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Revisiting The Tacked-On Multiplayer

by Kyle Hilliard on Feb 28, 2014 at 12:30 PM

A continuing trend exists in the world of video game development where online multiplayer has practically become a required bullet-point for every game – even in titles that are clearly designed and balanced around a single-player experience.

People must be playing these modes, though, because developers keep making them. I reexamined some games released over the past few years which seemed to benefit the least from added multiplayer modes. I went in with a goal to find out if anybody is still playing them and to try to get a sense of any communities that have come to embrace these modes.

For all of these games, I played the Xbox 360 versions.

Waiting in the lobby
For my personal gaming sensibilities, BioShock 2 and Dead Space 2 mark the epitome of an unnecessary competitive multiplayer mode. I played through Dead Space 2 multiple times upon release. I earned every achievement, save for its hardest one. I’m a big fan of the Dead Space series, and this sequel is my favorite of the trilogy. However, I never touched the multiplayer until putting together this feature.

Much like Dead Space 2, BioShock 2’s multiplayer mode seems completely unnecessary and removed from the elements that made the original BioShock so interesting. The mode takes place before the events of the original BioShock, with players taking on the role of splicers testing out weapons and plasmids for plasmid manufacturer Sinclair Solutions during Rapture’s civil war. The multiplayer has its story conceit, but it’s a tenuous one that serves as little more than an excuse to let players shoot each other in a BioShock environment.

Upon booting up Dead Space 2’s multiplayer, I immediately got into a full game with a maxed-out lobby. We didn’t even have to wait for others to join. I was amazed at how quickly I got into the action – and immediately got killed. I was a low-level character, but everyone else in the game seemed to have maxed out their characters. The symbols next to their gamertags had all kinds of additional flair representing high levels, which means unlocked weapons and suits. Expectedly, they were all very good at the game.

Despite my own reticence to touch the multiplayer, it looks like there is still a huge collection of people playing the game online, and I had a similar experience with BioShock 2.

My first attempt to get into a game resulted in an extended wait and no gameplay, but when trying to connect to a game the following morning, I found a match immediately. I entered a full lobby with a level-fifty player, two level-two players, a level twenty-nine, and a level-twenty. I didn’t fare very well against the practiced competition, but I did manage to get in a Big Daddy suit once, which surprisingly reminded me of getting into a titan in Titanfall, as it offered a temporary boost of firepower in a larger, slower suit. After completing the game, I got a message from the level-fifty player asking me if I had any of the extra maps, to which I replied no, but asked why they were curious. They were looking to start a private match, but needed folks who had the DLC.

I had far less luck with the other games I tried. The servers for Condemned 2: Bloodshot and The Darkness were both shut down, but a more recent game, Ninja Gaiden 3, appeared to be alive. Ninja Gaiden has always been a strictly single-player game where players test their abilities against the punishing A.I., as opposed to other players.

After grabbing some updates and redeeming an online code, I jumped in. There was no alert the servers had gone down as there were for Condemned 2 and The Darkness. Every attempt to find a room to play was quickly returned with a message saying no rooms could be found, so I made my own. I entered a sort of training area where you could practice combos while waiting for additional players to show up and for the game to start, and I never left – even after waiting for nearly an hour.

Trying out the multiplayer for Singularity offered an experience somewhere between the surprising crowds still playing BioShock 2 and Dead Space 2, and the wasteland of Ninja Gaiden 3.The cult classic science-fiction first-person shooter doesn’t openly advertise its multiplayer as a bullet on the back of the box. You’ll find on the small list of features in the corner with an orange box that says “online multiplayer 2-12” but the big important bullets next to the screenshots only highlight the game’s single-player story.

The multiplayer servers for the game are alive, and I was quickly thrown into a lobby with a level-40 and a level-20 player . People came and went as we waited for the lobby to reach six players, but those two never wavered. They waited with me for about 45 minutes

After playing a few rounds of a mode called Extermination, we were thrown back in the lobby after having lost a few players. We were back down to three, and I waited for a long time, but eventually had to call it quits.

Exploring the ghost town
Prey released in 2006, making it the oldest game I played. With that in mind, I was sure it would have dead servers. Despite my assumptions though, I was able to search for a game. I unsurprisingly was not able find an existing match, but I did have the option to make my own. I made a room, and I was allowed to dive into a level by myself, even though the lobby was empty. I began roaming the halls, walking on the ceilings and firing off weapons at nothing in particular, impressed and surprised I was able to even get this far.

I am not exaggerating, and I hope this doesn’t come off as hyperbole, but what happened next was one of the most surreal things I have experienced in a video game. I was walking around aimlessly shooting at nothing for about 10 minutes. I saw something moving, but it wasn’t ammunition or a floating rotating weapon. Looking through a portal, I could swear it had the shape of a person. Prey’s multiplayer maps have portals for navigation, and much like Valve’s portals from Portal, you can look through them to see your destination. I assumed I was simply seeing myself through a portal, but I quickly realized whatever it was, it wasn’t me. It was definitely a person and when I got closer, I opened fire, and the person was quickly killed. I made another assumption, as it was very easy to defeat the person, that it was a bot. I looked at my friends list and discovered it was in fact a real person with a gamertag and achievements for games like Battlefield 4. I frantically ran through the level searching for the person. We had one more skirmish, but after that, I never found him again.

It’s hard to get across how strange the whole experience was. Prey is only two years shy of being a decade old. I was exploring a ghost town for 10 minutes with zero expectation of seeing another person when someone quietly appeared. It was like finding another human in a wasteland after being alone for a long period of time, and expecting to stay alone forever.

Despite the mechanics and themes of these games not lending themselves to multiplayer modes, clearly there are players who enjoy them. I was amazed at how many people continue to play both BioShock 2 and Dead Space 2, and was hugely surprised to find anyone dabbling in Prey’s multiplayer. Are there any games whose tacked-on multiplayer modes have drawn you in, despite your original assumptions about their potential?