Online multiplayer.... meh.

Saturday, June 14, 2008
According to most industry gurus and console slinging tycoons, every blockbuster game has to have a killer online multi-player mode. Thinking back to the hits of 2007, Call of Duty still stands out from the pack, dominating sales through mid spring of 2008. The combination of customizable classes and an MMO style leveling system did well to secure it a solid following. Halo 3 also came out of the gates strong, with added level editing, saved films and customizable armor topping off it's already solid multi-player offerings.

I've played both of these games a lot. I've been a fan of the Halo franchise since it's inception on the original Xbox. I have many saved films showing off my exploits, both epic and comic. I've finally reached prestige mode on Call of Duty 4 and am an established sneaky bastard. Yet apart from these two departures, I rarely play games online.

It's something I come by honestly. I prefer a single-player campaign. If I can get a co-operative campaign I'm even happier, but I can't bring myself to get too interested in online multi-player. That's all I've really ever said about it. I haven't taken the time to sit down and puzzle out this conundrum.

I play a lot of shooters. Back in the day I was a big Time splitters fan. I can still remember the five hour capture the flag game my friend Levi and I sat down to. We filled the ranks of a two monkey team against an army of Robofish. One hit kills, Crossbows and bricks. When victory was finally ours, we felt we had really accomplished something special. That was a great multi-player experience, but it was one I shared with a friend in the same room.

That's where I earned most of my multi-player chops in fact. In the same room as my opponent. Games like Worms, Goldeneye, Halo, Perfect Dark, Turok, Tanks, Super Smash Brothers Melee, the list goes on. Most of my dearest gaming memories are of games with people I didn't have to communicate with via headset or keyboard. That group dynamic, especially the larger team-based games really kindled something in me. It's something I can't recreate when matched with random people over Live or PSN. Though if that's true, I shouldn't enjoy COD4 or Halo 3 nearly as much as I do.

Campaign modes really draw me in. I like being part of an arcing narrative (especially if I can drag a friend along with me). I need an objective, a clear idea of the world around me and my enemies in it. I yearn for the kills I get to mean something in the grand scheme. I will play a campaign hundreds of times, just because I love them so much. The Halo franchise didn't have the most compelling narrative of all time, despite it's strong suits, but it did offer me a co-operative campaign option, which I happily snapped up.

Single-player games like Oblivion, Mass Effect, and their ilk are really the core of my gaming experience. I think that's why 2007 was such a stand out year in gaming for me. I had a slew of single-player only games that I found compelling and creative. Yet despite wonderful offerings from Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect (the game that sold me on the 360 two years before it was actually released) there was one game that everyone stood up to recognize.

Portal delivered a complex narrative web with only one speaking character that was not only intriguing but very very funny. My favorite line "Momentum, a function of mass and velocity, is preserved between portals. In layman's, 'speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out.'" The gameplay was mind bending, every inch of that game was spit polished and gleaming My only- THE only- complaint was that it was too damn short.

I'm a child of adventure games and slow connections at heart. I wasn't there for the start of the online gaming phase, I was still browsing for a Riven walkthrough on a 28.8 modem. I missed out on Tribes because my Packard Bell couldn't run it. I wasn't able to play all the sweet online games so I had to content myself with single player games. I've played and beaten every Lucasarts adventure game from Maniac Mansion to Escape From Monkey Island (Full Throttle has always been my favorite. Can't explain why). I solved Myst: End of Ages in five hours. Name a Total War game and I own it. I've thrown money at Bioware like a crippled man at a tent revival. I am the master of unlocking. I fear the air-raid siren. This is how I got into games.

Despite my humble beginnings, certain multi-player titles peak my interest. COD4 kept me playing with it's reward system and strong team-based gameplay. Halo 3 has it's co-op campaign and the Forge where I can tweak the game to serve my dark needs. But even these don't offer enough in the end.

To be perfectly honest, the only thing that really keeps me online is the ability to play with friends. I am happiest when I can sit down and play a few rounds with my wife and close friends. It's a joy to share an experience I enjoy so much with the people I care about. Plus, your round, shiny EVA helmet makes an easy target from across the map.