I've been playing a lot of Evolve recently. Despite what others say, I'm loving the experience of it, and genuinely harbour a little bit of elitist smugness for the nay-sayers. Hell, if you're running around bored, it's probably because you haven't actually learned how to track a twenty foot tall spiked gorilla that breathes fire and hurls rocks. The best bit for me though is definitely being fortunate enough to grab a team of mates and track, trap and kill some random stranger on the internet. How many times can you say that without inciting a visit from a SWAT squad?
Seriously though, I love online gaming. A lot of my old gaming group have moved away from home (much like my six years in London and year in Blackpool), some as far afield as the USA and Japan, and I adore that I can fire up my PS4 and not only talk to them, but play games together via the magic of the internet. It has not only let me keep in contact with people I'd otherwise have lost as friends, but also allows us to continue our main hobby together. Don't let the rest of this article fool you – I'm not lamenting the rise of internet multiplayer, I'm lamenting the fall of social multiplayer (by which I mean single console multiplayer, split-screen or otherwise).
I was playing Evolve with a friend who recently traded in his Xbox One against a Playstation 4 so that we could play together (but that's a topic for another article) when he mentioned how nice it was to be able to play with mates again. Thus we began to reminisce of our gaming childhood.
Both of us had a very close friend who died of cancer when we were all around about fourteen years old, and our memories of Barry are mainly of playing Warhammer 40,000 in his garage, or all sitting cross-legged in a semi-circle around the TV in his front room blasting each other to bits in Unreal Tournament, or Timesplitters 2, or Hogs of War, or Worms Armageddon, or... you get the picture.
Beyond that, in our mid-to-late teens, we all used to congregate around another friends house most weekends, each armed with our own GameCube controller and memory cards (remember those?!) loaded with our Phantasy Star Online characters to quest together; or to beat each other up in yet-another Saturday Afternoon Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament; or with a Gameboy Advance each for link cable Mario Kart Advance or Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.
At school, throughout our GCSE's and Sixth Form, 'Study Periods' became Advance Wars: Dual Strike periods, interspersed with more Mario Kart (This time Mario Kart DS), until eventually one of us was named a Prefect and gained (legitimate) access to the computer room keys. Thus began our Quake II LAN parties. Admittedly, these last examples aren't single console multiplayer, but we were all – at least – in the same room as one another.
The point I'm trying to make is that I miss the social aspect of multiplayer, actually sitting next to your mates, cheekily watching their screen to know where they were hiding, or to better aim a green shell, and occasionally resorting to sneakier tactics like distraction or sometimes the outright brutality of 'accidentally' pulling their controller cable out. Yes, we really did that, but rarely and usually in good spirits if one of us was miles ahead of the others. We even used to make it a form of handicap, that certain players couldn't plug their controller in until a certain time had elapsed.
Again, I love that I can play with friends anywhere around the world. When I started raiding semi-professionally on World of Warcraft during my uni days, I made some really close friends from across the globe that I still am very close to today – despite that most of us never have had the chance to actually meet up outside of the game. I love that I can game with anyone regardless of their actual geographical location, but I really do miss being able to huddle around a single console and TV like it was a camp-fire in a snowstorm.
This New Year's Eve my local gaming group congregated around a friends house for some quiet drinks, a few friendly rounds of Cards Against Humanity, and some decidedly less quiet and less friendly bouts on Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and Mario Kart 8 (where friendships are lost in the toss of a Blue Shell). It was bliss. Pure, unadulterated, chaotic, loud, geeky bliss.
Jump back to present day, when my friend and I were talking about this on Evolve. We decided to stop and count the number of single console multiplayer games on this generation of console, and essentially came up with a very short list – mainly the Lego series, Dead or Alive and Injustice Gods Among Us, Little Big Planet 3 and Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, alongside the aforementioned Wii U titles. Now, that's probably not a comprehensive list, but the list is a short one, no matter how long you think about it. It's why I am so excited that Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is going to include split-screen co-op mode. I have a reason to invite my friends over for a few beers and some loot-n-shoot action again! I cannot wait.