We gamers are a fickle gang, aren’t we? Cut the hair of our favorite monster-slaying protagonist? Treachery! Port a platform-exclusive series to another platform? Treason! But these are misdemeanors when compared to adding multiplayer to an otherwise single-player franchise. This rabble was recently re-roused when Square-Enix announced that its Tomb Raider reboot would include a multiplayer mode, imposing competitive gameplay onto an otherwise atmospheric, intimate adventure.
But put down the pitchforks and quash the torches' flames, friends! Adding online functionality to an otherwise solo affair isn't always bad; the act of "tacking-on" multiplayer can often end with grand results (as we discussed in an editorial a few months back. Here are some examples of otherwise single-player franchises that have wowed us with surprisingly good multiplayer.
7. Dead Space 2
Dead Space’s take on survival horror in the new generation was filled with tense, fright-filled corridors and cheap (but thrilling) jump scares. This gameplay style, realistically, wouldn’t adapt all that well to multiplayer, so it was no wonder that gamers were skeptical about Dead Space 2’s inclusion of team deathmatch. How could it maintain the scares while prepubescent brats spit insults through their braces over Xbox Live? Well, it couldn’t, but that’s fine. Though the multiplayer of Dead Space 2 wasn’t as frightening as the single-player, it was pretty damn good in its own right.
Players were broken into two teams, each representing a different side of Dead Space’s ongoing alien-from-The Thing-versus-human conflict. In one group was gun-toting security guards who could use all of the fun weaponry of the Dead Space universe against their necromorph adversaries. Playing as the Necromorphs on the other side was a great role reversal, and allowed players to experience the game from the enemy’s point of view, and fighting alongside other humans (instead of in tense, fright-filled corridors) was a nice change of pace from the otherwise lonely single-player campaign.
6. Red Dead Redemption
There was a time--not too long ago--when Westerns were to films what World War II shooters were to games. America’s love affair with cowboys, indians, horses, and six-shooters was paramount, but faded as the market became oversaturated (sound familiar, pilgrim?). Sadly, that was some time before the advent of the online multiplayer shooter, and as such, gaming hadn’t really seen many successful games head out West. Red Dead Redemption, a pseudo-sequel to Red Dead Revolver, changed that, and included an amazing story and an equally strong multiplayer.
Joining with a friend online meant being tossed into the game’s massive world, where up to 16 players could travel around and complete objectives to earn experience and upgrades--and that was just the lobby. Besides simply causing havoc in the open-world, there were also plentiful competitive and cooperative options spread throughout varied environments. When the Undead Nightmare expansion unleashed a zombie horde on the Wild West it brought with it new multiplayer modes, turning it into an 1800s version of Left 4 Dead and giving you even more reasons to hit the old dusty trail.
5. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Compared to many games on this list, there wasn't too much anger over the announcement that Firaxis' XCOM: Enemy Unknown would have multiplayer--in fact, there was a good deal more misplaced belligerence over the title's lack of a hyphen. Odds are the community was just so darn happy that there was a non-shooter XCOM in the works that they weren’t about to take issue with some multiplayer addition thingy. Or maybe they (rightfully) guessed that the tactical gameplay that makes for brutally challenging and rewarding single-player battles would translate flawlessly to multiplayer.
Enemy Unknown's multiplayer is, at its very essence, an advanced game of chess where you're able to pick your pieces--except some of them have rocket launchers and psychic powers. Instead of knocking off a pawn with a rook on a square grid, you're building squads of aliens and soldiers and marching them through crumbling buildings in an attempt to outwit your opponent. It's smart, tactical, and in some ways superior to the single-player game. When you're playing against another person you can't reasonably curse at swindling AI, can you?
4. Max Payne 3
Here’s a conundrum: How do you take a slow-motion-filled shooter and make it work online without the entire experience crawling like a pissed-off paraplegic through molasses? If you’re Rockstar, your solution is to create a complex system that slows enemies within your field of view while allowing others to continue at their own speed. That is, unless they see a slowed player, in which case they, too, are slowed in a chain reaction. The brilliance of Max Payne 3’s multiplayer is that this all happens under the hood, giving you a seamless competitive experience that feels remarkably advanced while remaining incredibly simple.
Slow-motion is just one of many “Bursts” equipped and unlocked as you play the game. Others include granting bonus damage on attacks, giving teammates infinite ammo, and even tricking foes into thinking their allies are actually enemies. Different modes (including one where you’re able to kill Max Payne to become Max Payne) help create some of the best third-person shooting action in the genre.
3. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was a monumental success; it was cinematic storytelling at its finest (in 2007). A Hollywood blockbuster wrapped in a third-person adventure, Uncharted sported a lavish cast of likable characters, a wonderful plot, and gameplay that was the envy of the industry. With the sequel, developer Naughty Dog opted to not just expand the story, but also include a multiplayer component. People didn’t take it well. Some thought it would syphon resources away from the campaign. Others worried that the series would take a co-op route. In short, it was common consensus that Naughty Dog had peed on the rug.
These irrational concerns proved as valid as most irrational concerns often do. The single-player of Uncharted 2 was leaps and bounds better than the original’s, and the multiplayer offerings helped make Among Thieves one of the best games of all time. The three-player co-op was great for those uninterested in traditional team deathmatch, adding a new, vertical spin on the genre’s normal tropes, and the competitive modes proved surprisingly engaging. Turns out being able to climb stuff makes for a fairly unique multiplayer--who knew?
2. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
"I can imagine a [sic] AC multiplayer mode,” one commenter mused when Ubisoft announced that Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
would ship with a competitive complement to the series’ staple single-player campaign. “Two players will stand and stare at each other for hours, each waiting for the other guy to make the first move so that they can counter it... then another guy just runs up and stealth kills them both." We’re not going to lie--that sounds pretty awesome. But he had a point! How could a series based on melee assassinations and parkour in an open world be adapted to deathmatch? Splendidly, apparently. Splendidly.
Brotherhood’s multiplayer, and the continued competitive gameplay the series has had since, is beautifully original. Players attempt to score points by stealthily assassinating specific enemy players in a small slice of historical fiction, using social stealth to disappear in with a sea of computer-controlled automatons. Wanton chaos is punished--you’re a scalpel, not a sledgehammer--and great reward is found in learning the mechanics and gracefully acting as a blade in the crowd.
1. Mass Effect 3
Who would have thought that now, nearly a full year after Mass Effect 3's polarizing ending ignited the nerd riot of the century (or year, or... week, or... look, nerds rage, OK?), people would still be consumed in the game's wave-based online multiplayer? Like, playing the hell out of it? Spending money on it? And clamoring for more multiplayer DLC? Surely not the commenters on the first preview we wrote about the cooperative mode, who said, "Even if i don't know what the multiplayer is about, the fact alone that it exists is a bad sign, period."
But it wasn't a bad sign. Between the wide variety of enemy types and fine-tuned combat, Mass Effect 3's multiplayer proved to be an utterly thrilling experience. Fighting off waves of enemies with friends was more fulfilling than we’d ever expected. Character classes and unlockable upgrades made for incredibly varied gameplay, and the addition of booster pack-style upgrades with randomized gear and results made the itemization unreasonably addictive.
Let’s give others the benefit of the doubt
There are, of course, some examples of multiplayer being added to single-player franchises that didn’t turn out as strong. BioShock 2’s team deathmatch wasn’t all that impressive, and Spec Ops: The Line’s competitive side by and large completely undermined everything the game was trying to say. More often than not, however, the trend shows that good single-player games can become good multiplayer games without sacrificing the solo campaign, and that’s something we hope to see continued in the coming years.
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