Can Co-Op Horror Really Work?

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Why do they keep trying to make these horror games focused on co-op? When Dead Space 3 revealed its co-op back at E3 it felt as if they were intentionally following Resident Evil. I don’t understand the rationale behind it and I’m still trying to figure out if a scary co-op game is even really possible.

Just having another human player there affects the immersion and tension that’s central to how a horror game works — that’s obvious. This trend probably has something to do with how the survival horror genre has moved so far away from its roots.

That sense of isolation that bred fear was a core component of old survival horror games like Silent Hill and classic Resident Evil. By the time they started throwing co-op in, Resident Evil had already become an action game franchise, and that point is where Dead Space got started. I guess they’re doing it for the same reason Gears of War is co-op, which itself is basically the same reason Contra is co-op — to make a fun co-op shooter more than a horror game.

What baffles me further though is how Dead Space 3 doesn’t allow split screen. It’s a game that advertises co-op front-and-center but only allows you to do it online (or presumably through system link, I don’t know). The excuse Visceral Games gave was that it “broke the immersion.”

Personally I think having another human player over voice chat is more immersion-breaking, but that’s just my own experience. The closest thing I’ve ever had to a co-op survival horror experience is having people watch me play Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I can tell you that when other people are freaking out behind you, it actually can make a game scarier.

But let’s look at probably the only really successful co-op horror experience: Left 4 Dead. L4D is completely built around co-op and yet still manages to be an intense experience. I think the reason is because L4D was built with something completely different as its base compared to RE and Dead Space.

Dead Space along with the modern RE games are descended from the classic survival horror game, L4D on the other hand has more in common with Counter-Strike. The former two games are survival horror masquerading as a shooter, whereas L4D is a straight-up co-op shooter with horror elements.

The more straightforward reason for Dead Space 3 doing co-op is to have some kind of replayable (read: multiplayer) mode to discourage people from trading the game in at GameStop. That’s why they tried straight-up multiplayer in Dead Space 2 and is what the microtransactions in the new game are for.

I think the problem is that EA and Capcom are trying to apply these new online monetization schemes to a genre that wasn’t built for them. Before all this online stuff came into play, buying and playing a single player game was basically like buying and enjoying a book. Survival horror is very much of that mindset. The most applicable horror games to today’s business styles in the game industry are probably games less tied to that old formula like L4D and DayZ.

BULLETS:

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2 thoughts on “Can Co-Op Horror Really Work?

  1. kinxduo says:

    Reblogged this on My Little Space In this Big Universe and commented:
    I dont think so that is gonna be intresting

  2. kinxduo says:

    well dead space 3 will look awesome without co-op i guess

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