5 Single-Player Games You Probably Forgot Had Multiplayer
Were you one of the nine people who played Duke Nukem Forever who also played its multiplayer?
Single-player games have been murdered, and the culprit is none other than multiplayer games. As most modern multiplayer games are getting regular updates, how do single-player games remain relevant? How can a single-player game hold your attention past the week it takes to complete?
A long, long time ago, before the era of microtransactions and lootboxes (i.e. the early 2010s), developers tried a different strategy for extending the longevity of their games. If a single-player game didn’t have a multiplayer mode, they would just add one. With some games it was easy to see how they could incorporate a multiplayer mode alongside a single-player experience. Sometimes it seemed impossible, with fans worried that a multiplayer mode would feel tacked-on and detract from the single-player portion of the game.
All of the games on this list are remembered for their single-player campaigns but you might not even remember that some of these games had a multiplayer mode. They span different genres and vastly different Metacritic scores, but I only want to know one thing: was the bit where you shoot guys online any good? These are five single-player games that also had multiplayer.
1. BioShock 2
Irrational Games, creators of the BioShock series, were quite clear with their stance on multiplayer when the original BioShock first released. “BioShock features a compelling storyline that revolves around the experiences of one man as he enters the decaying world of Rapture,” said community manager Elizabeth Tobey, “Having a multiplayer component would have compromised the story we were trying to tell so we made the decision to keep this game as a single player experience.” A year and a half later, BioShock 2 released with a multiplayer mode.
Irrational changed their mind for two reasons. Digital Extremes was put in charge of making the multiplayer, meaning they could focus entirely on the single-player. The more interesting reason, however, was that Digital Extremes agreed upon the multiplayer portion having a narrative and lore focus. BioShock 2’s multiplayer was going to be more than just a mode you played because it had trophies associated with it, it was going to flesh out the world of Rapture.
BioShock 2’s multiplayer makes a good first impression by giving your very own apartment in Rapture. Typically, good apartments can go for upwards of $2000 dollars a month, so BioShock 2 giving you one for free was quite a steal. This apartment acts as a sort of hub-world/lobby crossover, letting you do things like change loadouts or find matches by interacting with objects in your apartment.
As well as unlocking new guns and plasmids every couple levels, you would also unlock audio diaries that gave backstories to the splicers you played as, allowing for narrative progression as well as gameplay progression throughout multiplayer. The narrative arc in multiplayer even culminates with the wreckage of an airplane falling outside your apartment window, setting up the events of BioShock 1. Being able to unlock lore through a multiplayer shooter is something I’d never seen done before and it really made BioShock 2’s multiplayer feel like it had more to offer than just its shooting.
Not to say the shooting wasn’t fun, either. Actually, it was great (I should know, I played it for over 20 hours to get a gold trophy). Set on 10 maps based on locations found throughout the series, BioShock 2’s multiplayer ticked all the BioShock gameplay boxes from using plasmids to hacking vending machines. I still have fond memories of everyone using the same electro-bolt/crossbow combo to stun and then insta-headshot you. Good times.
I checked to see if the BioShock 2 servers were still up for this article and I found only one other person online, which was unfortunately not enough to start a match. “Why are you still playing this game?” I asked. “Need trophies for multiplayer”, he replied.
2. Dead Space 2
When people use “Dead Space” and “multiplayer” in the same sentence, it’s usually along the lines of “wow, Dead Space 3’s campaign sucks”. But did you know that Dead Space 2 was the first to have a multiplayer mode? Did you know that every Dead Space was supposed to have multiplayer?
When Visceral Games was developing the original Dead Space, a mandate came down from the head honchos in EA: make it have multiplayer. Unfortunately for EA (and fortunately for everyone else), Dead Space was practically finished. Visceral tried adding co-op to the campaign, but the level design and difficulty was tuned to one player. Adding another player made the game feel too cramped and easy. With development of Dead Space 2, EA learned their lesson and let Visceral create the game that the team wanted to make. Just kidding. EA demanded that Dead Space 2 had to have a multiplayer mode. To satiate EA while also not messing up the single-player portion of the game, Visceral decided to create a brand new multiplayer mode.
Often compared to Left 4 Dead’s versus mode, Dead Space 2’s multiplayer sees one team of survivors try to complete a variety of objectives, while the other team plays as the Necromorphs tasked with hunting the humans down. Playing as the survivors was nothing we hadn’t seen already from the single-player, but playing as the Necromorphs was a fresh experience. You could choose from 4 different Necromorphs to play as: The Pack, The Lurker, The Puker and the Spitter, each with their own abilities and unique playstyles. Do you rush in as the Pack and try to overwhelm the survivors, or play Spitter and hang back shooting long-range piles of goop at them? Considering how much variety they had compared to the survivors, I found myself yearning to be placed on the Necromorphs team.
