There was a period of time in my life where I didn’t really game much. It was clearly a sad time. I did have a Playstation 2, though, and I played a lot of Dynasty Warriors as a stress reliever. It was lovely, but the fights were very repetitive as I had played all the maps several times and there were little surprises. Knowing of my love of video games, one of my friends decided that I had to play Halo, given that I hadn’t. He absolutely would not take no for an answer and continued to push.
See, part of his diabolical plan was for me to play later games that had better story and gameplay, thus, it was necessary for me to have played the first. So he handed me the box containing the first game and a wireless mouse and had me go to town. There was a slight delay before I played it, but once I did, I have to admit that it was a lot of fun.
I had only played a few first-person shooters at that point in my gaming, namely Castle Wolfenstein (the original), Doom, and Call of Duty, but only on multiplayer (where I owned Stalingrad). I had tried to play Duke Nukem but it really did nothing for me. Maybe it was the strippers? On the whole, I felt like they were okay games, but nothing to get excited over despite them becoming all the rage. To that point, for me, they were great excuses to shoot things but that was about it. However, I have to admit that Halo surprised me by having a really compelling storyline and an interesting relationship between Master Chief and Cortana. I was hooked.
So, my friend WinterWolf (who had an Xbox) suggested that I come over to his place and we play through Halo 2. That sounded like a plan—and that’s exactly what we did. Because schedules were problematic, we had to figure out when would work for us. This led to us talking on the phone trying to figure when the best time to play was. We worked it out however it was tricky a time or two. My wife, in a bit of snark, said we were scheduling play dates with each other.
While cute and a little goofy, she was absolutely right. They were play dates—and that’s not a bad thing. I would go over to his place and we would spend several hours running amuck and fighting our way through the Covenant and Flood with reckless abandon. It took me a while to figure out the game controls, because the system was very different from the PS2, but I had WinterWolf there to talk me through the controllers and the game. Once I managed to get a handle on that, things really took off.
We played all the way through Halo 4, having an absolutely wonderful time in the process. He had completed all of these solo already, so he was familiar with the maps, which was a bit of an advantage while we were playing. He also was very good with the controls, doing a great deal of damage, which also good since I was still learning. My combat style can best be summed up by his observation: I needed the shotgun all the time. I basically ran up and gunned down whatever was in front of me. Even he thought that was excessive and over-the-top most of the time. What can I say, it was a blast.
What kept me wanting to play these games over at his house were several things. One was that the Halo games did have a coherent storyline that got more complex as the game went along, which drew me in. That was important to me, because I am not overly fond of games where I simply run amuck destroying things. It’s the biggest reason I did not like Grand Theft Auto. I need to know the why of it all, and so story is vital. Another reason was because gameplay was fast and engaging, even managing to get my adrenalin pumping a few times. There were not too many cut scenes and the ones that were there were very fitting and helped to powerfully drive the story. I also started to get instinctive in combat, which told me that the controller design was quite good and I had picked it up.
The other thing—and honestly, the most important—was playing with my friend. Sitting there, talking smack to each other, warning each other of dangers, and basically running through things as fast as we could manage due to our limited time to play was more fun than anything had a right to be. It was not the kind of game that I had expected to have a multiplayer option in the main storyline, and I have to admit it was brilliant. I am aware there are a number of multiplayer options available now thanks to the net helping to link people together, but how often can you run through the main storyline of a game with another person? Practically never.
Cooperative gaming was wonderful. There is a very different dynamic to it, and it does change the way you play. Having a group of people playing together creates a sort of gestalt between the players that can magnify the experience. It was one of the reasons I loved games like Gauntlet in the arcades. You and others were all needed to work together in order to complete the game. The players had to support each other, each fitting into their role for the best effect. It felt a lot like that—except I know that FPS games are primarily designed to run solo. That there was that option available made me love the Halo series even more.
Granted, there are games designed for multiplayers, such as Mario Cart and many other racing or sport games. That is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t quite do what I was talking about. In those, you are competing against each other and thus, it is not true cooperative gaming. After all, in those play dates where WinterWolf and I fought our way through the hordes, I wished there were more combat games designed to have such a cooperative option available.
Now, whatever play dates we have occur online when we set up a time to meet on a particular server of a particular game system and run rampant. We have done this primarily in Mass Effect 3 and Lord of the Rings Online. Honestly, it just doesn’t feel the same as sitting next to each other while we fight the great fight, cheering and jeering at each other as we worked to survive the next level of gameplay as a team. We fought together and it brought us closer together as friends. Those play dates have ended up as some of my fondest gaming memories ever, and I wish you all have a chance to experience that too.