Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crack horde

Above: Not Horde mode, but OMG look at that

Since yesterday's post was about an area in which Gears of War 2 came up short, in the interest of balance I may as well mention an area in which it, er, comes up long. (Parallelism!) I'm talking, of course, about Horde.

Horde is really, truly fantastic, worth the price of admission, a non-stop roller-coaster ride of chills, thrills and spills, and so on. I've talked often about my general distaste for online multiplayer gaming, which has its roots in a few distinct places. Specifically:
  • I am shy
  • People are jerks
  • I suck at video games
  • Generally, I'd prefer a storyline to pure competition
  • Seriously, have you heard these d-bags on Xbox Live
Horde helps to do away with the Xbox Live troglodyte problem simply because it's fully cooperative. There's not an incentive to talk trash to your own teammates, and even my worst nightmare of a Gears player isn't so dumb as to hurl invective at the computer-controlled Locust. Even in public games, most of the chatter I've heard has been focused on the game, whether helpful ("Locust hiding under the bridge") or beseeching ("I'm bleeding out!"). It's a nice change from the usual pumped-up deathmatch banter.

More to the point, when I play Horde I feel like this is the game I remember. I haven't even made it to wave 10 out of 50 yet. The enemy advantage in both numbers and firepower becomes ludicrous by about the third wave, which is exactly how it ought to be. Flanking maneuvers with the help of your teammates become more important and useful than they ever are in the single-player game. Peeking out of cover for even a second too long can be fatal. There are numerous opportunities to feel like a hero for reviving your downed teammates, and your teammates in turn are much more willing to help you out than AI Dom ever seemed to be.

The fact that Horde doesn't follow a narrative arc isn't important, either, because with the benefit of two campaigns to serve as a backdrop, it's easy to picture it as a massive single battle in the context of the larger war. And it solves the problem I thought I had with the campaign: In Horde, the player is entirely on the defensive. There's no storming forward, no "lightmass bomb" to detonate. It's just head-in-the-dirt shooting, and the fear that comes with it. When I first heard about Horde, it almost sounded dumb to me. Instead, it's Gears of War stripped to its most elemental. It's genius.

(Now if we could just do something about that matchmaking system...)


Garrett Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garrett Martin said...

Have you played Left 4 Dead? It does an even better job of pretty much forcing cooperation than Horde mode.

Mitch Krpata said...

It's on the docket. Hopefully I will get to it soon.

Etelmik said...

I was going to say the same thing as Garrett.

Funny that the recent Call of Duty also has a zombie mode. New sub-genre? Co-op awesomeness? Took them long enough.

Anonymous said...

First of all, as I've said before, I love reading this blog because it feels like you have the same love/hate relationship that I do with a lot of the tropes and perceived prerequisites of 'modern game design'.

I agree with everything listed in your reasons for not playing online frequently, as I'm usually the guy that pretends not to have a headset so I don't have to respond to pejoratives from strange people I've never met. Frequently, when a new game is released, I got caught up in the hype, and run out to purchase it, only to find out that it's yet another installment in the testoserone-fueled world of "COMPETITIVE GAMING" which ultimately leaves me feeling sidelined and disillusioned.

I don't consider myself to be a "casual gamer", as I spend a good deal of time and energy interacting with and thinking about games. I don't, however, consider myself a "competitive gamer" either, and I think it's interesting that this schism has been exacerbated into a binary situation where the industry seems to expect you to either be a Bejewlled-obsessed housewife or a Bawls-swigging Halo 3 nutjob.

I agree that it's encouraging to see a lot more games coming out that force teamwork and co-operation in their online modes, but I honestly think it would be a great thing to see more games with legitimate co-operative online gameplay modes that DON'T revolve around blowing stuff up with guns. While I enjoy shooters as much as the next guy, I think it's fair to say that the genre itself definitely lends itself to a lot more machismo and 'tuff guy' posturing that ultimately degrades the experience for less competitive users. Obviously, i think these types of games are valuable for the industry and here-to-stay, but I'd really like to see developers focusing more on online content in games that deviate from the traditional "band of rugged individuals saving the world (with weapons)" theme.

Mitch Krpata said...

It definitely would be nice if there were more cooperative games that didn't focus so much on gameplay. I had been hoping that LittleBigPlanet might fill that void, but it didn't seem to.

Unknown said...

While Horde is a terrific enough mode to hold up while playing with strangers, it's even better when you play with friends. Especially friends who know the best spot(s) to hole up on each map; how to plant the shields before each round starts to block the enemies from overrunning your position, then collecting them as each round ends so that they don't disappear; etc. Good, good times.

Also, I'd like to second Garrett Martin on Left 4 Dead and the various twists it puts on co-op play. With Gears 2, L4D and Resistance 2, it's been a breakthrough year for co-op gaming. It will be very interesting to se what other developers are inspired to do as a result.

Mitch Krpata said...

That sounds great. I have really terrible luck finding people on my friends list to play with, probably because I'm always about a week behind everyone else.