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Multiplayer Wish List, July 2009

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When it comes to playing online, I tend to prefer co-op experiences to competitive ones, though I dabble in deathmatch from time to time.  However, there seem to be some glaring oversights and omissions from playlists in popular online games these days.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles 
This was a staple among our online gaming sessions for a few months, but despite the South Central expansion, nothing terribly new or interesting was brought to the multiplayer table.  New cars?  Meh.  New parts of the city?  Nice, but doesn't change much except the basic geography available.

What I'm after here is something besides straight up racing or variants of capture the flag, which have long since gotten old.  The most obvious one to me would be the addition of police chases.  They're so common in the single player game that ignoring them for the multiplayer experience baffled me.  Co-op players versus AI cops would be a great start, offering point to point sprints, survival, trying to get the heat off a partner's tail, losing the cops in a certain amount of time, or simply adding police pursuers to existing Landmark and Checkpoint races would bring a welcome and exciting new element to worn out modes.

The cat and mouse play style lends itself to player-vs-player as well, with one team playing cops and the other trying to escape.  Police car specs could automatically be dialed up or down depending on what the suspect is driving to avoid being severely outmatched; a Ford Focus trying to catch a Saleen S7 wouldn't be fun at all.  Throw in some specific powerups for both sides and you've got a winner.  Cops could call in roadblocks, tire spikes, additional AI backup for 30 seconds, or an item that slows suspects by 50% for 15 seconds.  There are a lot of possibilities.

That's not to say the game wouldn't benefit from a little DM or TDM, either.  Every car in the game can only take so much damage before it stops for good, and a Last Man Standing sort of mode could offer something new, as well.

One other major thing that needs tweaked is pop-ups for joining races.  If you're on the car selection screen or viewing the map and someone proposes a race, a Join/Ignore box pops up over all of that, leaving you only to join in whatever ride you had before, or to skip the challenge entirely.  There's no way that I've found to still select a new car and then join the challenge.  I understand not wanting people to switch vehicles after they've accepted the challenge as that would lead to a lot of unfair match-ups at the last minute, but railroading you the way it does now is unacceptable.  What's more, you should be able to opt out of challenges from the pop-up Sidekick the same way you do in the single player game by pushing Up on the D-pad.  As it is now, you have to wait for it to expire, and cannot access the map (or gamer options features, like the friggin' mute button for mouthy idiots) for any reason without accepting the challenge.  Fix this.

All in all, I think there's still a lot of untapped potential in this otherwise excellent game, but until I hear of things like these coming down the pike, it's likely to stay on my shelf collecting dust.

Burnout Paradise
I know the Ultimate Box edition of this just hit shelves for the PC, but it's been nickel and diming console players for a while now, with very little new free content, but still requiring huge patches and updates be downloaded to keep playing the basic game online.  I fired it up the other night and was faced with downloading a 430MB v1.9 patch before we could do anything, and to our disappointment, after grabbing and applying said patch, the Criterion servers wouldn't let us connect to them, and playing together online was impossible until sometime the next day.

The hope was that, since we'd ignored the game for months now, there might be some new MP stuff to do.  Not really.  Cops and Robbers mode got added (if you pay extra for it), and there are new cars and a new island, but again, nothing terribly exciting for those on a budget or looking for something fresh.

Many of the suggestions above for MC:LA could apply here, too.  From what I understand, the existing Cops and Robbers mode involves grabbing gold and running it back to a safe house, a la Calling All Cars.  Where's the pursuit?  Where's the survival or Last Man Standing modes?  Has everyone forgotten what made Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 and Most Wanted such a blast to play?

How about Road Rage that you can play cooperatively against AI instead of just two or three people bumping into each other with none of the trademark spectacular crashes, and questionable determination of who exactly took down whom?  Heck, adding some AI to the MP mix to round out teams in other events or fields for a race could only help the experience.  Again, going back to NFS:HP2, we spent most of our time harassing the other AI drivers and cops rather than trying to actually beat one another to the finish line.

Another tweak that would help is the ability for players other than the host to propose challenges, races, and so on, much the way MC:LA does.  If the person hosting only wants to do one type of match over and over, there's no hope for variety.  In MC:LA, anyone can propose a race, and they will be thrown at the other players in the order they were proposed.  Even better is that you're not obligated to participate (though the ability to quickly opt out would be appreciated, as stated earlier).

Burnout Paradise, does support custom soundtracks during online play, something MC:LA still doesn't do, so I commend them for that.  However, adding the option to customize controls any time this decade would be welcome.

Call of Duty: World at War
This game is on its third map pack, but still lacks the proper option to host a game that anyone can join, filter which maps you want to play on, or even view a reasonable server browser.  I get that a bunch of computing voodoo is going on in the background making it so the host can be dynamically swapped on the fly to whomever has the best connection, but frankly, Rainbow Six Vegas 2 has a server browser, the ability to host, choose maps, and much more without any such concerns, and runs just fine the bulk of the time.

