E3 2014: Microsoft and the Power of Co-Op

Microsoft really wants you to make some friends.

That’s one big takeaway from their E3 2014 press conference. Along with the announcements of the Master Chief collection, an impressive sizzle reel of indie games, and the reveal of a Tomb Raider sequel, cooperative online play was a massive theme running through many of the company’s biggest announcements.

Evolve was one of the first of the conference to show this, revealing an all-new monster controlled by a player and used to antagonize the four player-controlled characters hunting it. Relying on the strengths of their respective classes, players are meant to work together to effectively bring the massive creature down.

Rumours of it being a cooperative game were put to rest when it was revealed that Assassin’s Creed Unity would allow up to four players to work together on different missions with “randomized events, alternate paths, and various tactical options.” Set in France during the French revolution, Assassin’s Creed Unity also allows players to explore the streets of Paris together “from its steeples to its sewers.”

Fable is making its grand return to the Xbox with Fable Legends, a cooperative game where players work together as four different heroes to take down a villain. Much like Evolve, that villain is controlled by a player, whose ability to set traps and give orders to creatures allows them to be a devious antagonist.

Project Spark is adopting the “Play, create, share” model from games like LittleBigPlanet and ModNation Racers by allowing players to create their own games and share them with others online. While it’s not cooperative in the same sense as Evolve or Fable Legends, Project Spark’s very premise is heavily based on the idea that people on Xbox One will want to create their own works and share them to be played with others.

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Finally, The Division returned after wowing at the Ubisoft E3 2013 press conference with another demo not unlike the original. Aside from a basic pandemic premise and heavy emphasis on multiplayer, there’s still a lot we don’t know about The Division. What was seen of the game at Microsoft’s press conference, however, confirmed that teamwork and cooperative play is a major part of its core mechanics.

So, what’s to be made of all this? It’s certainly a risky move to base an entire game around the concept of forcing players to work with others to achieve an objective. Even more so when it’s considered that many of the previous games that have called for cooperative play allowed people an option to play solo if wanted.

However, cooperative play and arming players with the ability to be a bad guy does create an interesting dynamic. It allows for emergent gameplay stories and mechanics, giving people the chance to create their own unique encounters that can later be retold like old war stories between soldiers. And let’s not forget the fact that the stakes are significantly higher when it’s more than a mere computer controlling an enemy. Knowing that someone somewhere is responsible for your death by dropping a horde of Hobbes on you is definite motivation to get your revenge fires fueled.

The ability to share creations in games such as Spark sets up for some interesting interactions as well. We’ve seen how popular it was in LittleBigPlanet; could it take off in the same way here? No matter which way one looks at it, it’s an innovative way to approach multiplayer; a way to capture couch co-op for the digital age. Whether or not it will make good on its premise is yet unknown, but innovation is rarely a bad thing.