by Matthew Thompson
(The Worst is a new feature on The Triple Option where I get to rant about things that are… well… the worst. Enjoy!)
To get to my inaugural choice for The Worst, we must first travel back in time. To before I ever wrote a blog. Before my favorite TV show had aired a single episode. Back when my dream of a Naughty Dog-developed Jak game on the PlayStation 3 seemed not only possible, but probable! Back when I thought that Math degree I was toiling away at would be a lot more useful. That’s right, we are headed back to my college days, way back in the mid-aughts!
It was then some ten plus years ago that my love of video games was once again reaching its zenith. And thus, my college game night was born! Once a week, me and some pals would gather around the big screen for raucous rounds of Mario Kart where a well-aimed green shell would mean elation for one and despair for another. We’d split time in four-player split screen with the robust multiplayer options of Free Radical’s excellent Timesplitters series. We hurled monkeys in hamster balls at targets. We partied with residents of the Mushroom Kingdom. We duked it out as old drunk dudes and curvy kunoichi. And much, much more. Of course, gaming was usually complimented by liberal amounts of ball-busting, a stack of large pizzas and the occasional debate about the relative hotness of celebrities – it was very much a guys’ night and it was a blast.
Soon enough college was over and our little group began to dissipate. If you are around my age, you may be familiar with the experience. One friend moves away. Another gets married. Despite your best efforts, you just begin to see less of each other. Before I knew it, a once lively guys’ game night became just me and my best friend hanging out. Without the need to try to include as many players in any given moment, our game sessions changed as well. Party games were put to the side in favor of more cooperative experiences. Our co-op adventures took on many forms. Portal made us think in a way no other game would. Splinter Cell: Conviction (pictured above) put our stealth skills to the test. Shank just let us stab and shoot a bunch of dudes. But there was no series we spent more time playing co-op together than Halo.
Our tour with Master Chief and company began in 2007. My family had gotten me an Xbox 360 for my birthday. Having never had an original Xbox, I decided to grab a cheap copy of Halo: Combat Evolved to see what all the fuss was about. I had only played the first level on my own before my friend had come over that following weekend. Obviously, I wanted him to try out my new console, so I invited him to jump into Halo with me for some co-op action. I got behind the wheel of a warthog for the first time that night with my buddy in the gunner seat (it’s worth noting that my sober lifestyle didn’t make my Warthog driving any less drunk). Together we shot up Covenant and sent grunts fleeing in that adorable way only grunts can flee. It. Was. Fun.
After our first Halo session, I decided I’d only continue my Halo escapades when my friend could back me up. In the years to come, we would conquer Combat Evolved. Then 2 and 3. Next came ODST and finally Reach. We’d learn the joy of that perfect Energy Sword strike. We’d lose count of the number of times we’d kill each other with grenades – sometimes because of an errant throw, other times because of a perfectly placed plasma. We’d tear around in one of gaming’s best vehicles: the Ghost. We’d join the cast of Firefly in that weird alternate universe where they were space marines. We’d find ourselves running from hordes of The Flood one night and toppling massive Scarabs another.
Eventually we would jump into what was to be a brand-new Halo trilogy. Master Chief was back with new developer 343 Industries at the helm. Unfortunately our time with Halo 4 came to an abrupt end when my aging 360 finally wheezed its last breath sometime in the latter half of 2013. Due to my frustration with the hardware (that was my second 360) and the impending arrival of the PS4 and Xbox One, I decided I was done investing in the Xbox 360. I still hoped to continue our Halo adventures, but it would have to be put on hold.
Fast forward a couple of years and we finally get to the issue at the heart of this blog. That was when I learned the depressing news that Halo 5 was axing split screen co-op in the campaign. I was – and still am – extremely bummed out by this news. With the rise of online gaming, the seventh generation of consoles saw a move away from split screen and local multiplayer. Finding games for couch co-op sessions became harder than it once was. That is why getting into Halo when I did was such a blessing. These games always delivered on that aspect. And now, one of the few reliable sources for local co-op fans was gone. Me and my best friend’s Halo co-op days were likely over.
I know what some of you are thinking: why don’t you guys just play it online together? My friend isn’t a big gamer like me or someone who would find themselves reading this blog, so he doesn’t buy consoles anymore. But more importantly, as much as I appreciate the ability to play online, it will never be quite the same as hanging out in the same room with someone playing. This is how I grew up playing multiplayer and it will always be hard to match regardless of how far online gaming has come.
About a month ago, I decided to rent The Master Chief Collection for the Xbox One. Still bitter over the whole Halo 5 split screen fiasco, I just wanted to finish Halo 4. Partly because I like to finish games and this one had been hanging over me. And partly because I just wanted to be able to move on and try Halo 5 even if it would be by myself. So, my buddy joined me to finish the Halo 4 fight and we knocked off that final chapter we hadn’t gotten to due to the untimely demise of my 360. While I thought I might be happy to have beaten the game, I couldn’t help feeling a little sad. It felt like the end of an era. And it felt bad.
With a gap in new releases to rent this past week, I decided I would give Halo 5’s campaign a quick run-through and it was kind of like rubbing salt in the wound. For one, it just wasn’t the same playing it without my typical Halo partner. But I also learned that the Halo game where they decided to axe split screen co-op was the Halo game that was most intended to be played co-op. I’ll save my full impressions of the Halo 5 campaign for another post, but suffice to say, it didn’t change my mind about the fact that removing a series staple like split screen co-op was a huge mistake by the developers of Halo 5.
There are much sadder stories due to this decision than me and my friend’s. I’ve heard from couples who bonded over co-op in this series missing out due to Halo 5’s omission. I’ve read about fathers and sons who actually just bought Halo 5 expecting to be able to play it split screen together. And in truth, my friend and I’s favorite multiplayer experience will always be Mario Kart. But if our Halo adventures are over, it still stinks. Along with some of the moments I have already recounted, I think I will always remember seeing my friend’s FPS skills grow as we made our way through this series. He wasn’t much for shooting games when we started with Combat Evolved. I don’t think he’d be offended by me saying I carried him through some battles early on. But by the end of Halo 4, he was right there with me, evaporating Prometheans like an old-pro. The Chief would be proud… or at the very least not as embarrassed.
I’m calling this blog series The Worst… so, who is the worst? Well, 343 Industries is kind of the worst for cutting split screen co-op from Halo 5 and taking one of the final bastions for split screeners away from us. The slow death of local co-op is sort of the worst too. As much as I enjoy some online multiplayer, gathering with friends in the same room to game is still an experience I covet. But I think the very worst was just not being able to play Halo 5 through with my usual co-op buddy. Maybe they will bring split screen back for Halo 6. Maybe one day I will be cool enough to have an awesome game room with a multiple console and TV setup. But for now, no split screen co-op in Halo is The Worst.