I like stealth games a lot. I like co-op games a lot, probably more than stealth games. At least, I’ve finished many more of the co-op games I’ve started. Perhaps that is more of a result of the social situation than any of the things usually thought of as actual game mechanics, but the context in which a game is experienced is still certainly part of playing the game. Otherwise MMORPGs would just be really boring RPGs.
Anyway, the point is I’m not sure I’ve ever played a cooperative stealth game.
Ok, maybe here and there a moment of half-hearted ironic stealthyness before a combat encounter, but barely anything that reminded me of single player stealth games that I’ve loved. And yes, there’s a lot of stealth games with co-op modes and co-op games with stealth options, like the Metal Gears on PSP, many of the Splinter Cell games, Payday 2, Monaco. These are all great games, and those that I’ve played have been great experiences. And there’s probably many others with “stealth options” that nobody ever uses. But in these games stealth-gameplay, and by that I mean consistently trying to avoid detection, has never been more than a passing whimsy on the part of our crew. Perhaps with a broader definition of “stealth”, Monaco would be the best example of cooperation in the genre, but it tickles a different fancy for me than games like Dishonored.
It’s pretty clear why: the standard MO of play in stealth games is careful observation, failure, and repetition. If the players are out of sync moving through this process in a co-op game, in my experience it bogs down and becomes frustrating.
Co-op in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is one interesting solution: the developers implemented mechanics to help players synchronise their play, but when those fail the game has non-stealth options, so you can just brute force your way through the levels.
Payday 2 is probably on the other end of the spectrum: it ups the fidelity of the combat, taking the emphasis away from stealth options, and leaves the logistical challenge of playing in-sync, to avoid combat, as an exercise for the player. To that end, figuring that out is what high level Payday 2 play seems to be about, even with the combat. Much like Left 4 Dead. The game is exploring “cooperation” itself.
In my experience playing these games, you have to compromise stealth to actually enjoy playing co-op. Still, all these are very enjoyable co-op games, you’ll just rarely get anything approaching your single-player stealth experiences unless you and your co-op buds are amazingly synchronised.
I think that a solution to the problem is asymmetrical play: if one player’s failure doesn’t directly affect the other, but their success’ do, both could have an enjoyable cooperative experience without compromising the stealth game play. Perhaps.
I think it’s certainly something worth trying.
Before I close this I should note that I write this having not played Peace Walker or the latest Splinter Cell co-op, which is something I really need to fix. I may write a follow up when I do play those games. Perhaps it will turn out that someone has already “solved” this, and I can concentrate on other design problems.