All the way back when the original BioShock was selling at retail, the murmurs of the lack of co-op were already surfacing. Not a surprise, considering the current trend to pack co-op play into absolutely everything. I'm not personally against co-op, but as some of you may recollect, I have some pretty distinct feelings about the value of single player games -- and why sometimes games are a great deal better with no co-op option anywhere in sight.
With the announcement this morning that BioShock 2 would feature co-op gameplay, I realized one of my worst fears about this sequel would come true -- that it would in fact move away from the core concept that made the first game the immersive and powerful experience that it was and more towards what the general cry of the public seems to want. In other words, it's walking away from what made it unique, and I'm vastly disappointed knowing that.Of course, finding out that the word of co-op was in fact not true was nowhere near as relieving as it should have been -- I'm not convinced it won't still show up in the final game. Hit the jump to come back to the world of Rapture with me for a few brief moments and understand why co-op would be horribly wrong there.
Our own Jim Sterling has already spoken about his concerns over the sequel to BioShock in general, so if you're interested in a more general overview of why the game should not be made as a whole, don't miss his original article on the topic. If the specific addition of co-op is what sends you into a huff, well, you're in the right place. There are plenty of reasons why BioShock makes a much better standalone title than it likely will as a franchise, but the concept of the addition of co-op is not only awful, but completely goes against what BioShock was originally intended as.
Reach back in your memory, if you will, and revisit your first descent into Rapture with me. From the first few moments in which your plane crashes and you find yourself in the ocean surrounded by rapidly sinking wreckage to the looming statue of Andrew Ryan waiting for you just beyond Rapture's doors, one of the game's key themes is already being established: isolation. You discover Rapture while trapped in one of the most alienating predicaments possible, and even once you do come across other living beings, they are already mad to a point where you cannot communicate with them in a way that would provide any relief from the feelings of being alone.
All the fascination and fear I felt while exploring Rapture was directly influenced by this sense of isolation. There were people here once, but many of them are gone now, and the ones left aren't quite human anymore. The only voices of reason you have are Atlas, a man who you have no right to trust in the first place were it not for the fact that you have no one else to help you, and Andrew Ryan, who from the very beginning comes across as a man to cower in fear of. Even so, you don't have any physical proof of these men for the majority of the game, and their disembodied voices only served to make me feel more like I was trapped in an oubliette while both of them observed me coldly from outside.
Now that you've come back with me to that point and considered how this sense of alienation played into your first experience with Rapture, take a moment to imagine having the same experience with another person sitting beside you. It can be pleasant, even joyful, to share a game with a friend, and I'd daresay it could even better the experience for certain games. However, to descend into Rapture with another, to be able to feel less alone and more like you have a hand to hold as you experience its darkness and mystery -- it would actually have pulled me out of the immersion, made me realize that I was merely playing a game rather than losing myself to the experience. This is why I stand firmly by the idea that adding a co-op option would have severely blunted the efffectiveness of BioShock.
Of course, BioShock 2 is not BioShock. I fully acknowledge that this "prequel/sequel" could choose to move in a completely different direction, and that it could aim to accomodate a different sort of atmosphere in Rapture (one, perhaps, where the city had already been explored by people and was in an even worse shambles than it was in the first game). This may not be a bad game. In fact, it could be a very good game. However, it won't be the Rapture that sucked me in so effectively that it etched a permanent place is my gaming history in mere moments, and for that reason alone I know this sequel will be a different beast than its predecessor.
Will adding in co-op, should that ever happen, help to sell copies of BioShock 2? Sure, it absolutely will. There are many gamers who will only buy games if they offer the option. It's catering to the general public, and what the people want, the people get, because that's how money is made. Will the addition of said co-op rape the game of one of the key elements that made it as effective as it was? Absolutely. A Rapture devoid of sadness and despair doesn't appeal to me -- it just isn't the same place. It may sound odd to say that I preferred that world's unhappiness, but it was the darkness and isolation that made it so strikingly beautiful ... and sometimes that type of solitary beauty should just be let to be what it is, and nothing more. Take me where you will, but leave Rapture behind, just as we found it, just as we eventually chose to leave it.