Death of the Split-Screen Game

By  |  Friday, October 17, 2008 at 7:08 pm

Last month, I read a preview of Saints Row 2 that framed the game as perhaps “The Perfect Girlfriend Game.” In stores this week, the game is is a Grand Theft Auto clone–a tale of gangsters and turf wars set in a sandbox world where you can act out myriad criminal fantasies. It’s not the kind of thing that would interest my girlfriend, but Kotaku’s A.J. Glasser argued that the ability to play cooperatively with a partner and wander the city together was a surefire relationship-builder.

This was, apparently, before it became clear that two people can’t play the Saints Row 2 campaign on the same console. It’s online multiplayer, two consoles and televisions linked together, or nothing.

Until now, the death of split-screen gaming in general didn’t bother me. Dragging a less-experienced player into shooters such as Timesplitters or Gears of War for a duel was never too much fun because of the difference in skill, and while quite a few games have turned their story modes into cooperative affairs, they’re better off played alone unless both players’ hearts are in it fully, willing to play to the end.

Though I haven’t played Saints Row 2 yet–and I’m still debating whether I will–the lack of split-screen multiplayer seems like a missed opportunity. Unlike a typical shooter, sandbox games encourage free play, and anyone who’s tried Grand Theft Auto knows that messing around is half the fun. Now, imagine what that would be like with two people, sitting together, chuckling at their virtual exploits.

I’m not ignorant to the process of game development, and I realize implementing split-screen multiplayer in Saints Row 2 would be difficult, if not impossible. You’re basically asking the console to process twice as much information. But it’s important for developers to realize that split-screen is still a desirable feature. Just as Xbox Live brings together gamers with the same skill and passion for the hobby, local multiplayer can bring together all kinds of people.

Yesterday evening, MTV Multiplayer posted an interview with Michael Booth, the lead designer of the upcoming Left 4 Dead. The game is nothing like Grand Theft Auto, but it requires cooperation between four players to escape a zombie apocalypse, and it sounds like it would be great fun with friends. It was comforting to hear Booth say his team worked through the technical issues because they felt split-screen was such a crucial feature.

“We knew it was going to be a huge technical effort to make happen,” Booth told reporter Patrick Klepek. “It took…[pause]…a while to get everyone on board … but at the end of the day, we decided to bite it off and I’m very happy that we did it.”

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    […] online or at home, into the campaign mode, picking up from where you left off on your own. We’ve previously lamented the death of split-screen multiplayer, but Gears of War 2 remains a shining example of how it can […]