Opinion: Survival Horror Needs COOP

COOP Horror

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Cooperative gameplay has returned as a big selling point in recent years. Whether it's Command and Conquer 3, Gears of War, or Left 4 Dead, people like playing together and they like working together against the AI to complete the game. However while everything from FPS to RTS titles has received that second player addition, one genre that's often overlooked for COOP is survival horror.

EA Games recently announced that COOP had been added to the third Dead Space game, not necessarily because it thought it would be a cool gameplay feature, but because the game was too scary to play by yourself. The publishing giant came up with this conclusion because despite the first two Dead Space games being praised by gamers and critics, they only sold less than three million copies between them.

It's likely this applies to other horror games too, potentially more so with ones that are true survival horror. Take Amnesia: Dark Descent, where players can only defend themselves by running away or hiding. If people struggled to buy or make it through Dead Space where they have guns and armour, Amnesia most likely proved even more challenging.

I know it certainly did for me. I barely made it 40 minutes in. The same with the earlier Penumbra games, the first few Resident Evils, Alone in the Dark 3, Silent Hill – I've never been able to finish a horror game that left me feeling helpless. Fear I made it through ok, Doom 3 I did, but start taking away my ammo, make me run too much? I probably won't be able to make it though it.

While I know this isn't the case for everyone, I can't be the only one that gets so engrossed that they can't deal with the adrenaline shot. No one else felt like they're going to have a heart attack at the scarier moments in a game?

Call me a noob or chicken, that's fine. I'd prefer to say that I just get really immersed when I play games. Either way, with the sales figures of Dead Space showing us that not that many people play these sorts of games, we know that they're a bit niche.

But they shouldn't be. These are some of the most evocative games in existence. I can take the best, most exhilarating shooters, or most mind bending puzzlers and put them right there next to Amnesia: Dark Descent in terms of the strength of its impact upon me. I didn't feel like a badass, I felt scared out of my skin and that's amazing because I'm just staring at a 24” screen, holding a mouse and keyboard.

The answer to the dilemma is I think, the one that EA is taking with the next Dead Space: adding a second player. While it could be argued that this will dial back the fear a little, I don't think it will make it less scary or tense; it just makes that terror bearable. It means you're facing your potential death with a friend and that makes it possible to deal with.

Some would argue that this removes the fear of isolation. It would be hard to disagree with that point, but how about making the players separate at a point in the game. Even if they're talking over VOIP during the experience, being forced apart in-game having come to rely on your partner, would perhaps be even scarier than playing the whole thing by yourself.

Then there's the potential for new gameplay mechanics. You could have one player use themselves as bait to draw an enemy away, or implement puzzles based around two players or even have one player need to sacrifice themselves to save the other at the end of the game. How about that for a dramatic finish? Needing to decide which one of you faces the game over screen while their pal makes it safety and the end cut scene. Hell, have the second player turn on the first half way through the game.

All of these things are possible once another player is introduced. Survival horror needs Coop to become the popular genre it deserves to be. Ironically it's the effectiveness of some of its games that make it so difficult to get into and experience fully, but that can be fixed if we can play with friends. Give me a pal to face the demons and zombies with. Guns or not, I want someone to hold my hand as I try and keep my heart from stopping with fear.

Who's with me?

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Comments

^^

"EA Games recently announced that COOP had been added to the third Dead Space game, not necessarily because it thought it would be a cool gameplay feature, but because the game was too scary to play by yourself" - Advertising strategy. The only thing they wanted to say was that this game, this time, was really really scary, so it was an experience worth buying. Left 4 Dead series and Killing Floor are probably the best and unpretentious coop games I've played in the horror genre.

ummm?

i have yet to hear anyone speak of Killing Floor, the best co-op survival horror out there, its been out quite a while now and its cheap and very good...

i find myself agreeing with

i find myself agreeing with some of his points like the "dependance" on then "seperation" from the second player. But i think it would take most of the fear from it if u werent playin alone, the only way i can see the addition of an second player not dulling the atmosphere is to put them on seperate paths and have them join up at points for cutscenes, story etc. Not physically thought (except for bosses obv), perhaps over radio, vidscreen or an impassable fence, so as to keep them seperate even as they join up. This may also add replay value as there is a second path to play through, the only problem with that i can see is "timing" i wouldnt mind waiting at a key point for the second player to catch up but i can see how that would anoy some folk, if playin solo then the wait would obv be eliminated as second would be ai.

Doesn't matter if it's

Doesn't matter if it's optional if the entire game was designed for COOP. Just look at Resident Evil 5, it's a freakin action game, not scary in the slightest even if you play solo. That's the direction the genre is going to end up taking. High quality horror games as we know it will simply no longer be.

I'd agree with you if RE was

I'd agree with you if RE was the only horror series, and Capcom were the only developers, but they aren't. And there have been 16 RE games made before RE5, making it the 17th game in the series (16th ignoring the remake). I've never seen a company pump out 17 games with the same title while maintaining a perfect track record. Most can barely get passed 2 without demolishing the series. If in the future this becomes a common occurrence and horror is weeded out for action and friendship, I'll agree with you. But one game in a series that, again, has pumped out 16 titles before what you must consider their only failure, isn't any indication of how the genre is going.

More creative Coop? I

More creative Coop? I completely agree. Phantasty Star Online touched on the idea back in 01 by having two party members stand on different buttons to open doors. While it's the most mediocre example of separation/puzzle solving/teamwork, it shows the game industry has had this idea in the back of their minds for some time now. I've always thought most multiplayer games would benefit greatly from new cooperative concepts, not just shooters, but all multiplayer games. Especially MMO's, which surprisingly have not gone beyond needing brute force or someone healing you in terms of cooperation.

The biggest issue is introducing such concepts to the public, as the article here on MegaGames, "Survey: Console Gamers Aren’t Interested In New Game Ideas" shows, the introduction of new ideas is almost too risky for publishers. It's sad that innovation and creativity is being shunned in the gaming industry, and we're all to blame -- Developers, publishers, and most of all gamers, for sucking up every CoD game and hailing it as, "THE BEST EVER!!!" just because it has a couple new maps and an updated graphics engine.

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