Jay Button: Mourning a missed co-opportunity

May 10, 2012

If you’re actually nerdy enough to come to this website, and even then actually read this column, you probably saw The Avengers in theaters this weekend. Heck, everyone did. I certainly did. And not just that, but I went to the midnight premiere. At a theater an hour away. And I got there at 11 a.m. and subsequently sat through every one of the Marvel Studios films leading up to The Avengers. What does this have to do with video games? Almost nothing.

But I wish it did.

The Avengers are a perfect example of a well-rounded team that could take on any adversary or obstacle. After all the set up and build, crap goes buckwild for nearly the whole last third of the film. Confronted with an alien invasion thanks to the trickster god Loki, these six people must pool their talents and conquer evil. The members of the Avengers each have wildly-different levels of power, but their completely distinct skillsets make each one of them as indispensable as the last. Black Widow wouldn’t last two seconds in a fight with Thor, but he couldn’t do half of what she can. This is perfectly illustrated during the final battle of the film. (To avoid spoilers, skip the next paragraph.)

After a portal opens in the sky allowing the Chitauri to take the express route and rain terror down directly upon New York, Earth’s mightiest heroes have to fight off an entire army with only the team they’ve assembled. As the leader, Captain America quickly gives each member a duty. Being less powerful in terms of brute strength, he and Black Widow stay on the ground while Thor and Iron Man take to the skies to wipe out as many enemies as possible. Hawkeye gets a better vantage point and uses his archery skills to hold off some waves and be everyone’s eyes for what’s coming. And Hulk gets to smash.

This scene was so well-orchestrated and really showed why these wildly different characters can come together to form one cohesive unit and work 100% effectively. Why don’t we have things like this in video games?

There have been some great co-op games of course like the Halo series and the Ultimate Alliance games (which actually let you play as the Avengers), but they don’t have what I’m asking for. I’d like to see a co-op game where everyone plays a completely different character with a totally different skillset and playstyle. Generally in co-op campaigns, Players 1 and 2 control exactly the same and serve the same purpose. In online modes you may have different goals, but there’s the same issue. Like in Uncharted’s gold rush mode, one player must carry the gold idol across the map and deposit it into a chest while the others cover them. But you’re still all playing as Drake, or girl Drake or old Drake.

Other online games like World of Warcraft or DotA give each player different skills and attacks, but you’re still controlling the same way and have the exact same goal. Each teammate is completely interchangeable with another. Have there been any games where losing just one teammate can make or break a match? And I don’t mean just losing the guy with the biggest gun. I also am not looking for a game where the character classes are just separated by guys with guns and guys who are medics but also have guns. Team Fortress 2 is a good start, but what’s the next step? Trine is also a good example, but it’s also a bit limited. All three characters are unique, but still playing on the same screen for a relatively small goal compared to the destruction of mankind. The Avengers could have been that game.

What game do you think offers a unique co-op experience and makes every player feel useful in a way no other player can be? Or what game can I just pretend is about The Avengers? Let us know in the comments. Or just tell us about your favorite co-op games.