First off, I’d like to thank Sony for implementing PlayStation Plus to their previously free PlayStation Network service. Not because I was ever a butthurt Xbox fanboy who paid $50 a year (now $60) for what PS gamers always got for free and misery loves company, but because they’ve done it really, really well. PS Plus is a hell of a deal that will likely pay for itself several times over for most gamers who use it and as a result I think Xbox Live’s Gold service is being forced to kick up their game a notch and offer subscribers more as a result.
Due to the subscription dues, Microsoft handily won the last generation of console wars when it came to providing quality multiplayer. Whether it was worth it or not is up to each individual to decide, but I never complained. Okay, maybe a little grumbling around payment time, but all in all I was pretty satisfied with what I got. A big part of that was the care put into games with creative multiplayer modes, several of which were Microsoft exclusives. I’m about to cancel my XBL Gold subscription since I’ve shifted my focus to the PS3 and have no plans for further multiplayer on my 360, so today I’m paying tribute to some of my favorite online games from the Xbox 360 era.
Dead or Alive 4 was an early Xbox 360 exclusive and in my mind, it remains the definitive XBL fighting game experience. It actually kind of shocks me that other games haven’t followed its examples. Say what you want about bouncing boobs and short skirts, but the game’s authentic martial arts techniques, awesome characters (of both genders), and outstanding multiplayer features can’t be diminished.
The lobby system in DOA 4 was one of its best features. Each player picked an avatar and entered a multiplayer lobby with other players where everyone could enjoy the matches together while they waited their turn. This was back when everyone still used their headsets so fighting in front of an audience was a blast; like the whole world was your arcade. Plus you could customize your avatar with emotes and use text bubbles to communicate, which was fun.
I know a lot of gamers don’t want to be bothered with social aspects now and would rather sit through endless load screens than watch someone else play for a minute and that’s a shame, but the ranking system in DOA 4 remains the best I’ve seen as well. If you won, your rank went up; if you lost, it went down. Simple as that. You also got bonuses and penalties for beating or losing based on the rank of your opponents.
A lot of games only let you rank upwards, Call of Duty style which ends up putting some players at a rank where they can only play gamers who are better than they are whereas in DOA 4 if you got out of your depth, some losses would kick you back down to where you’d be matched up with players at your own skill level. This needs to become standard. All of this in addition to the actual gameplay helped make this game responsible for some of the best times I’ve ever had in online multiplayer.
Gears of War was one of the 360’s flagship series from the start, but aside from the badass graphics, awesome chainsaw violence, and influential cover system, it didn’t really reach multiplayer classic status for me until the third game. The first game was new and cool, but the one life per player system made it occasionally tiresome when two campers were all that was left in a match. The second game pretty much broke everything that made the first game great, but with Gears of War 3, they struck the perfect balance.
For the trilogy closer, the competitive multiplayer game was now officially made out of awesome, but what really gave this game legs was the new Horde 2.0 mode. Previously, Horde mode was just you and maybe some friends running around multiplayer maps killing baddies until they killed you. But with Gears 3, it became the premium feature. Now the focus was on building and upgrading a base to defend with your online partners while the AI sent wave after wave of enemies to kill you all.
It sounds simple, but the ability to gain levels to build increasingly powerful fortifications and defenses and focus on cooperative strategy to succeed was as satisfyingly addictive as chainsawing a Locust in half was violent. This was what cooperative multiplayer gaming was meant to be. If Team Death Match brought out the worst in multiplayer gamers, Horde 2.0 brought out the best, and for years after the game came out, it was being played on my XBL friends list. I think that a very big part of the reason Gears of War: Judgment failed was its excision of Horde mode. OverRun was brilliant and probably deserves a place on this list as well, but Gears 3’s Horde mode was amazing.
Hey, I never specifically said that all of the games were going to be Xbox exclusive now, did I? PS3 gamers got a little bonus on this one, getting to play at no extra charge, but the implementation of a spanking new breed of multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood made it a good day to be on Xbox Live too.