I mustered the patience to get all the way to level 65 prior to map pack 1 coming out, and I'm glad I did.  Despite having a separate area in MP for just playing map pack 1 maps, they still rotate into the regular games constantly, causing anyone who didn't pony up the cash for them to be booted from the game.  This not only imposes a divide between the haves and the have-nots, but also interrupts gameplay frequently, even breaking up parties that went in together, since the guy who couldn't or didn't want to drop another $10 for some questionable maps (no try-before-you-buy option) can't hang with the other players.

The solution is simple.  The game has areas specifically for map pack maps, so it should delineate between standard maps that came on the disc and all the other DLC.  Choose your maps, and go play.  If you want to switch map packs, opt to do so.  Kicking players out just because they didn't buy the latest and greatest is a piss poor way of "encouraging" us to give you more money.  Of course, I'd prefer to have the option to just host myself, but I get the feeling that might be going the way of the dodo as well, given how Battlefield Heroes and Battlefield 1943 also adhere to this hosting scheme.

Another thing, and I can't believe I have to say this, but why the hell does World at War have a leveling system if it's not even going to match players based on skill?  I really really hated playing this game online for about the first 20-30 levels or so simply because I was getting unfairly destroyed by high level players who had all the gear and perks unlocked that gave them a significant advantage.  Match up players by skill level and available equipment, causing noobs to fight noobs and leet to fight leet, with the option to cut loose in an unfair fight only if you so choose.  Even better would be adding something to rebalance teams better after each round.  Some of this could be caused by the party system, but seriously, if your team gets trounced by 400 points in a round, it's time for the server to step up and rebalance power.

It would be nice if someday splitscreen games could be played online simultaneously.  World at War and Vegas 2 (below) both support splitscreen play, but you can't go online while doing so.  Being able to incorporate four players on two consoles would be excellent, and don't tell me it's not possible; Tribes Aerial Assault pulled it off with aplomb on the PS2.

Rainbow Six Vegas 2
First, Vegas 1 allowed you to play four-player co-op through the main campaign, while Vegas 2 only allows two players, all because the AI teammates have to be part of the story, unfortunately.  How about the option to play four-player co-op campaign without the story elements?

Second, in V1 when you started an MP game, it took you to a lobby where players could join, chat, customize their loadouts, and then ready-up.  V2 instead throws you right into the mission before you can even send out invites to other players.  This is stupid and poorly thought out.  You have two choices: take cover and try not to get killed while attempting to add friends to your party, or just suicide yourself and lose some XP to get back to the lobby, where the game should have started you to begin with.  I like being able to start an MP mission solo and hope other players join (and typically they always will), but at least make a pit stop at the match lobby on the way to the fracas, please.

As an aside — and I know this is a long shot — going back and remedying all the crap that wasn't optimized for shit on the PC version would be great.  Nothing like getting to a firefight and having the game freeze up for 15 seconds and play like a slideshow while it loads in all the assets it should have cached at the beginning of the level.  This has led to far, far too many unnecessary deaths.  The console versions play just fine, which tells me it was a lazy, sloppy PC port (not that this would be the first).

Far Cry 2
Seriously, how did this game not have at least a two-player co-op mode?  Granted, Clint Hocking basically admitted that Ubisoft made them short-change, or excise completely, many aspects of the game to hit a holiday release window. This resulted in a less than stellar final package, but they've made patches and added more deathmatch maps to the game.  How about throwing us co-op players a bone and letting two to four mercs venture into the wilds together?  Fable 2 was maligned for not importing specifics of a character who joined a multiplayer game, but in a game like Far Cry 2, I don't think that would even matter so much.  You could have weapon stores unique to each player's interface, just use the host's available weapons, or combine them all to build an even bigger arsenal.  Sharing or swapping weapons and being able to jump in and out at will (and take those weapons with you) would bring a great deal of value to an otherwise largely solitary game.

Last but not least (for now anyway), we have Sony's exclusive baby, InFamous.  An excellent single player game in its own right, some co-op missions or competitive "race across the city via rooftops" sorts of modes — like multiplayer satellite uplink races — would lend some more entertainment to the package.

In Conclusion
DLC and modifying the core experience of a game are clearly growing trends, and rather than hedge away from it, I'd love to see developers address some outstanding concerns with their games and consider adding more varied (or even obvious) modes to make swallowing that extra $10-15 for an add-on really feel worthwhile.  I will not pay extra for a new paint job or hub caps.  For radically altered, engaging, memorable, and more entertaining gameplay options, I'll gladly ante up.

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About Mark Buckingham