Split-Screen is Down and Needs to be Revived
Playing a game on a couch (or wherever else you decide to sit, I won’t judge) with someone is the be-all and end-all of social experiences for gaming, so I was pretty excited at first to see it in the new Star Wars Battlefront. When I first heard EA was making a reboot/remake/rehash of Battlefront (a beloved game from my childhood if you want an indicator of how embarrassingly young I am) and it was going to include split-screen co-op, I was ready to buy it. The bad news for me was the split-screen was relegated to a wave-based survival mode that feels more like an afterthought than a part of the game.
In the end, my friend and I settled with playing online and taking turns every death. Unfortunately, it seems like meaningful co-op modes are being phased out in favor of online play that doesn’t allow split-screen, or are being relegated to pointless additions that, when compared to the main attractions of these games, can barely be considered fun.
I’ve wasted a lot of time playing games that are overwhelmingly mediocre, like EA’s Army of Two because they either have half-decent multiplayer or co-op. This isn’t to say Army of Two is complete garbage, but it had the narrative depth of a puddle and gameplay that was passably fun. The two redeeming features of the game were a decent upgrade/customization system and the fact the whole title depended on its a co-op experience.
The reason I played through Army of Two at least a dozen times wasn’t because I needed to reanalyze key scenes to fully appreciate the nuance of the 2008 private military corporation anxiety induced plot; I played it so many times because it was a dumb game with replay value, an excuse to get together with a friend and talk shit about whatever was going on in our lives. Army of Two is just an example, but there are many more games like it.
Despite Skype and stable network connections, people still have LAN parties. Sure, there’s generally less lag, but at its heart, a LAN party is a social event. This social element is why they still exist, albeit in a smaller number, even though online gaming has become so much more advanced. Couch co-op represents a microcosm of what LAN parties are, it’s the chance to sit down with a friend or two for a few hours without the need for lugging PCs about or requiring much forward planning.
When multiplayer-based games like Titanfall or Evolve are released without a split-screen feature, the people who bought them would probably be right to ask what happens when people stop playing the game and the servers stop being supported. Once games like these lose their support, all that’s left is an offline mode to play against bots, assuming that’s even provided in the first place (or if there’s anyone left who would even want to play them at all). These games end up with an even shorter lifespan because they depend on servers that can be shut down anytime, rendering the game essentially useless. At least you can still play Halo 2 split-screen on your Xbox (along with the single-player campaign).
Last year, the New York Film Academy published The Decline of Couch Co-Op and used the Co-Optimus database to find out just how many couch co-op games were available on current gen consoles. After a quick update to the numbers for PS4, of the 1,030 games on the PS4 (bear in mind this includes all games released or announced, even shit like Angry Birds Star Wars), only a little under 12 percent of PS4 games have couch co-op as a feature.
Conversely, last generations lead console, the Xbox 360, had 485 of it’s 1173 (41 percent) game library feature couch co-op. Within the space of one generation, there has been a 29 percent drop in the amount co-op games being developed for consoles. This isn’t because players are uninterested in playing games with people on their couch, but because of a shift towards the prioritization of graphical fidelity and high frame-rates, especially among AAA developers.
Halo 5 is one of the most major releases that scrapped split-screen co-op for better performance. This prompted a very negative response from some fans as well as a moronic chang.org petition. The reported reason for Halo 5 dropping split-screen was a focus on 60 frames a second was it wouldn’t be possible in 2-4 person split-screen. This move away from split-screen has done everything from breaking a child’s heart to making slightly larger children very angry. In the end, though, it didn’t hurt reviews of the game with Halo 5 sitting at a comfortable 84 on Metacritic (whatever that means). There is still some relatively good news in the world of couch co-op.
“We would’ve loved to put [split-screen] in, we’ll talk about it for the next game, and we’ll talk about it for the future,” Frank O’Connor of 343 said in an interview with GamesRadar.
While this is about as vague and noncommittal a comment as you can make, it does show at least a little bit of awareness on 343’s part (and was undoubtedly be welcomed by the thunderous sound of the 13,000 supporters of that petition patting themselves on the back). If news of split-screen maybe being considered as a part of Halo 6 doesn’t fill you with hope then there’s always a wealth of couch co-op games coming out on steam, which is enough to indicate there’s at least still a market for hanging about with people in real life. The bad news is if you’re an idiot with a console, like me, that doesn’t help you. I just hope you didn’t buy a second controller.