Co-op games are the best. Hitting the couch with your pals (virtual or real) and working towards a common objective in the pixelated universe is incredibly satisfying. What’s more exciting than taking down an especially hard boss together or finding your buddy in the end zone with a perfect pass of the pigskin? Well, everything is not always bliss in the co-op world as sometimes the genre can be maddening, leading to a tough gaming experience that could even have you and your friends at each other’s throats before the game is done. Here are the three most frustrating co-op games this side of a LAN line.
3) Brute Force, 2003
With the release of the original Xbox, Halo: Combat Evolved re-invigorated couch co-op. The single player campaign was an incredible experience but, much like that second glass of Shiraz, Master Chief was better in twos. Xbox owners, therefore, had much to celebrate with news of a four-player co-op third person squad shooter. Gamers could each take a quadrant of their television screen to play one of four character classes at the same time in Brute Force. The four players, whether sniper, assault, scout or shock trooper each played differently and each had their unique qualities that helped in the individual missions. The shooting was tight and the enemies were dynamic and interesting.
On paper Brute Force was a sure hit. What wouldn’t work with such a formula? Sadly, a co-op essential element was sorely missing. The biggest problem with Brute Force was the difficulty in keeping the team together throughout the level. So often the team would embark on a mission and there was no natural dynamic in the game that would keep the team together. Some player would typically head off haphazardly without thought to whether or not their teammates were keeping up. Games like Left for Dead ensured that there was a natural penalty to this behavior, such as overpowered enemies these lone rangers would encounter that needed a teammate to save your keister. Not so with Brute Force. The opposite problem also plagued the game whereby one player would lag behind and inevitably get lost on the level and could not find the rest of the players. More time was spent trying to get everyone together as opposed to assaulting an enemy base as a cohesive unit.
2) Hunter: The Reckoning, 2002
Hunter: The Reckoning shared a lot of qualities with Brute Force. The top-down isometric view action shooter had multiple characters that complemented each other wonderfully, with each of their own individual attributes contributing to the common good. The beauty of the game was that all four players were necessary to tackle many missions. Boss fights were especially in need of four solids friends using the individual skillset of their character to its apex in order to advance throughout the supernatural shooter.
Unlike Brute Force, losing a team member in the level was never an option as all four characters had to be on the screen at all times. What was the impact of this dynamic that made such frustrating co-op? The screen could not scroll unless all players were moving in a cohesive group. Inevitably, one player would lag resulting in the screen not advancing and several players becoming stuck along a wall and pinned by enemies. Without all four players moving in unison the game’s intended “ballet” of violence turns into three Barishnikov’s and one Vanilla Ice trying the execute the same game plan. What made Hunter: The Reckoning so frustrating is that typically when one player lags the other three were the ones that typically suffered. Only if the perpetrator was the one who paid the price would the gaming gods be satisfied and would Hunter: The Reckoning not make this list of the most frustrating co-op games.
1) Gauntlet, 1985
Gauntlet has to hold the title for the most frustrating co-op title ever. In fact, it likely resulted in more fist fights between my brother and me than anything else growing up. Gauntlet is a superb top-down two player co-op dungeon crawler where a team a two needs to navigate a maze, grab keys to open doors in search of the portal that ends each level, all the while battling insane numbers of skeleton and goblin hordes that populate by the second.
The issue with Gauntlet’s co-op is the potentially unfair distribution of health throughout the levels. Health, in the form of turkey legs and other good eats, appears through the level and can be grabbed by either co-op player. If one player has full health and grabs the food ahead of his partner who is very low in health then the health upgrade is completely wasted. In essence, the co-op dynamic become making sure you have enough lost health to justify taking the next boost ahead of your partner even if they need it more. So what could make this a more frustrating co-op game? Every character has a ranged attack to shoot enemies. Simple enough but a trigger happy player can accidentally shoot the food health upgrades so that neither player gets them. This can cause some rifts when one player is desperate for a little nourishment while the other is willfully shooting food into oblivion. It doesn’t take too many levels for these two dynamics to begin to pit the two co-op players against each other where they start to shoot health boosts before the other can reach them simply out of spite for a previous transgression.
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