(This is another edition of , a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
I had to play Inversion this week, a largely mediocre Gears of War knock-off that attempted to use shifting gravity in order to differentiate itself. While mostly forgettable, it served quite adequately as the final nail in the coffin of my patience for a certain bullshit trope that’s cropped up more and more this generation — forced “co-op” moments that aren’t cooperative at all, and exist solely to look like the game‘s co-op feature is more crucial to the experience than it actually is.
What I am talking about are those moments that occur frequently in far too many cooperative games — where characters are helping each other open doors or giving their friends boosts to reach high ledges. If you’ve played a decent number of games this generation, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about — one character reaches a heavy door or ledge and has to press a button before waiting for the other player. The other player approaches, does the same, then a canned animation of the two characters performing their task will play. Oh, and this will keep happening. Over and over. Until you just want to scream at the game, “I FUCKING GET IT! THERE ARE TWO FUCKING CHARACTERS IN THIS GAME! WHOOP-DE-FUCKING-DOO!”
Inversion is but one example, but it’s a perfect one, made all the more relevant due to the fact that it’s Inversion, hence nobody’s playing the thing online, hence the co-op feels even less important than usual. Of course, it doesn’t stop the enforced co-op sections from happening — you just have to do it with a dozy A.I. partner who would rather wobble around the screen than actually get into position and trigger the same boring animation. It certainly does get boring, because it’s the same animation every single time, and it’s repeated to nauseating degrees — just like every other game that throws in co-op because it’s fashionable, but is too fucking lazy or stupid to come up with an interesting exploitation of the feature.
It is usually the “middle shelf” game that perpetrates this crime, with titles like Hunted: The Demon’s Forge or The Cursed Crusade filling themselves with forced cooperative sequences that aren’t really cooperative at all. They’re not interactive in any way, they are repetitive cutscenes that both players have to willingly, stupidly, agree to keep watching. When I press a button in order to watch the game play itself, I don’t feel like I am cooperating with a friend. That’s not cooperative gameplay at all. It’s a very pathetic attempt at pulling the wool over my eyes, a lame failure of a trick to convince me that I really needed my partner at my side, because otherwise I’d have never been able to open the door that I won’t personally interact with in any way.
There’s an argument to be made for getting two players to agree to something in order to ensure nobody gets left behind, but there are far more elegant ways of doing that. Gears of War never seems to struggle with keeping two players in one place. Games like Diablo III can manage to get four players into a boss arena by simply having them all agree to trigger the fight and warp to the same location. Left 4 Dead had a very simple rule — if you wander off alone, you WILL get slaughtered. Convenient, simple, and fast methods of keeping players together are in abundance. There is absolutely not a single need to force people to watch some of the dullest entertainment in the world — two armed men opening doors for each other like lovely gentlemen. I can think of few things less exciting than that.
Even worse, this dull door-opening fiasco breaks the flow of the game, which should be consider a cardinal sin among game developers. The moment you halt the action in order to bore me with a repetitive cutscene, you have failed. I am not against cutscenes inherently, mind you. Done right, they can compliment the interactive action and keep me emotionally invested in what I am playing. Forcing me to watch one man give another man an extra leg up a ledge? That’s not exciting. That’s not interesting. There’s a reason why, in Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson doesn’t stop every five fucking minutes to help Danny Glover climb over a small fence. Because it’s FUCKING BORING.
If you want co-op in your game, but can’t think of anything better to do, here’s an idea — don’t put co-op in your unimaginative bloody piece of stupid crap. Seriously, there’s no point doing something if you can’t be arsed to do it properly, so either put some damn effort into what you’re making or get it out of my damn sight. Every single time you make me sit and watch your two barely distinguished muscle men give each other leg boosters like they’re five-year-old apple scrumpers, you might as well be taking a shit on the floor and kicking it into my face. Why not? You might as well, since you’re clearly not capable of anything smarter than that.
At the very least, just have two players fighting together. That’ll do. You don’t need to try and awkwardly validate what you’re doing by making the two players pretend to interact with each other. We can all see through it because we’re not completely stupid, even if we did buy Inversion. Just have two characters with two weapons, doing their things. When you enforce these mealy-minded co-op moments into your game, you communicate to me that you think your co-op is bullshit, and you’re ashamed of it. Trust me, you’re doing something far more shameful by calling attention to it with those ridiculous co-op cutscenes of yours.
Do it right, or don’t do it at all. Not too much to ask, is it?
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