Why Your Multiplayer Needs Soul

There are those certain types of games out there, the ones that have you discussing for days or weeks on end how you totally stomped your opponents, or some random happenstance that blew your mind. These are the games that get you back together with your friends on a nightly basis to trade blows and throw grenades, striving to be the best, to get the next unlock, or just compete for bragging rights.

Just by imagining these scenarios, you probably conjured up a list of your favorite experiences and the games they were connected to. Whether its the exact right combination of tight mechanics and engaging gameplay, or just the fact that you can destroy your environments in real time with your friends, there are multiplayer experiences out there that stick with us through different consoles and generations. Conversely, there are certain ones that, no matter how much they try to emulate the successful models, just can’t achieve that level of notoriety. This is a sort of nebulous aspect about multiplayer games, a “soul” for lack of a better term. Which games have it, and which games don’t?

When someone talks about success in the multiplayer realm, Call of Duty usually comes up as the focus of how to do it right. Ever since Call of Duty 4, the series’ unique blend of first person gameplay and Role Playing tropes (levels and unlocks) has secured it a spot as the forerunner in multiplayer arenas. While such a combination seems like a no-brainer these days, it is very much a reflection on the gamer’s current obsession with value for their money, or how much game time they can squeeze out of sixty dollars. By artificially lengthening the multiplayer experience, Call of Duty succeeds in dangling a tasty carrot in front of its user base, ensuring that people hooked on the leveling up will eschew newer titles to pursue the next gun or killcard.

That’s not to say that the RPG back-end of Call of Duty is all that keeps people coming back, but it is a large part of the reason. Aside from that, though, Call of Duty is famous for being fast-paced, hectic and somewhat easy to pick up and play. Although more recent iterations are suffering under a short turn around time between games, Call of Duty remains the master of the small, quick, brutal fights. This is where it stakes its claim, and where many other games have fallen trying to best it.

call of duty multiplayer

Staying with the first person shooter theme, the other current “top dog” on the consoles is Halo, despite the fact that it is (with the exception of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2) exclusive to the Xbox. Starting back with Combat Evolved in 2001, there has been a sort of “arms race” between developers, seeing which one of them would be the next to copy Halo’s formula for success. While Call of Duty has certainly taken over the top postition, Halo’s “golden tripod” of guns, grenades and melee, along with its slower, more methodical pace have given it a fan base of its own. Although Halo: Reach has upset the balance somewhat with the addition of gameplay-altering Armor Abilities, Halo has its own sensibilities that keeps people coming back.

While Halo and Call of Duty have their claims to fame, there are a couple of franchises that try to straddle the line between the frenetic action of CoD and the more considered pacing of Halo and come up short. Killzone and the upcoming Crysis 2 are two such examples. While the games are not abysmal, in fact there’s some fun to be had with both, the fact that they try to encapsulate the offerings of two wholly different styles of First Person Shooters means that those games fail to have the hooks that Halo or CoD have. In short, they feel “souless”, because instead of trying to make their own niche, they try to carve one out of pre-exisiting populations that have gravitated towards Halo or Call of Duty for one reason or another. While that sort of hybrid can’t be ruled out, no game so far has been able to take two different schools of FPS gameplay and string them together.

Since First Person Shooters are such a large part of the market share, any game that tries to break into that packed arena needs to try something new and revolutionary, or offer its own brand of special sauce in a completely different arena. If you want to talk about the granddaddy of competitive gaming, StarCraft is a great example. Many games since have tried to fill the gap left in the ten year space between the sequel and the original, but Blizzard is the master or RTS gaming in that respect. How else could they have gotten legions of players to stay loyal to a ten year old game if they weren’t constantly upgrading and iterating upon it? That’s where StarCraft’s stake is, in the balanced, constantly evolving real time strategy flavor that Blizzard has been dishing up.

There are plenty of games that don’t necessarily need to be online for them to be considered a success; indeed, Halo started out as primarily a split-screen/console linking affair. Fighting games are a great example of this sort of strategy. Recent entries from Capcom have tried their hand at fighting over an Internet connection, but for a long time the draw of fighters was sitting beside your friend on a couch, trading blows and trying to build up ridiculous combos. Games like Street Fighter, Fight Night or Super Smash Bros. all have things to offer in this regard, and they don’t even have to be online. These are the kinds of games that still embrace the couch mentality, where you’re face to face with the person you’re fighting.

You can take a look at any genre and see where their lineage comes from. Quake and Counter-Strike are the forerunners of multiplayer for First Person Shooters much as StarCraft is for Real Time Strategy or Street Fighter is for fighting games. Every successful game needs to have a hook, something that sets it apart from the others. Games that try to copy what others have already done are destined to fall between the cracks. Want team-based objective multiplayer? Play Team Fortress. Want to chase someone through the streets while at the same time avoiding your own demise? Try Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. While I did spend a large part of the article focused on First Person Shooters, that’s just where my head is at these days.

What multiplayer games do you guys think have “soul”? What games keep you coming back over and over, and why? Which game aren’t that great because that lack that certain something? Go!

