Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Mixing Single and Multiplayer

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 26 Jul 2011 16:00
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What I find very confusing, my lovelies, is that the first F.E.A.R game was developed by Monolith, the same guys who developed Condemned. The same people who, on the one hand, made something genuinely disturbing and perhaps the last truly frightening horror game to come out of current-generation, mainstream gaming, Condemned 2 notwithstanding, and on the other hand made an infuriatingly longer-running horror series that doesn't seem to get horror at all. A franchise based upon perfectly generic shooting occasionally interrupted so the game can shake a big metal tray at you and go WOOOOOOO for a few minutes.

The very instant I saw the F.3.A.R trailer (So what does it stand for now, guys, First Threncounter Assault Recon?) any interest I might have had in playing another bloody F.E.A.R game (an amount of interest that had to be measured on the atomic scale) immediately disappeared from the universe when I saw that it was going to have a co-op focus. A horror game which, for all its faults, at least understood principle one on page one of the horror textbook: A sense of being totally alone against some hostile force that you don't fully understand, was now going to mandate having a friendly hand to hold. Awesome. Why don't you just add a mariachi band soundtrack and give all the characters sombreros?

F.3.A.R comes across as schizophrenic, because it's trying to have a significant story focus - a direct sequel tying together all the other games, remember - but also has a co-op focus. So F.3.A.R is assuming that not only both Player 1 and Player 2 have a working familiarity with the increasingly ridiculous not-as-bad-as-Resident-Evil-but-definitely-up-there overarching storyline of F.E.A.R, but also that both players also have an equal interest in seeing the story come to a close. What's more, the game's ending actually depends on which player character had the strongest performance. So now we're also assuming that the same two players will be seeing through the entire game and that both will be playing the same character, not getting bored halfway through and wanting to see what the other play style is like. This is an awful lot of assumptions you're making here, F.3.A.R (damn is it getting obnoxious to type periods between all the letters). An awful lot of severely optimistic ones, too.

Just to reiterate a point from the video, as is my trademark way on these columns, I don't think a story focus works in a multiplayer setting. Dialogue and setting and context are all very welcome, a la Team Fortress 2, but a linear plot? Surely that's something one indulges in privately. I suppose it might not bother you if you were playing online with some uncommunicative, ultra-efficient Japanese accountant with a high tolerance for your sluggish Western ways, but I make it a policy not to play with anyone I can't comfortably admonish. To that end, I was playing the co-op in the same living room as my colleague, and during all the cutscenes and atmosphere building moments we were chatting about the new Harley Quinn redesign and making fun of the enemy soldiers' poor decision-making skills. You see, a game story operates on one level of reality, and two human players operate on another. Two mates could conceivably share a What The Butler Saw machine by taking one eyehole each, but they'd probably rather go play on the Dodgems.

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