Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Single Player Games Shouldn't Be a Footnote

Posted on November 30, 2011 at 1:55 AM

Single Player Games Shouldn't Be a Footnote

If there's anything reviews, whether it be for video games or movies or books and theatre, do even on a basic level is inform an audience whether or not they should spend their money on something. It's a service more than anything, and right now something is quite clear to me: I hate games that shun the single player campaign in lieu of focusing on the multiplayer. Case in point: reviews of the latest Call of Duty game, Modern Warfare 3, have all concluded that despite the rich and in-depth multiplayer aspect of online fun, the single-player campaign is only about five hour long.

As soon as I read that, I didn't need to know anymore. It's clear: the money isn't worth it.

I would then watch a video review and it reiterated the briefness of the single player game and went on for a good five minutes on the multiplayer. I did nothing but tune that out because I simply just don't care about multiplayer. If that's all you game on, then I'm sure $60 for the latest Halo or Call of Duty is up your alley. For me, and for a lot of others, the greatness of a game is really found in the single-player aspect - that ride it will take you on rather than throw you in a pool of others and do the same thing over and over again.  For me, a game needs to sustain a single-player campaign just as much as it needs to put focus on multiplayer.

That's not always the case. It's half what the audience wants but the other half is business strategy and getting the most out of your dollar on the developer side, not the side of the audience. I'm not a recluse that won't play with others,  nor do I hate multiplayer entirely, but a developer shouldn't make the single player experience something you can do "on the side."

Memorable moments don't happen in multiplayer, but multiplayer is the most cost-effective route for developers. I would argue it's the laziest.

The main reason why I want a game to give more than an afternoon's worth of gameplay on the single-player side of things is that, after a while, I simply get bored with multiplayer. I know I can't be the only one on this. Multiplayer is simply the same thing over and over again. You go around the same maps and kills a bunch of people and hope to get a god star as though you're in Kindergarten. Each is brief. Nothing new happens. You play it until the next new game is released. Rinse. Wash. Repeat. Meanwhile the focus on the singular is slowly diminished.

A single player campaign is where the great spectacles and memorable moments take place. It's the only time when a game can evoke a reaction rather than just passiveness. It's where levels are designed for your enjoyment and tasks are more than just "kill everyone" or "get the flag." You go on adventures, get scared, discover new things or have twists reveal themselves. A single player campaign is the designed experience that a developer should present to a player, it shouldn't be an afterthought to the multiplayer. Otherwise, all you're doing is just making people shell out $60 for a map pack (because the gameplay on these never change) and a mini-game.

This goes and-in-hand with my distaste of "achievements." Setting up a bunch of meaningless little goals is a shallow way to inject feux-depth into a game and no other aspect of gaming does that more than multiplayer. They're fine to have, but it's coming to the point of "achievements" being about as hard to achieve as turning on the console.

Also, and this might just be me, I feel there's no sustaining factor in multiplayer. As soon as the latest and newest Halo or Call of Duty comes out, the older versions of those games are obsolete. Mix that with the fact that there's nothing particularly "memorable" about a multiplayer game - there's no big moment or level or set piece that's going to draw you in and make you go "wow" - it's all just tossed aside for the latest fashion with no recall by the players. I like recall. I like being able to remember and say "that part was great" in a game and it only happens in a single-player (or, at best, a structured and stage/mission based co-op game) title because that's how they're designed.

Multiplayer is fun, but it shouldn't come at the cost of a memorable single player experience

It's not that I dislike multiplayer entirely, nor am I saying there aren't fantastic single-player games (Bioshock, Half-Life 2, Red Dead Redemption and the Uncharted games come to mind because they have something to recall to mind) but I've always seen multiplayer as a secondary aspect to the main game. Now those roles are reversed in previously single-player-minded titles; where the main game is looked at as some sort of downloadable content and multiplayer is all that's focused on. It's fine to have multiplayer, but it shouldn't' come at the cost of the main single-player (or co-op) game that you can beat within the same timeframe of an afternoon at the ballpark…because I'm not shelling out $60 for a nosebleed ticket.

Does this go back to my younger days of console gaming? Consoles, for over twenty years, were entirely about single-player games (with two player co-op being something pretty fancy). Is the younger generation that grew up on "social gaming" now the primary market? The "memory" of videogames is a dying art - and it is an art. It plants you in a fictional time and place and makes you a part of it. You remember the experience and what it brought to you. With multiplayer, there's nothing to remember - only pass the time. Videogames can get a bad rap on just being "time wasters" and multiplayer is probably one if its biggest culprits. Yet, it's becoming more and more true with every new big title that comes out.

The FPS genre should take more from standards of the genre like Half Life 2 rather than what is the most cost effective way to get consumers' money.

Take for example Half Life 2, some would call it the greatest First Person Shooter ever made. It had no multiplayer, only an incredibly well-realized world and a presentation that pretty much set the standard for how First Person Shooters could play out. It's intense, dramatic, full of dark alleys and strange creatures, not to mention "big" moments that can occur at the drop of a hat. If every developer of the latest FPS put the time and effort as Valve did here, then perhaps I wouldn't be so cynical about the state of that genre.

Perhaps I'm also a bit bitter too. Ok, I probably am. I really wanted to play the latest Call of Duty title. I have a long history with that franchise going back to the old PC days of running around Russia in the dead of winter shooting Nazis, but now I can't fathom the idea of paying an already pricey price tag for a game that barely offers the incentive. Multiplayer is popular. I get it. But I need to not only be getting something more, I need to see a developer put more into it all. The feeling of playing something you know was crafted and toiled over and planned with a player in mind to experience it all is something I am more than happy to give some money to rather than doing nothing but repeatedly running around the same old shootout maps for five minutes.

It's not entirely dead. Yet. The single player games are still out there, but the shift is becoming more and more apparent with each passing year and it's really not something I'm on board with. I'm not even standing at the dock.

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