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Multiplay Only: What is it Good For?

With a large number of multiplayer only action games on the horizon, I thought it only fair to compare the pros and cons of multiplay and good old singleplay in games. First I should let you know, I'm a little biased on the subject. When online only games started cropping up a few years ago, I objected to the idea. I assumed that the only reason not to put in singleplay was the either the developers were too lazy to come up with a good storyline or that they couldn't program enemy AI to save their life. In short: multiplay only was a cop out for those who couldn't cut it making singleplay.

These days I'm starting to warm up to multiplayer, but I still think a strong emphasis should be put on the singleplayer experience. As hard as it might be for you accept, not everyone who has a computer has home access to the net and not everyone has a lag/problem free online game experience. I'll outline some of the big milestone games that led to FPS multiplay as we know it today.

Wolfinstein 3D:
The granddaddy of the FPS. It had pathetic AI enemies for today's standards but that didn't matter. There was no multiplay option so you had to put up with it. There were only four weapons to use and the mazes got repetitive after a month or so.

This was the title that made multiplay FPS popular. Doom offered an average singleplayer game with pretty dire enemy AI but now gamers found there was an alternative with a multiplayer feature. Battling smart, real human foes was more appealing than the same predictable monsters. Still, Doom was balanced. The singleplayer and multiplayer aspects complimented each other and made a mediocre game as a whole. I found Doom's multiplay feature clunky and tacked on. Some times it took an hour to get a game going and still there were unexplained disconnections and miscellaneous problems.

Duke Nukem 3D:
Duke was a refreshing breath in a time when I though 3D action was limited to space stations and ho-hum gameplay. It felt like 3D Realms put a high priority on singleplay with dukematch as a second consideration. This game strengthened my belief in single play with challenging levels and advanced(for it's time) AI. On the other hand, I spent hours playing modem games with my group of friends. Duke's multiplay was fast, furious and challenging. Playing with a 14.4 modem versus a 28.8 opponent, there was no lag at all. We had the added wrinkle of strategy with the advent of setting traps with trip mines and pipe bombs that added a lot of replay value. I can easily say that I have had my favourite multiplay experiences with Duke.

This was the game, in my opinion, that paved the way for multiplay only FPS's. Singleplayer was absolute crap. Naturally, ID had expanded on Doom and now we could play over a network as well as modem-modem and network. As a result of the neglected singleplayer element, Quake's multiplay was immensely popular. I don't think I've ever played Quake straight through. I spent all my time with it in multiplay. Quake's multiplay was a lot better than Doom's, but I was then introduced to a new enemy: Lag. I remember the first time I jumped into the middle of a fight, firing grenades rapidly. It wasn't until three minutes later that I found out that I had died in the attempt. Quake's ability to be modified helped further the popularity of multiplayer. One memorable mod was Team Fortress. TF was a breakthrough. Each player could pick a class' of character with which to compete as. Each class had its own abilities and limitations. TF was so good, it was resurrected as a popular Half-Life mod that I still enjoy today.

Quake 2:
What can I say about Q2? At least they tried. The singleplayer element in this title was kind of good. The AI was pretty bad but there was some challenge to it all. ID refined the multiplayer, reduced lag and made a deathmatch a little easier to set up. There were even more user-made modifications than there were for Q1 and again they were mostly variations on multiplay. Today I still enjoy a quick game of CTF and some free-for-all deathmatch now and then.

That pretty much brings us up to today. With the exceptions of Half-Life and Unreal, most latter titles have continued the FPS's track record of bad singleplay. The complexity of Half-Life's AI(most notably the Black-Ops) and the sheer speed and agility of Unreal's monsters and bots put these two games at the top of my "Best Singleplay" list along with Duke 3D and Rise of the Triad.

When I heard Quake 3 was going to be multiplay only, I can't say I was surprised. I figured they finally just quit trying to compete in an area they did badly in and simply made a game that ignored it. I had the chance to try Q3 Test at a friends place recently and I wasn't impressed. Given that it's just an early version, I can't really say much about it. I found it much faster than previous experiences but at the same time I had to put up with unthinkable lag.

The one multiplay only FPS I'm actually looking forward to is Team Fortress 2. Like I've stated, I enjoy Team Fortress Classic and would recommend it to anyone. TF2 promises to remake the multiplay experience as we know it. Imagine parachuting into enemy territory while being fired at by sentry guns or defending your president from stealthy, hidden assassins. There will be everything from voice communication that's lip-synched with your in-game character to all kinds of heavy artillery at your disposal. This game is an example of multiplay only done right.

There are just some things you just can't do in multiplay. A good storyline is one example. It's been tried in the past but it never works out. Another negative about multiplay is that some players just can act like total assholes. Respawn killing, camping, spamming, abusive behaviour, player hating. All these can ruin a normally good game. I found it to be a pain, especially in team based game play, is that few people want to work as a team. A good example would be CTF. Usually there is one person that acts as a leader(usually the one with the best score). It's just common sense to have one person act as a commander to organise the team to better accomplish the goals at hand. The problem is when no one wants to do what their told. It's when everyone is running around like crazy, there's no active defence and carriers get no back up protection that I start to wonder if multiplay is a good idea.

Despite that fact the multiplay is all the rage, 3D Realms is bucking the trend and making a point to give players a exceptional singleplayer experience in Duke Nukem Forever. On the other side of the coin, they are going to give multiplay the attention it deserves. I have it hand it to 3DR, they've got the guts to try and make a singleplay and multiplay game that can compete in a market where good singleplay is hard to find and rarely appreciated. I hope that they manage to strike a balance and create a game that fulfils everyone's expectations.

What do you think about multiplay only? Is it da bomb or total BS? E-mail to the address below. Replies will be posted in a future article when we get enough good responses, so send in those mails!

- Article by: Maveric
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