First person shooters often have cooperative components to their campaign modes. Mostly, this just allows gamers to play through the game with their buddy. It’s essentially just a single player game, but with more bullets and the ability to revive one another. The game, for the most part, remains decidedly unchanged. I believe this is a missed opportunity.
Other genres of games get more creative when they feature co-op modes. Portal, while possessing the user interface of a shooter, is a puzzle game. It’s also at its best when played with a friend. Its physics-based puzzles require communication between the players as they figure out how to time their shots and jumps, as well as discern exactly where to place objects in the environment in order to progress. Completing the game without one another is impossible, and the fact that players take on roles in each puzzle makes for a more rewarding experience.
Even the competitive multiplayer modes in shooters offer a more fulfilling experience where players can carve out niches for themselves and, ultimately, feel more important than the campaign of your average shooter. Roles like medic serve a function. Snipers play a very specific way, and change the feel of gameplay for both teams. Players can opt into vehicular based combat in some games. Team Fortress really lets players go a little bit crazy, and offers a wealth of options. To date, I can think of few campaigns that let you do this, which is unfortunate, because many gamers still play games for those modes.
F.E.A.R 3 wasn’t a game that was considered an overwhelmingly positive critical or commercial success. It did, however, manage to serve up a cooperative campaign that wasn’t just fun, but unique. Honestly, it was worth playing through at least twice, just to see how the game felt from the other character’s perspective.
Truthfully, F.E.A.R 3 isn’t great. It is, perhaps, average at best with a horror story that feels like a step back for the franchise and mostly standard shooting mechanics. But the divergent co-op, which somehow makes the game even less scary, does make it interesting. Players take control of two brothers, once enemies, as they attempt to stop their paranormal mother from giving birth to some kind of apocalyptic creature. One player takes control of Point Man, who is a typical gun toting badass. He is gifted with the ability to alter time, though, as a result of experimentation. This mechanic is exclusive to player one. The second player takes control of Paxton, who possesses such psychic strength that he has managed to cheat death, delivered to him at the hands of his brother, Point Man. Playing as Paxton allows the player to shoot psychic blasts and possess enemy soldiers, moving them about to do his bidding. As a result, two cooperating players are better suited for different tasks, and become more important to one another.
Borderlands also breaks from the traditional formula, though it never feels quite as varied as F.E.A.R 3 does. It’s also more of an RPG than a shooter, so it may not even be fair to use it as an example. But its use of skill trees and, more importantly, the character’s special moves allows for some coordination between co-op partners.
Still, I would like to see more games that bill themselves as first person shooters work a little harder to make the cooperative experience feel more than an afterthought. If you have a game that may only be 5-8 hours long for its campaign, and you’re going to be throwing co-op into it anyway, find a way to make it interesting. Give players a purpose beyond that of just being another gun adding bullets to the fray.