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Co-Op Games Could Learn a Thing or Two From Saints Row's Approach

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  • Posted on 08th Apr, 2022 16:05 PM
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While co-op is a popular feature in many video games, few have come close to implementing it as well as the Saints Row series.

p>Cooperative gameplay is a beloved part of many titles. Whether it's passing controllers around while playing classic Super Mario titles or challenging a Halo campaign with friends, co-op is deeply ingrained into gaming culture. Couch co-op has diminished over the years, but online play has risen to replace it. Some games, like It Takes Two, are built entirely around the concept and push it in interesting new directions.

However, even though co-op is a nice feature to have, there are different degrees of co-op quality. Drop-in co-op from retro games is becoming rare, and loading into a lobby just to take part in a singleplayer experience with two-to-four people can be a hassle. It gets even more awkward when the limits of a game's co-op are found, and players have to exit and re-enter to keep playing together. Amid many co-op experiences, Volition's Saints Row franchise has proven particularly impressive in how it handles its co-op.

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How Saints Row Brings Co-op to the Next Level

From its very first game, Saints Row separated itself from Grand Theft Auto via multiplayer. Initially, it only used a primitive form that supported special missions, but Saints Row 2 and onward allowed for full co-op campaigns. That is impressive on its own, and the work that went into refining it is even more so. In addition to many minigames and side modes supporting multiplayer, certain missions were given unique multiplayer forms. Saints Row 2 may have the best instances of this, with the hospital rescue mission "Visiting Hours" requiring players to split up and perform two different missions that will result in a clean getaway.

Saints Row 1's nonlinear story is not able to be experienced with a partner, but later games do their best to make up for it. Players are not tethered to each other in the open world, though they teleport when one engages in a mission or minigame. The commitment to ensuring the entire Saints Row 4 campaign, barring its prologue, is playable in co-op is great considering the game's varying set pieces. Each player controls their custom character, and in a revolutionary move for co-op games, keeps all of their progress when switching between single-player and multiplayer. That includes mission completion, upgrades, and collectibles. The upcoming Saints Row will even allow for players to skip later solo missions they have experienced in multiplayer.

Other Co-op Games Need to Catch Up to Saints Row

It's not a stretch to say that Saints Row supports some of the best campaign co-op in modern video games. Unfortunately, while this means Saints Row fans can regularly find boundary-pushing multiplayer experiences, other gamers aren't so lucky. Co-op is still not a ubiquitous mechanic, and the ability to instantly drop in and out is usually reserved for offline play. Nintendo got better with this through the Switch port of Super Mario 3D World, but most of its multiplayer extras still only use offline co-op.

Allowing for progress to be kept and for multiplayer to continue uninterrupted are other common issues. Dark Souls and Elden Ring force players to return to their home worlds after defeating a boss, and the boss is only considered beaten by the host. Elden Ring allows players to explore its open world together without Torrent, but will eventually put up a fog wall to keep sessions locked to certain areas. These limitations are more aggravating when one considers that item drops are rolled per-player, so a partner can make meaningful progress building their character without clearing the game's content. More games should look at what Saints Row has been doing with its co-op multiplayer, but until then, at least co-op fans have this series to fulfill their cooperative needs.

Saints Row releases on August 23, 2022, for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.

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