a copy of Halo:Reach and sign up one of your friends, pick wisely, in fact, maybe you should pick your single friends as your co-op partner. I didn’t chart that possibility, shit. Maybe next time.