Opinion: Is Split-Screen Dead?

by on June 26, 2014

Call me old-fashioned, but when I want to indulge in some multiplayer gaming with friends and family, I want to be sitting with them in the same room. Whether it be strategising tactics and methods of attack in a co-operative title, or sharing banter and trash-talk after a competitive match, split-screen and single-system multiplayer is a completely different beast to online play. I’m sure we all have great memories of split-screen gaming in days gone by, such as Goldeneye duels on the Nintendo 64, Super Bomberman on the SNES, or teaming up to take down the alien menace in Contra on the NES – but would these titles have been as much fun in multiplayer if you were competing against a faceless opponent halfway around the world?

Every year when E3 rolls around, I inevitably keep my eyes peeled for the newest batch of split-screen games or local multiplayer titles, as this is by far my multiplayer method of choice. Of course, there are games that will eternally contain local multiplayer – sports games and beat-em-ups being the main proponents. But with each passing year what you do notice is that less and less of the “big” new titles adopt split-screen gameplay. And this year was no different – in fact, some might say it was even worse than usual.

I already had a bad taste in my mouth coming in to E3. Left4Dead and its sequel may well have been out for years already, but they remain some of the most regularly-played titles in my games collection. They’re all about co-op and working together, and thankfully they actually support the freedom to not only play online, but to play split-screen, and even to combine split-screen play with online. This flexibility has made Left4Dead a favourite game in my household – allowing family members to join up on one sofa and meet a friend online to further bolster our efforts. Gears of War 3 offered similar options, and as such has also seen a lot of mileage.

So I was understandably annoyed when – months before E3 – the latest co-operative shooter from the developers of the first Left4Dead title was announced. Why would I be annoyed? Evolve takes the same team-based gameplay from Left4Dead and puts it in a new setting where gamers combine their skills to take down an ever-changing monster enemy. This all would have been music to my ears, were it not for the fact that the development team announced almost straightaway that split-screen wouldn’t be an option – I was devastated. Sure, thousands of players will still enjoy the title online, but I find that co-op games work best when you know your teammates, and you actually talk closely to one another – something that I find doesn’t happen to the same extent when using headsets.

So as E3 approached, I told myself not to get depressed about Evolve – there would be other games. The new Tom Clancy might have spit-screen – the Rainbow Six Vegas series always did, so why not? Left4Dead 3 has been rumoured for months – maybe that would show up at E3? And, of course, Destiny… Bungie included split-screen in every Halo title, surely at least they could be relied upon to fulfil my couch co-op needs.

But how did things really pan out? Left4Dead 3 remained conspicuous by its absence – but knowing what Valve are like concerning new game announcements, that was hardly a big shocker. Rainbow Six: Siege only showed off one of its online multiplayer modes, and little was revealed about its campaign or other multiplayer modes at all (although, at least nothing has been ruled out yet). So we come to Bungie, one of the last bastions of the split-screen cause, good old Bungie. They would save E3 for me, surely.

What did you say? There will be no split-screen in Destiny even though Bungie “love split-screen” and are aware that their fans love split-screen? Well, they obviously don’t love it all that much, or they would have included a split-screen mode in Destiny. Representatives from the developer have clarified that additional modes and features “might” be added after its retail release if demand is high enough, but the game certainly won’t ship with couch co-op modes.

This comes as a huge disappointment for split-screen gamers, and not surprisingly the official Bungie forums have been inundated by polls and topics demanding that the team re-instate split-screen modes, or add the option in as DLC at a later point. I know from a personal point of view that this is a decision that will definitely influence my purchase of the game. I have never been a big fan of the Halo series, yet played the games because they allowed my wife and I to team up beside one another and tackle the game. Not being a particular fan of the previous work of Bungie, therefore, my main interest in Destiny came from its split-screen possibilities.

Of course, online gaming is a good thing, and it has allowed millions of players the chance to join online communities and feel a part of something bigger; those who may not have had anyone to play games with in the past. But this movement towards online-only co-operative games does feel like it’s to the detriment of fun, of being able to grab a friend and pick up and play games together. In this digital world, of course it is easy to liaise with friends and arrange to join parties and meet online, but more often I actually want to see my friends and family, and enjoy the laughs and suffer the frustrations of a good co-op or local competitive game, side by side.

Oh, well. At least I can still dream about Left4Dead 3.