I am now and have been, for most of the years of my life, a fiercely single-player focused gamer. I’m not devoid of a competitive nature, but I know that I frustrate easily when placed in the wrong situation, and am far better suited to team sports where praise and blame can be shared around, as opposed to tennis â or even cricket, for that matter â where failure can only be my own bloody fault. The same applies to videogames â I don’t deal well with one-on-one fighters after losing a few rounds, and when playing NBA Jam with my brother back in the 90’s, we had to play on the same team to prevent the destruction of the house.
It has, therefore, been somewhat painful for me to have to bear witness to the rise of competitive multiplayer in the console scene. There was a time, not too long ago, when the campaign part of your action game really mattered. A time when it wasn’t just a series of training missions for an online mode. A time when it was the meat-and-potatoes of a product that would define the water-cooler discussions the following day (although, it has to be wondered, how many offices actually have those things). A time when online play wasn’t shoehorned into Bioshock 2.
That time has since passed. Perhaps Bioshock Infinite will buck the trend â it certainly looks the true sequel that number 2 never was; fitting the milieu, but not squandering its sense of unknown. Perhaps Ken Levine has that kind of leverage over his publisher. But perhaps not. Even Uncharted 2, arguably in possession of the finest single-player campaign of any game to hit in 2009, has been expanded upon with multiplayer-exclusive DLC. If you buy the game of the year edition, the single-player portion â the main meal â will be exactly as it was a year ago.
Elsewhere, Modern Warfare 2 was off getting eyebrows raised towards its overly frenetic campaign, but still picking up game of the year awards based on its multiplayer alone. A lot of people never even bothered with the campaign. Why would they? They knew what they were buying it for.
I would like to moan. Moaning is something that I actually quite enjoy. But the truth is that I suppose I’m not entirely starved for choice. Presently, Enslaved is taking me on a guided tour through a visually rapturous post-apocalypse, and the journey is a clearly scripted one. I have Fallout: New Vegas lined up next, and Michael Jordan has suckered me towards NBA 2K11 on the assumption that I can at least put my friends on the same team as mine. There’s also Vanquish, which may have to wait until post-Christmas because of the simple virtue of time.
Time that is getting eaten, in embarrassingly large chunks, by StarCraft 2’s online play. It’s infuriating and addicting and full of arseholes, for which I hate it but seem unable to leave it alone for more than a few days at a time. I’ve all but given up on one-on-one games as I want to play for fun in the Bronze league, but keep on getting matched against players who have hundreds of games under their belts compared to my tens, or who simple use game-ruining cheese tactics that are universally frowned upon. Blizzard fans will know what I’m on about: bunker rushes, cannon rushes, and six-pooling. People who do this are no better than diving Italians in my eyes, and are cheaply manipulating the game system. At least I could blame moments like this on the game design in single-player.
And then you finally beat a dodgy Terran player who, when defeated, lifts off a building and flies it to the corner of the map, safe from your army and your too greatly damaged economy. Or you beat a cannon rush, only to have one enemy probe left over in your base, safe from your attacking unit because of the cannons that were used to gain a quick, dishonourable shot at victory. People who are, although essentially defeated, happy and able to stay up all night because of a lack of, for want of a better word, sportsmanship.
Shy of feeling that Terran buildings should have limited fuel and that players who cannon rush should be burnt at the stake, I realise that nothing can really be done overall. The simple fact is that too many people are d**ks, and as soon as a cheat-like method of play opens up, they will exploit it. These are online games we’re talking about here, not professional sports â there is no referee. Sadly, there’s not a great enough community of people who are willing to play for fun and experimentation, either. There’s a viscous cycle at play â even pros can be felled by the cheese tactics mentioned above, so how are more casual players to respond? They can’t â either they take to cheese themselves, invest themselves in a way that goes past friendly play, or just give up. There feels a lack of place here for those who just wish to have decent, clean fun without having to invest hundreds of hours.
I guess this is why people place so much value on their friends lists and communities of people that they know. If you go in alone, you’re entering a world full of twats that nobody wants to play with by choice.
But this is a lot of effort. The investment involved is massive, but â gee, I sure wouldn’t mind playing a decent first-person shooter that I can enjoy by myself, although I doubt I’ll be bothering with any of the Christmas line-up. How far away is Bioshock Infinate, again?