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Can multiplayer ruin a good single-player game?

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Playing in a group is not always all it’s cracked up to be.

It was recently announced that Infamous: Second Son and The Order: 1886 will not feature online multiplayer. With such an announcement, you get to see both sides of the fence as fans revealed their divided opinions across the internet. Many fans agree that multiplayer just isn’t needed in either of the games, and others have expressed their relief by revealing their initial fears over what they presume would have been “tacked on” multiplayer, resulting in resources being deviated from the single-player experience.

Andrea Pessino, co-founder of the team who developed The Order: 1886, revealed his announcement via Twitter. When a follower complained that it may lead him to paying $60 for a six to 10 hour game, Pessino replied:  “Better to do one thing well than a whole bunch half-assed.” Whilst Pessino’s dedication to creating a solid single player experience is admirable, it also highlights the stigma that exists between single-player games and so-called tacked-on multiplayer.

The ever-growing success of multiplayer – along with the financial advantages it can provide to developers – means more single player titles now include multiplayer modes. Although multiplayer modes are becoming frequently popular, the single-player games that they’re attached to have certainly not suffered as a result – just look at how Naughty Dog integrated multiplayer into the Uncharted series and The Last of Us.

So where has the myth of multiplayer damaging single player come from?

Bioshock Multiplayer

It may stem from the fact that certain eagerly-anticipated, story-based games flopped. When Bioshock 2 was released, fans and forum users complained that the inclusion of multiplayer in the game had a negative effect on the single player. Of course, this wasn’t the main problem with the game. The main problem was that it was impossible to recreate that sense of wonder and atmosphere seen in the first game due to setting the game once again in Rapture. Instead, many people focused their criticisms on the multiplayer mode somehow affecting the lack of thought that went into the single player. It doesn’t mean there is a direct correlation with multiplayer modes affecting the single player, rather that people are desperate for a scapegoat to blame a disappointing single player.

Some gamers believe that the inclusion of multiplayer can sometimes divert attention away from the single player during the production stage. This shouldn’t ever be the case. If resources are correctly allocated then neither game mode should suffer during development. Sometimes a solid game might get released where the multiplayer feels like a contrived addition to the game (often dismissed as tacked-on multiplayer by fans), or maybe it simply just sucks. The developers have tried to do something different and sometimes it won’t work.

Dead Space 2, Bioshock 2, and the later Assassins Creed titles: are examples where the multiplayer modes feel weak and unnecessary. Why add multiplayer to a game that already stands strong with an immersive single player?  It’s worth noting that multiplayer often finds itself introduced at some point during a game series. The above are good examples of this, not to mention Resident Evil and Uncharted. But should we really be heckling developers for trying to do something different? Resident Evil has always been a single player franchise to the core, yet I found the multiplayer mode in Resident Evil 5 a delightful addition.

Whilst the single player modes of Dead Space 2 and the Uncharted series didn’t suffer, many people believe Resident Evil 5 to be a weak entry into the series. Was this a direct result of tacked-on multiplayer? Of course it wasn’t. Resident Evil 4 was a massive overhaul of the survival horror genre that introduced a lot of new features into the Resident Evil series. By simply repeating the gameplay experience of Resident Evil 4, much like Bioshock 2 did with its prequel, we are no longer experiencing that grand sense of awe for the first time.

Calling something ‘tacked-on’ also implies that it wasn’t properly thought out and has been thrown in as an unnecessary extra. In that case, it’s interesting to look at the origins of what is considered by many to be one of the greatest multiplayer modes of all time: Goldeneye for the N64.

Dark Souls Summon

Many gamers consider Goldeneye to be the Godfather of the multiplayer shooter. What many people don’t know is that the multiplayer in Goldeneye was coded in just a month and added at the last minute. So last minute, in fact, that it was created without the knowledge or permission of anyone from Nintendo. Going by the aforementioned definition of tacked on, Goldeneye is the perfect example and few will argue that it isn’t among the finest multiplayer shooters out there.

Then there is so-called mingle-player gaming. As well as featuring a PVP system, Dark Souls features a system that allows players to join your game and offer assistance – a useful feature if you’re really stuck on a certain area of the game. The game also allows players to leave markers on the flaw offering hints and tips in certain areas if they wish to use them. Whilst certain fans see flaws within this system as it can affect some of the game’s notorious difficulty, many appreciate the advantages it brings to the table, as well as showing that multiplayer can be successfully integrated with a games single player campaign.

Not every game will work well with a multiplayer mode. If a developer chooses to try and include one into a franchise that is accustomed to single player, it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s tacked-on. Titles such as The Last Of Us prove that multiplayer can be successfully integrated into a game that’s heavily featured on narrative, whilst Dark Souls is a shining example of what can happen when developers put some real thought into tying the multiplayer around the single player. These are games that prove it’s possible to have both a decent single and multiplayer mode within a game. And for the times when it doesn’t work, don’t focus your initial criticism primarily on the inclusion of multiplayer. Just because it doesn’t work does not necessarily mean it’s tacked-on. More often than not, attaching multiplayer to a single player franchise is a big decision, and if the game doesn’t come out shining, the multiplayer mode is not always the direct cause. Sometimes ideas can eventually run their course too.

 

Featured image: MGM Interactive, inset images: 2K Games and Daisuke Uchiyama

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