With ARK: Survival Evolved bringing split-screen gameplay to the Xbox One, one writer discusses whether it’s time for split-screen multiplayer to make a return.
The premise of ARK: Survival Evolved feels as though it was written by an eight-year old on a sugar high, and in the best possible way. The Studio Wildcard title revolves around hunting down dinosaurs with improvised weaponry, alongside base building mechanics. However, the early-access project has raised eyebrows down to an interesting multiplayer choice – the game is getting split-screen on the Xbox One.
In a way, split-screen multiplayer is nearly as extinct as ARK: Survival Evolved’s dinosaurs. Once a necessary part of almost all console multiplayer games, the growth of online multiplayer saw a large number of developers eschewing split-screen in favor of its newer sibling. Very few AAA developers have kept split-screen in their most profitable releases, with Nintendo one of the remaining torch-carriers of local multiplayer.
Along the way, a number of huge franchises have lost split-screen support. Many Halo fans were devastated to find out that Halo 5: Guardians was dropping split-screen, and with good reason. The Halo franchise had become synonymous with split-screen up to that point, meaning that the loss of the mode caused a lot of tension within the Halo fanbase.
Of course, studios and publishers alike have their reasons for dropping split-screen from their multiplayer development cycle. Over the years, different developers have cited everything from a lack of player interest to too harsh a drop in graphical quality when split-screen has been utilized. Although there’s certainly truth behind some of the claims, particularly when it comes down to straining frame rates, studios have overlooked one, simple fact: split-screen is a lot of fun, and gamers love having the option of local multiplayer.
The reason behind why split-screen has proved so popular over the years is quite clear: local multiplayer is easily one of the most social ways to play games. Although online gaming can try to replicate a social aspect to gaming, largely through the use of headsets and web communities, it isn’t quite the same as a split-screen gaming session, or even playing LAN with friends. Some publishers may disagree, but there’s a lot more to social gaming than the number of players involved.
In spite of how far online gaming has come, and the huge quality of the online experience, there is still something incredibly isolating about playing a large number of these games alone. Left 4 Dead may have built its success on the back of hugely popular online play, but playing through the series with others in-person gave an entirely different dynamic. If the news of a Left 4 Dead 3 does turn out to be true, keeping split-screen in any console versions that may appear is a must.
Of course, some of the reasons many gamers love split-screen comes down to a strong feeling of nostalgia. It’s easy to reminisce about simpler days of gaming, and overlook such annoyances as having a significantly smaller view of the game and the ever-dramatic accusations of screen watching. However, there’s more to the feeling of passion that some players have for couch co-op that isn’t lost in recollection through rose-tinted glasses.
For one thing, split-screen is perfect for gamers who live together. Whether in a household of video game aficionados or with a significant other, playing local multiplayer is one of the most fun experiences cohabitants can have whilst gaming. Personally, there’s a reason why Dynasty Warriors 8 is never far from circulation in my home, and it’s not exactly down to the game’s quality in the face of newer releases.
As mentioned before, there are certain technical reasons why some developers have shied away from local co-op over recent years. In particular, gamers have been dismayed by the drop-off in racing games that included split-screen races. The desire to be at the cutting edge of graphic quality has meant that studios have avoided anything that could slow down development, with Slightly Mad Studios even dropping the Wii U release of Project CARS because the console couldn’t perform as well as its peers.
However, it’s been proven time and time again that the gaming community is more than willing to accept a lower graphical quality in local multiplayer modes. One such example is Hyrule Warriors on the Wii U, where quality is sacrificed across the board in co-op play, so that one player can use the Wii U gamepad whilst the other uses the main screen. The The Legend of Zelda title is not alone either, with this trade-off being used for plenty of other games in the past. In recent years, however, this has been low on studio priority.
Thankfully, some games do still try to keep split-screen as part of the multiplayer conversation. Star Wars Battlefront may lack in terms of overall content, but the legacy of the first two Battlefront games lives on through the continued use of specified multiplayer typer. Meanwhile, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 also contained split-screen for up to four players – although in that particular example, the quality of the overall experience did not quite come up to scratch.
There’s every chance that ARK: Survival Evolved’s split-screen may be a little rough around the edges, too. The title already suffers from some severe frame rate issues for players, so the addition of a split-screen multiplayer mode is hardly going to help matters in that respect. However, there’s still a will for this local multiplayer choice to prove to be a success. Kudos are certainly deserved for trying to keep this gaming legacy around, and plenty of gamers are bound to appreciate it.
Regardless of the quality, I hope developers continue experimenting with keeping split-screen in the modern gaming age. A huge number of my favorite gaming moments have come from split screen or local multiplayer, from Timesplitters 2 through to Mario Kart, and it would be unfortunate to see that die out. In particular, being able to share an entire campaign, a la Borderlands or Gears of War, is an experience that it would be a shame to lose.
When it comes down to it, of course, technology is always going to keep pushing video gaming forward. At this moment, though, online has yet to replicate that same giddy high felt when four friends crowd around a tiny television to play a game of Halo. And until that same sense of joy can be reproduced, there should always be a place in gaming for split-screen multiplayer.