Could second-screen gaming lead to a co-op renaissance?

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Maybe it’s because I’ve got some left-wing views, or maybe it’s because I’m crap at videogames, I really like playing cooperative games. That is to say, games where I’m not competing with American teenagers whilst they insult my mother over Xbox Live, but games where the players have to work together to complete something.

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It’s because of this I really like some of the missions in online play on GTA Online, where it’s something like 8 human players working together to, say, steal a plane from some mercenaries and fly it back to the airfield (though, er, I may have crashed the plane on landing it, as my team-mates watched on in horror…).

Similarly, one of my favourite ways to play games is with my girlfriend. We don’t play multiplayer, but like to work our way through single player adventure games (like GTA) together – taking it in turns to complete missions and the like. There’s nothing more romantic than wasting drug dealers together.

But this makes me wonder… why isn’t there more co-op? GTA Online is fairly anomalous – most other online games are limited to the traditional deathmatch and it’s variants. And why is cooperative play only ever online? Can’t more games do local co-op? I’d love to be able to play simultaneously with my girlfriend – but I don’t really want to buy another Xbox, TV and copy of the game.

The next generation is likely to encourage more “second screen” gameplay. This is most obvious for the WiiU – which literally comes with a second screen – but I wonder if the Xbox One and PS4 could also see games take advantage of another player to augment the experience?

Grand Theft Auto 5 was a huge game for a number of reasons – but one innovation that was perhaps slightly overlooked was the iFruit companion app for iPhone and Android. This wasn’t just a GTA-themed minigame. In the app, you could link it up to the game on your Xbox or PS3 at home, and enhance the experience. It was pretty basic, but clever. You can train Chop, Franklin’s dog, which made him behave better in game, and you can build custom cars – selecting different wheels, and accessories and so on. Once the car is built, you can select to “deliver” it to the in-game garage, where the character can pick it up (and they’re notified in game by a text message to their in-game phone). Brilliant.

Maybe for the next generation, we’ll see this taken a bit further? Maybe we’ll see games anticipate a second player with a second screen playing along in real time? Sure – an iPad can’t render graphics quite as nicely as a PS4, but I bet it could make a map or an approximation.

How about on GTA6, could one player perhaps control the character on screen whilst the second player plays as Lester, flying an unmanned drone, getting an overhead view of the action and marking enemies on the map?

Or what about if in Assassin’s Creed 5 the tablet player has the treasure map, or can solve riddles unmasking where templars are hiding? Or if in the next Batman Arkham game, the second player uses the tablet to play as Commissioner Gordon, sending the Gotham City Police Department to pick up all of the groups of thugs that Batman has just knocked out?

This isn’t actually a hugely new idea. If you remember Zelda Wind Waker on the Gamecube (which, incidentally, has just been re-released for WiiU), a little known bonus feature was the ability to link up with the original Game Boy Advance and have the GBA player play as Tingle, an annoying fairy – who would help the person playing Link on the main screen.

Of course – back in the Gamecube days it wasn’t hugely practical. Not only did you need a specialist device (a Game Boy Advance) and an expensive link cable (which was used by approximately one other game throughout the lifetime of both consoles). Now most gamers will have either a phone or a tablet that will facilitate this sort of play.

So could this sort of gaming come to pass? Excitingly, it looks as though I’m not just idly speculating. Whilst the exact details are unclear at the moment, the forthcoming Battlefield 4 appears to take some of these ideas – with an iPad “Commander Mode” app, that enables the player to send in air strikes, EMPs and vehicle drops on to a live game – even if you’re miles away from your console. Let’s hope this encourages other developers to do the same. If I share a gaming experience with my girlfriend, surely that’s much more valuable than all of that motion control nonsense?

James O’Malley