Some game developers want us to play nice. There are quite a few games out there that put an emphasis on teamwork. These games present us with a unique gaming experience in which we have little choice but to work with others. On the surface, forcing gamers to work together seems like a doomed idea. Gamers are known for their hardcore, aggressive attitudes, so it would seem unlikely that these strangers could come together to do something so complex as pull off a heist, or even simply keep each other alive. Yet, these are the games I find myself returning to most often. I’m hooked team-based games, and I’d like to tell you why.
Robbing people is tons of fun — the preparation, the execution, the payday. It’s a thrill ride filled with unexpected ups and downs, but it’s nothing my gang and I can’t handle.
I’ve been playing a lot of Payday 2 recently. Overkill Software’s multiplayer heist-simulator has called forth my devious alter ego: Wolf the Ghost. Wolf is a master of stealth who will take part in any heist that gives him the chance to test out his silencer, destroy every camera in sight, and crack a few safes. Oh, and he loves tossing around bags of money — or bags of anything, really. He’s a strange fellow, but he fills a specific and important role within his gang. He’s part of the money-grabbing machine, and if he’s not there, it’s much more likely that the heist will fail and everyone will be spending a few decades behind bars. Payday 2 gives me (or should I say Wolf?) the opportunity to be part of a team. It gives me the chance to play an important role in the success of not just my gaming session, but someone else’s as well.
Some games are more gentle than others about putting us into roles. Team Fortress 2 provides concrete classes for players to choose from, prompting players to take on a certain role within their team. Left 4 Dead is more dynamic, giving players roles based on the weapons and equipment they pick up, but relying mostly on their personality. In most of the games that I’ve played in Left 4 Dead, someone emerges as the leader, pushing the group forward, another person as the crack-shot who kills most of the special infected before I even spot them, someone as the katana-wielding melee-lover (that’s me!), and so on. Payday 2 falls somewhere in between the other two games; it provides players with all of the concrete tools they need to make their own class based on their personality and play-style. In each case, I can find role within my team that will highlight my skills and that will maximize the fun output for everyone.
My parents and teachers have been trying to get me to play nice with others ever since I was a wee boy. That’s not to say I had trouble with it — I was a good kid. However, not everyone is like me. A lot of kids, and even adults, don’t find it easy to work well with others. Yet, many developers have taken on the task of bringing together strangers to complete goals that are sometimes far out of reach, even for the best of teams.
Working with a group of other people to complete a goal is much more satisfying than doing it alone. There’s something about being part of a well-oiled machine that simply trumps being a lone wolf. Not to mention the fact that celebrating victory with a group of excited gamers is New Year’s Eve compared to giving myself a high-five at the end of a solo mission. I know my own mind, I know my own skillset, and I know my own limits, but I usually don’t know my team at all. Working with someone besides myself adds a new, unpredictable element to gameplay that never gets old.
My favorite example of this element is Portal 2′s co-op. Finally finding the solution to a puzzle by myself is a joy, but doing it with someone else is a party. There’s times when I don’t know the answer and my partner has to direct me through the puzzle, and vice versa. There’s times when we both know the answer, but we just have to coordinate well enough to execute it properly. There’s times when neither of us knows the answer and we just have fun cursing GLaDOS and Portal and Valve and the world. Two minds are a heck of a lot more fun than one.
Most (if not all) of team-based games I’ve played have a ton of replay value. It’s pretty obvious why I love being able to replay a game — who doesn’t? In today’s world, getting more for your money is becoming more and more important, and games that I can keep playing forever easily pay for themselves, making up for my money with endless fun.
The games that immediately come to mind — Left 4 Dead and Payday 2 — do this through a series short campaigns or missions that are linked via the characters, but that don’t necessarily have a canonical order or major significance. When I first stared playing Left 4 Dead, I was boggled as to why this approach to a campaign was so addictive. It seems like forcing players to replay the same level over and over would be a terrible idea. On the contrary, it seems to be one of Left 4 Dead‘s secret ingredients. I’ve probably played through Dark Carnival close to twenty times, but I still get a thrill out of sprinting past the carousel to stop the horde and running along the rollercoaster tracks with zombies nipping at my heels. This seems to be even more effective in Payday 2, where each contract playthrough is an opportunity to further refine my approach to completing it.
In short, I love that I can keep playing team-based games until the sequel comes out — that I can rely on them to always be there. I’ve been playing Team Fortress 2 for over 5 years, and I still enjoy it as if it were released last week.
The only thing more fun than completing goals with your team is ignoring goals with your team. Team-based games can get downright silly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched friends and foes die in ridiculous ways just because they wanted to get a laugh. This hyper-casual attitude is probably one of my favorite parts of any game, but it seems particularly prevalent in games where mob mentality brings silliness to a whole new level.
A common beginning to any given match in Team Fortress 2 often includes taunting directed at no one in particular, spies walking in a crab-like fashion, pointless cries of “spy!” and “medic!”, and varying degrees of self-inflicted pain. From there, players dressed in outfits varying from the absurdity of kilt-wearing pirate to the unexpectedness of George Washington charge forward recklessly, employing every preposterous trick in the book to complete the objective and, more importantly, have fun. I’ve seen teams full of helpless snipers and battlefields creeping with tricky spies, just because it’s fun and funny. All it takes if a couple of creative minds to lead an entire match into complete madness, and that’s possibly my favorite thing about team-based games.
What’s your favorite team-oriented game? Leave a comment and let me know how it hooks you.