I was alone in that sentiment, as the cracks in Dead Space 2’s multiplayer began to show after it had been out for a couple months. Like any multiplayer game, a progression system with unlocks is key to keeping players around. As players began to reach the highest levels in Dead Space’s,however, they slowly began to realize that the unlocks for the humans were far more powerful than the ones for the Necromorphs. With the ability to slow down Necromorphs using statis as well as the necromorphs having fixed locations that they needed to spawn from, the humans began to dominate every game. The unique part of the multiplayer, playing as the necromorphs, became a game of respawning and being immediately killed over and over again.
“I personally don’t believe it added a lot of value to the product” said Ben Wanat, the production designer of Dead Space 2 in a interview with Eurogamer last year. “Even though it was fun to play as a diversion, I don’t think it’s why people would buy it.” PvP multiplayer didn’t make a return in Dead Space 3. Instead, Visceral gave into EA and made Dead Space 3’s campaign co-op. It was the worst received Dead Space campaign in the trilogy. EA shut down Visceral games in 2017.
3. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
Ubisoft had a problem on their hands. They also wanted to join the multiplayer arms race, but how? When other games wanted to add a multiplayer mode, they just let players shoot each other with guns. But Ubisoft’s biggest single-player game, Assassin’s Creed, didn’t have guns (Well it did, but they took about a year to reload). Player vs. Player stealth had rarely been attempted in multiplayer format before, especially not by big-name developers. If they wanted a multiplayer mode that played to the strengths of the Assassin’s Creed series, they’d have to build their own.
With the release of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood in 2010, we saw how Ubisoft was going to tackle the stealth multiplayer problem: a revolutionary new game mode.
Wanted was the main multiplayer mode of AC: Brotherhood, which saw players engaging in a game of cat and mouse where everyone played as the cat and mouse simultaneously. Your objective was to kill your assigned target while avoiding getting killed yourself. Easy, right? Except it wasn’t. Each multiplayer map was filled with NPC’s that look identical to the other players you’ve been assigned to kill. Apart from a compass that informed you when your target was in your line of sight, it was up to you to find your target from the crowd. This wasn’t a multiplayer based on quick reflexes, this was a multiplayer based on mind games. “Was that NPC just running?” “Did I just heard someone drop from a rooftop?” “Is that guy slowly approaching me?” All of these questions would be racing through your mind, usually right before you got stabbed in the back. Finding the balance between hunting down your targets without drawing attention to yourself was a completely unique experience and one that hasn’t been replicated to this day. In fact, the only other people to replicate the game mode was Ubisoft themselves.
The next three Assassin’s Creed games all featured the same PVP multiplayer, with little changes to the formula besides new characters to play as and a handful of new modes. What started as a unique idea for a multiplayer mode quickly became stale with each new release. Assassin’s Creed multiplayer began to suffer from the same problem that the Assassin’s Creed franchise had in general: it was too frequent without enough changes. When Assassin’s Creed: Unity released in 2014, PVP multiplayer was nowhere to be found. “We carefully evaluated PVP and in the end decided that it simply did not fit in the narrative and gameplay we wanted to deliver in Unity,” stated a Ubisoft rep.
4. The Last of Us
When the first trailer for Naughty Dog’s new game “The Last of Us” dropped, fans were beside themselves with excitement. “Woo, I love Naughty Dog” screamed some fan probably. But a couple of months later, the news hit: The Last of Us would have multiplayer. “Screw you Naughty Dog, I thought you were my friend!” screamed the same, fickle fan. Naughty Dog was prepared for this kind of backlash. “We don’t approach MP in any of our games as tacked on.” said Naughty Dog’s community strategist Arne Meyer. “We have faith that our MP will stand on its own. If we felt like it would be tacked on, we wouldn’t have added it.”
Even with Naughty Dog outright saying that the multiplayer wasn’t tacked on, it was still a little hard to believe that it wasn’t. All of the trailers that had been released for The Last of Us presented this somber, understated tone, the kind of tone that is completely absent from a multiplayer shooter. Fans weren’t concerned that the multiplayer gameplay was going to be bad, they were concerned that it wouldn’t have the same vibe as the single-player. They wanted to be worrying about surviving an apocalypse, not worrying about their KD ratio.
When The Last of Us released in 2013, people were shocked: the multiplayer was actually pretty good. Naughty Dog had made several smart design decisions to capture that single-player survival essence in multiplayer, but it can all be traced back to two major choices.
