The Importance of Playing Multiplayer Alone
One of the best ways to get great replay value from a game is by incorporating some kind of multiplayer mode. Once the player completes the singleplayer story mode, he or she should have the option of competing with friends and family locally or online. Multiplayer mode can prevent a game from getting perma-shelved after its beaten. Some games like Goldeneye and Mario Kart are most famous for their multiplayer modes.
But what about gamers who don't have anyone to play with?
I've seen far too many great games with great multiplayer modes completely cripple the experience by limiting the versus mode to human players only. Requiring multiple copies of the game or lacking online play is bad enough; but the worst offense, in my opinion, is not including computer operated opponents. This is a fatal mistake that can render a multiplayer mode virtually unusable.
I'm not saying this on behalf of gamers with no friends or family members who play games—although my complaint does apply to those poor folks. But even if you have fifty hardcore gamer friends who love to play video games with you for hours every week, that doesn't change the fact that they won't always be able to play with you. Let me ask you a question. At any point in your day, how easy would it be to force a brother, sister, or spouse to sit down and play you in Mortal Kombat? How often would you be able to phone a friend to get online or, as was the case in the old days, come over to play a round of Mario Party? For some, it may be pretty often, but you never know. Your fellow gamers aren't reliable. They could be busy, or not in the mood, or hate the games you want to play. Chances are, you won't be able to jump into the multiplayer mode right when you want to play it.
The solution is simple: add computer players.
The best developers know the necessity of artificial intelligence. What would Smash Brothers be if your only options were the Subspace Emissary or battling another living human? No computers allowed, ever. That would be a terrible game. Some people may never compete against computer players, and that's fine, but it's important to have the option—if not for practice, then for fun. The fact remains, you can play against a computer any time, anywhere, whenever you want to. And like any match against a human opponent, no two matches against a computer will be the same—increasing the replay-ability of a game to near infinity. It's true that sometimes CPUs are way too difficult or way too easy, but that just stresses the importance of including adjustable difficulty levels.
Now, if a game omits computer players from multiplayer in exchange for online play, that's better than nothing. Because at least then you'll always have someone on the planet who wants to play with you. But I still have issues with this. I recently downloaded the free version of Steel Diver: Sub Wars from the 3DS eshop, which is guilty of this problem. There's a multiplayer mode—great!—but you can only play against other humans--not so great. My wife has a 3DS, but she's not interested in fighting me in a submarine battle. That leaves me to compete against strangers online, the vast majority of which are hundreds of times better than me.
This is what I call the Call of Duty effect. When you go online, you run a very likely risk that you'll be competing against somebody who spends all day playing that game. It's their favorite game, their whole life, their pride and joy. It's no contest. You'll get destroyed. Or maybe your opponents will be total noobs and it won't be any challenge at all. It's a gamble. At least with CPUs, you can set the difficulty and know what you're getting.
I'm not arguing that battling CPUs is in any way superior to playing against real humans—far from it. But I want the option of playing multiplayer mode alone, in the comfort of my own home, exactly when I feel the urge to play it. I don't want to have to talk my wife into playing a game she doesn't like, or text my brother across the country and see if he's free for some Metroid Prime: Hunters.
What do you think? Do you care if a game leaves out computer players? Leave a comment below!