Written by

mitch@gamersushi.com Twitter: @mi7ch Gamertag: Lubeius PSN ID: Lubeius SteamID: Mister_L Origin/EA:Lube182 Currently Playing: PUBG, Rainbow 6: Siege, Assassin's Creed: Origins, Total War: Warhammer 2

7 thoughts on “Why Your Multiplayer Needs Soul”

  1. Many Valve/Source games would definitely classify as having “soul”.

    Counter Strike perhaps not as much in gameplay innovation but definitely in the community aspect, as well as it’s expansive legacy, and the things that have developed because of that.

    Another would be the source-mod Insurgency, even though it’s a little dead these days, the requirement of working together in-game as a team forced players to use the game’s level design and mechanics to their full potential.

  2. Ken Levine from Irrational Games (creators of Bioshock) had a nice quote that I liked in an interview with Gameinformer a couple of months back. He said that if a developer sets out to make multiplayer and doesn’t put the maximum amount of attention and resources to it, it will be a complete waste of development time and money, because people will play it once then return to Halo and COD, which are much more polished. I completely agree with this, and I agree with you Mitch, to survive in the multiplayer environment you have to strive for innovation. Similar formulas almost always result in failure.

  3. I have only briefly played COD, and in that brief time, I didn’t really like it much. I’m sure if I gave it some time I’d love to play it constantly. I guess all my years of playing Counter-Strike has made my transition to other online FPS games difficult! I recently tried to get into playing BFBC2 (on PC), I even got the Vietnam pack, and I do like the game a bit. But I’m finding it very hard to find anybody out there who actually plays in the squad ‘as a squad.’ I mean, no one hardly sticks together in their squads, and no one even attempts to come up with a decent battle strategy other than charge like maniacs at the objective, or do their best to rape the other teams base camp while you lose the battle. They may as well just do away with the squad based format, because it is obviously not working how they intended it to work, and the game suffers badly from it. Well, that’s just how I feel about it…I’m sure others have had a better experience at it.

    Right now, the MP game I can’t stop playing is League of Legends. I don’t see that you guys have posted anything about this game on here. You really need to check it out. Its free on PC. It’s a very fun & addicting game, I just can’t stop playing it!

  4. As far as soul go I would say Killzone DOES have it. 2 certainly had problems, notably with the aiming mechanics, but it felt unique to me and the class based system worked very well aside from a few balancing issues with the Assault class, but people usually banned it from the playlist anyway. If 3’s Beta is anything to go by then it will be able to keep me playing even longer than 2 did (semi-consistently for a year).
    But TRUE soul for a multiplayer FPS lies in Battlefield. Although I’ve only played the Bad Company’s, I hear the others are also excellent. “Battlefield Moments™” are experiences unrivaled by any other multiplayer games. Again, that was very FPS loaded but I have yet to play Ass Bro’s MP.

  5. I’m with kjseath. After playing CS nothing really compares. I got sucked into COD4, but only because my cousin also got it for Christmas, and we played a lot of 1 vs 1 sniper battles, etc. Even with BFBC2, it lasted me a few months, but I always ended up playing CS afterwards and preferring it. I really think mic communication has a big deal to do with it. I know you console guys complain a lot about 13 and 14 year olds spamming their mics with terrible words, but that is almost a nonoccurence in CS, since it’s such an old game. Most of the fellows in our server are between 20 – 50, got some retired vets who play too!

    CS is the perfect blend of fast rounds, and then having to sit out and chat with the others as you watch the remaining players duel it out, in a game everyone is so familiar with is what makes it perfect. Constantly respawning and playing against kids you think may be cheating, but don’t speak, is like playing against bots. If I want that, I’ll play the campaign again.

  6. The real problem is that when anyone wants to make a compelling squad-based FPS, for example, it falls apart because players are so used to running in and just getting themselves killed. It’s frustrating to try to come up with interesting new mechanics, have the community not understand them, and then give up and go play CoD again. As far as a new game earning a new legendary status like Halo and CoD, that’s going to take a long time once CoD…well it’s already a tad boring, even if I do perform well in Black Ops, but it’s that same formula. I want to play more interesting games, games with their own niche and games that innovate and games that define a decade, but that’s not happening any time soon, and what’s worse is that most of the fun games are on PC and I can’t play those games because my internet connection is abhorrent because I live in an apartment. The few games of CSS, TF2, Insurgency, etc. that I played were great even if they were slow and I died a lot because…I don’t know, it was just more relaxed on the PC. It’s like, instead of constantly getting a new, crappy game via Quick Match, people would stay in a lobby, cooperate, and keep the game interesting because, and this is my theory, they chose the lobby from a list. I really think the list changes the mentality, because you’re there for the map and gametype and you’ll stay to enjoy the lobby, which can have an admin to keep the game balanced and focused. PC’s just feel different than consoles, and with a more mature community comes better games. Insurgency would never have worked on the consoles, but it’s a ton of fun on Steam. Ya know, if I could load the bloody thing. (I can’t connect to the master server list; that’s another reason I haven’t been on.)

  7. Great comments here, fellas. While my article did kind of turn into a CoD/Halo love fest, I was writing organically and that’s kind of where it went.

    Counter-Strike seems to be the base for all First Person Shooter players. Although I haven’t played it in months, and I’m actually quite terrible at it, it’s still easy enough to get back into that I keep it on my Steam account just encase I want to play it.

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