Death had to mean something in multiplayer. The Last of Us has no deathmatch option. In the two modes available to play, it’s never a race to see who can get the most kills, it’s a competition of who can die less. Supply Raid sees each team with 18 lives, lose all of them and you lose the game. Survivors, the other mode, works in a similar fashion expect it takes place across several rounds with no respawning. Both of these modes put a focus on how crucial a single life is. Unlike most multiplayer shooters, you can’t run around shooting at everything that moves. With limited ammo and health packs, you need to approach every situation tactfully or you’ll spend more time waiting to respawn than actually playing.
It was a smart choice by Naughty Dog to make every death matter, but it was a smarter choice to make every match matter. Upon starting up multiplayer for the first time, you’re given your own clan to take of. Killing other players and winning matches earns you supplies for your clan, which lets it get bigger and lets you unlock more cosmetics/abilities. But this system acts as a double-edged sword. Fail to get kills or keep losing matches, and your clan will start to die off one-by-one. If everyone in your clan dies, game over. You lose all your progress towards unlocking new things, essentially putting you all the way back to level 1. This clan metagame introduces something that most other multiplayer games lack: stakes. When I lose a match in Overwatch, I shrug it off or rage a little. But when I lose a match in The Last of Us? It’s devastating. Knowing that you could be a couple bad games away from losing everything keeps you on your toes in a way that no other multiplayer game does. Naughty Dog had flipped the script on MP shooters, punishing you for doing badly instead of rewarding you for doing good.
Multiplayer was such a success for The Last of Us that it did something unprecedented compared to all of the other games on this list: the multiplayer was brought back in the remaster. When The Last of Us was re-released for the PlayStation 4 in 2014, the MP mode was included with all the DLC and even made several multiplayer trophies easier to obtain. Considering that the remasters of Bioshock 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood both threw the multiplayer by the wayside, this went a long way to proving Naughty Dog right: multiplayer was not tacked-on.
To this day, both the PS3 and PS4 versions of the game still have active multiplayer communities.
5. Duke Nukem Forever
Two facts for you:
1) Duke Nukem Forever was in development for 14 years.
2) Every successful Duke Nukem game before it had multiplayer.
With these facts in mind, when do you think development of Duke Nukem Forever’s multiplayer started?
A) From the very start of development as it was an important aspect of Duke Nukem to the team.
B) Halfway through development as they wanted to focus on the single-player first.
C) I don’t know man, a year before release and it was also made by a different developer?
C. The answer’s obviously C.
After Duke Nukem Forever’s development had started, stopped and then restarted under Gearbox Software, Piranha Games was contracted to make a multiplayer mode for the game. “Multiplayer was important to Duke and our memory of it,” said Randy Pitchford, head of Gearbox Software, “so I want to say of course it’s going to be part of the game but I really want it to speak for itself..”
Still playable today, Duke Nukem’s multiplayer mode clearly speaks for itself. It says, “Please, kill me. End my suffering.” As I ran around an empty multiplayer map waiting for anyone to join my lobby, the game lagged hard. I was by myself, yet I was unable to run in straight lines for more than a couple seconds without lagging out and throwing me back a couple steps to where I was previous. Eventually, I learned that jumping around seemed to mitigate the lag, so I jumped around the map for another half an hour until some godforsaken soul who is still playing Duke Nukem Forever multiplayer in 2018 joined my lobby.
The match fared no better. With the amount of lag present, all of my firefights with this one guy boiled down to the same routine: we would dance around each other with pistols trying to hit one another for a solid minute before one of us would get bored and go find an explosive weapon that required less accuracy, allowing kills to actually happen. I tired multiple game modes and different maps, but it was always the same 1 guy, with the same explosive weapon kills and the same excruciating lag. If you’re out there somewhere, iStWood80, why? There’s no trophies associated with multiplayer… so why do you continue to play Duke Nukem Forever’s multiplayer? Is it the only game you own? Are you paid by Gearbox to populate the game’s servers? Are you being held captive somewhere and this is how they are torturing you? This mystery will haunt me to my grave.
This lag isn’t even caused by Duke Nukem Forever being 7 years old at this point, the lag was present in all console versions of the game on release date. Only the PC version of Forever offered dedicated servers, which have all been dead for years at this point.
Two months before Duke Nukem Forever was released, Randy Pitchford was interviewed by EDGE magazine, bemoaning multiplayer modes being added to single-player games. “It’s something that’s mystified us for a long time,” said Pitchford. “Nearly every shooter ships with multiplayer that took both time and money to develop. Yet 90% of these games are almost instantly ignored in favor of multiplayer stalwarts like Call of Duty and Halo, rendering that a wasted investment.”
Do you have any memories of the games I mentioned in this article? Are there any other long-forgotten multiplayer modes that you feel deserve a second chance? Or more interestingly, are there any multiplayer modes that you believe should stay dead? Let me know in the comments.