Opinion: Stop whining about "tacked-on" multiplayer modes!
You can predict the cries of a million angry fans every time a beloved or highly anticipated single-player game gets a multiplayer mode. It’s the same thing every time: “Do we really need another multiplayer game?” “Did this series really need multiplayer?” “Great, another tacked-on multiplayer mode!”
In fact, it’s happening right now, in response to Batman: Arkham Origins' freshly announced multiplayer mode. Look to the comments in any article related to the mode and you’ll see people writing it off immediately. Even members of the media are complaining.
Meanwhile, the multiplayer sounds legitimately novel. It’s an asymmetrical competitive mode where two teams of three criminals battle for territory while a third team, consisting of Batman and Robin, sneaks around trying to eliminate everyone. The criminal teams fight with third-person shooter controls, while Batman and Robin play as they always do in the Arkham series. We’ve had asymmetric multiplayer before (Splinter Cell, comes to mind), but 3v3v2? That’s certainly new.
The truth is, we do need more tacked-on multiplayer modes. We need many more, because time and time again, tacked-on multiplayer modes have been among the most creative and innovative multiplayer experiences. While the tentpole multiplayer series get flack for being the same thing year after year, these “superficial,” “unnecessary,” “cash-grabbing” multiplayer modes in primarily single-player games offer some of the few fresh multiplayer experiences available.
Look no further than The Last of Us for a multiplayer mode no one asked for, but one that managed to be pretty special nonetheless. The tension of ducking behind cover and reaching into your backpack to craft a molotov as your enemies hunt for you is unlike any multiplayer experience before it. What’s more, the game celebrates elimination gameplay -- where players only have one life or limited lives -- bringing back the thrill of being the last man standing on your team. Few multiplayer games dare to include such a mode anymore, and if they do, players flock to the standard modes and skip elimination entirely. TLoU multiplayer provides a niche where such a gametype can thrive.
One of the biggest kneejerk reactions to a multiplayer mode came when people heard about Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Hot after the heels of the phenomenal AC2, arriving only a year later, many fans expressed their doubts about a game with both multiplayer and a robust single-player. Of course, everyone had to eat their words when the multiplayer turned out to be brilliant. Assassin’s Creed multiplayer is now a staple of the series, and it remains one of the most unique takes on multiplayer in existence.
Even without some innovative twist, a “tacked-on” multiplayer mode can often be something special. Mass Effect 3 multiplayer faced harsh doubts before release, yet maintains a vibrant community today. It may be a glorified horde mode, but it gave players a chance to play as their favorite aliens and use powers, and it received a ton of support from BioWare. Even Dead Space 2 had an authentic take on Left 4 Dead’s versus mode, even if that multiplayer didn’t find much of an audience.
Look at games dedicated to unique multiplayer and you’ll find even more value in “tacked-on” multiplayer modes. Anarchy Reigns was one of the finest multiplayer brawlers this side of Power Stone 2, yet without a known IP or impressive single-player mode to latch onto, it never found its audience. Had it instead been a multiplayer mode for Bayonetta 2, people would have scoffed at the idea, but at least they’d have given it a chance.
There are some instances where a multiplayer mode is truly tacked-on. BioShock 2’s multiplayer, for instance, stuck too close to the typical shooter formula, instead of finding its own way. I wonder though, if the negativity around a multiplayer mode in BioShock didn’t make it easier for Irrational Games to toss out BioShock Infinite’s planned multiplayer mode. Will the foregone conclusion surrounding Tomb Raider’s multiplayer hurt the chances for its return in the sequel as well? I’m not saying a developer should force themselves to make multiplayer, but I wonder if the negativity surrounding such modes is making the decision to skip it easier and easier.
The sudden introduction of multiplayer into a traditionally single-player game is cause for doubt; I won’t deny that. But we’ve seen these multiplayer modes succeed time and time again. Sure, there are a few bad examples, but overwhelmingly, “tacked-on” multiplayer breaks the mold in exciting ways. It’s easy to call the addition of multiplayer a cash grab, but when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that criticism starts to sound a bit silly.
As we approach the next generation of game consoles, it seems developers are trucking on, finding new ways to tastefully experiment with single-player games and multiplayer elements. Games like Watch Dogs, Destiny, and The Division are blurring the lines between single-player and multiplayer content, taking a page from Journey and Dark Souls to create new experiences on an even larger scale. Lo and behold, it almost seems like the same people who hate on “tacked-on” multiplayer are lamenting the death of traditional single-player as a result.
Just like those surprisingly great modes in Assassin’s Creed, The Last of Us, and many others, I expect that this next-gen blending of single and multiplayer will bring on a new host of exciting, unique experiences. While Battlefield 4, Halo 5, and Call of Duty: Ghosts will surely be a ton of fun, I don’t think they’ll be bringing that same uniqueness to the table.
Perhaps it was the pile of doubt that encouraged developers to raise the bar and make multiplayer modes that were more than a cash grab. But I think it’s time to recognize that the introduction of multiplayer isn’t a bad thing. It’s a chance for something special, something that could break the mold. We shouldn’t write that off; we should welcome it.
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