Cooperative assassinating? Pssh. Who cares? Especially when the competitive multiplayer is this unique and fun. And hey, look! Female avatars! Oh brave new world! Think of all the animations poor Ubisoft must have had to do and despair. [end sarcasm] But yeah, this one lit me the hell up. It’s hard to come up with something that hasn’t been done before, and even harder to make it balanced while providing gameplay incentives to progress, but Assassin’s Creed has managed it.
Most multiplayer games require twitch reflexes, crazy muscle memory for combos, and/or an unethical worldview to succeed in long-term. For Assassin’s Creed you just need to smarter than the av-er-age noob. To get the big scores, you must effectively blend in with the crowd and casually exterminate your prey –preferably before he even spots you- and trick your hunter when the tables are turned.
Manhunt is my drug of choice from amongst the variety of multiplayer modes offered. It’s team-based play where one team has to survive while the other team hunts them. The focus on offense and defense individually makes for some very interesting tactics and makes the game less anarchic than in some of the other modes.
Multiplayer has always been a calling card of the Halo series. The first time you and a bud jumped into a Warthog together is going to remain a memorable gaming moment to millions for decades. And the intensity of the competitive matches is legendary. But once again, a really great outside the narrative co-op package with lots of bells and whistles took the cake for me.
Firefight was introduced in Halo: ODST, but Bungie unfortunately gave no matchmaking options so it was LAN only. I still had some great times with friends over wired connections, but I did not get nearly my fill of being dropped in a map with three companions and wrecking waves and waves of Covenant. Obviously, ODST’s version turned out to be only a precursor to what became one of Halo: Reach’s premiere features.
Like Gears 3’s Horde mode, Reach’s Firefight succeeded not on the basic premise alone, but by giving players something to work towards. My favorite unlockable customization option came in the form of purchasable voices for your character, which created a “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality. You got to choose from the entire Reach Spartan cast in addition to others like Master Chief and Cortana. Your chosen character would provide commentary on your actions that was often very entertaining. I couldn’t wait to unlock another voice and see what kind of things they would say.
343 Industries sadly did away with Firefight for Halo 4 when they took over the franchise, instead opting to create a free DLC story mode designed for co-op called Spartan Ops. Spartan Ops was cool, but I seldom played through the maps more than once or twice. Plus it was something like ten gigabytes of memory of my twenty gig hard drive to keep them on there whereas Firefight was not only more fun with more replayability, but it was all on disc. Bring. It. Back.
Yeah, I know I already wrote a gushing article about how much I love Left 4 Dead and want to play a new one, but I mostly just talked about the cooperative play and how it allowed players to make their own stories. My actual most favoritest thing about it was the Versus mode. You can’t very well make a multiplayer video game about a zombie apocalypse where the human players kill each other, can you? Actually, that sounds kind of great now that I think about it, but not as good as letting human players control the zombies. Mmmmm….braaaaaaaains.
L4D’s Versus mode tasks one team of four humans with getting their asses from Point A to Point B. It then tasks four more gamers to play as the special infected and use their unique abilities to strategically divide and conquer the first four before they attain Point B get. I’ve always wanted to be the monster, so this was the multiplayer mode of my dreams.
Using the various capabilities of the special infected effectively to induce panic in a group of twitchy fellow gamers has got to be what being high on crack and heroin feels like. Dragging some loser off of a roof with your Smoker tongue or being the Boomer who pukes on the rest when they all rush at once to save them, blinding them while summoning a rabid horde and then seeing the one guy not getting wrecked get pounced on and torn apart by a Hunter as the Tank makes his entrance and you realize all that’s left is the cleanup is the ultimate feeling of satisfaction.
I love me some co-op, but sometimes the best possible feelings in gaming come from ruining someone else’s day. It’s a rough world out there, fellow gamers, but sometimes, it’s so worth the cost of admission.