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Losing Multiplayer

08/11/2009 Family Family Gamer Article
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Losing Multiplayer

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The days of four player split screen first person shooting and driving are numbered on the 360 and PS3. Surprised? I certainly was. This and the ability to link two consoles to increase the number of people playing are fast being replaced by Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. Not having looked into it for a while, I made the discovery whilst trying to arrange a video game party with some old friends.

Many of us had happy memories of four people gathering around a portable TV playing Golden Eye on the N64. This was a split screen first person shooting game that enabled four players to compete on a single console. Not only was this a ground breaking way of playing, but its cutting edge visuals made it look pretty breathtaking. While the graphics have dated since then, the desire to play against three other people on the family sofa has not. So much so in fact that I recently arranged a gaming session with this in mind.

Although I wanted to recreate that Golden Eye experience, I only had the modern consoles available - Wii, 360 and PS3. First of all I had a look through the games on the Wii, and soon found that although Red Steel aimed to produce this type of split screen shooting fun - its use of the Wii-mote made it a little fiddley for new players. Other than that most Wii shooting games were light-gun experiences (of which only Ghost Squad offered a four player option that was more than a mini-game).

The days of four player split screen first person shooting are numbered.

No matter I thought, I loved a wide range of shooting games on the other consoles; Killzone 2, Call of Duty 5, Far Cry 2 and Gears of War. But to my surprise the best these had to offer was a two player split screen mode. I had to go back to older less popular games like Haze, Far Cry Vengeance, Call of Duty 3 and 4 and Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter 1 and 2 to be able to play simultaneously on one console.

Local Multiplayer Shooting Games

  • Four Player Split Shooting
    • Ghost Recon War Fighter 1 and 2
    • Far Cry Vengeance
    • Call of Duty 3 and 4
    • Perfect Dark Zero
    • Halo 3
    • Timesplitters 2 and 3
  • Four Player Split-Screen Shooting and System Link
    • Ghost Recon War Fighter 2
    • Call of Duty 3
    • Halo 3
    • Timesplitters 2 and 3
  • Four Player Split-Screen Shooting and System Link and Computer Players
    • Ghost Recon War Fighter 2

Local Multiplayer Racing Games

  • Four Player Split-Screen Racing
    • Motorstorm: Pacific Rift PS3
    • Blur PS3/360
    • Project Gotham Racing 2 360
    • Micromachines PS1
  • Two Player Split-Screen Racing
    • Gran Turismo 4
    • Need for Speed: Carbon/Pro Street

Figure: List of Remaining 360 and PS3 Local Multiplayer Games.

As I looked into it, the pattern emerged that over the last few years games are moving from split screen multiplayer modes to online multiplayer. As games have invested in technology such as Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, they have dropped other options such as split screen multiplayer. This also means that every player needs a copy of the game, rather the one game for four players ratio for older titles.

The exception that proves the rules (how does that work again) are Halo games. They provide comprehensive local split screen multiplayer. A wide variety of play modes, team games and environments make this a shining light for split screen fun. Although even Halo doesn't enable you to include computer controlled enemies - which in tern limits the usable maps for split screen play because of their size.

With my trusty set of games in hand, I set about inviting my opponents to the event. Here however I became something of a victim of my own success. The appeal of some Golden Eye style action was surprisingly appealing amongst my twenty something (and thirties) friends. I soon had eight of us wanting to play.

No problem though, roping in a friend to bring a second screen and their console we could multiply the fun by linking two systems together with four on each. In fact this would make for an ideal way to split the teams. I checked my games and Call of Duty 4, Far Cry Vengeance and Halo all have the 4 player split screen and system link symbol. All to the good then.

All until I sat down with my eight friends waiting to start the shooting fun. I then found that both Call of Duty 4 and Far Cry Vengeance could only to four player split screen or system link, not both at the same time. To my surprise we were left with Halo 3 - the only game that all eight of us could play.

The decision is being made by game makers that people no longer want to play together in the same place in this way, which once I got over the surprise I thought was a genuine mistake.

This story is surprising because the assumption is that you can generally play four player split screen on most shooting games - something that is an increasing rarity. Also because system link is assumed to be widespread and combine well with four player split screen - again no longer true. The decision is being made by game makers that people no longer want to play together in the same place in this way, which once I got over the surprise I thought was a genuine mistake.

The one trump card the 360 and PS3 have for the casual and returning gamer is the use of their horsepower and resolution to let lots of people play on one console. This is now being relegated to old titles in favour of the live services.

Written by Andy Robertson

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Andy Robertson writes the Family Gamer column.

"Videogame reviews for the whole family, not just the kids. I dig out videogame experiences to intrigue and interest grownups and children. This is post-hardcore gaming where accessibility, emotion and storytelling are as important as realism, explosions and bravado."

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