Over the last decade the prevalence and importance of multiplayer has increased dramatically. Buoyed by the advent of broadband internet becoming widely available, it has since become a rarity that any given game you play does not feature a multiplayer mode.
Of course, this applies more to console games than PC, because, pffft, who even uses a PC these days? (I jest.)
I remember the days where you would have to check a game you were buying, to find out whether it had multiplayer or not, looking at the back of the box.
These days, unless you’re 100% convinced that your game is going to be an enormous hit, you’re probably going to add a multiplayer mode. Of the top 20 games in the UK right now, only three don’t feature multiplayer. Skyrim (which is still in the charts after 66 weeks). Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct.
What all of these have in common is that they are from established series with large fanbases. In other words, they were always going to do well. As counterintuitive as it might seem, I think the lack of a multiplayer aspect shows a measure of confidence in the singleplayer on the part of the publisher.
Multiplayer really used to be considered just a way of adding value to the main content of the game, more and more, the multiplayer is considered the main content, and the campaign is an afterthought. This isn’t always a bad thing, it’s worked wonders for the development of eSports.
But I do think it doesn’t really advance the argument for video games as an art at all. You can see what I mean in the Call of Duty franchise. Modern Warfare 1 had a fantastic campaign, and a great multiplayer, but the franchise hasn’t lived up to that campaign since, instead focusing almost exclusively on multiplayer.
This is why I’m really excited by upcoming PS3 exclusive ‘The Last of Us’. If you’re not up to speed on the latest game from Naughty Dog here’s a brief summary. The game is set two decades after the collapse of society, humanity has been much reduced by a form of fungus which takes over your body, these ‘Infected’ (not zombies) are the primary threat.
You control Joel, a suitably coarse and grizzly smuggler/black market trader who agrees to help Ellie, a fourteen year old girl, get out of a quarantine zone and escape to the resistance movement.
I read a lot about a year ago about the struggle Naughty Dog went through in order to find the right actors to voice the characters, and it really seems that they are investing a lot in making it an interesting experience. For me, this is what the ‘zombie’ genre has been missing for a while, a survival horror game with interesting characters and something more to it than hoarding shotgun shells and jumping at shadows.
Naughty Dog have stressed that first and foremost this is not a ‘zombie game’, the central device of the game is the relationship between Ellie and Joel, in some ways this sounds like a microcosm version of Half Life 2. Whereas Valves epic is nominally event focused, large scale set pieces driving along the main plot to save the world, The Last of Us looks to be considerably more character focused, which necessarily brings with it a much tighter focus.
Which is why I was disappointed to hear that Naughty Dog are including a multiplayer mode. Announced in December I’m not sure if I quite buy the immediate fan reaction that its late announcement is evidence that the mode has been tacked on to increase sales.
But still, the fact that it’s been delayed an additional five weeks as well as the late announcement of a multiplayer that smells of something a little funky. Surely if the single player needed more polishing time, there wouldn’t be the resources to build multiplayer elements. Obviously though, this is a matter of organisation and is pure speculation.
The campaign is looking to be between 12 and 16 hours long, which is a respectable length. I think we might hear some comments along the same lines as the ones levelled at Dishonored about campaign length, but I think those are mostly unfounded.
I know I’d rather have one compelling experience than play Black Ops II multiplayer for 16 hours.
On the whole, it’s a good thing that developers are still trying to tell quality stories in a AAA setting. So regardless of how The Last of Us actually turns out, Naughty Dog do at least deserve some credit for the attempt to improve the industry as a whole.
To some extent then, there is a measure of hope for the singleplayer game. Helped by the rise of indie games, who frequently don’t have multiplayer components, in the mainstream awareness. If we vote with our wallets, and support developers who are giving players meaningful experiences and stories then the singleplayer game will continue to live on.