Good Coop, Bad Coop is our new series in which Graham and Brendan will be bonding in co-operative games through teamwork, friendship and shared trauma. This week, the rapid, open-world deathmatch of H1Z1: King of the Kill [official site], which is currently in early access.
Brendan: When we first landed on the outskirts of… *squints at map* ...Pleasant Valley, I believe it was only thirty seconds before you were shot and killed. I am sorry I wasn’t there for you. I landed on the other side of the suburb.
Graham: Actually it was... *squints at video timestamp* ...57 seconds. I survived almost a whole minute. Most of that time was spent running through a forest, attempting to escape from two assailants, one of whom was shooting me in the back with a machinegun. King of the Kill was not what I was expecting.
Brendan: It’s definitely more hectic and scrappy than most other survivalist arenas that I’ve played in recent years. There was almost two hundred players parachuting in alongside us, and they all seemed to find a Kalashnikov within ten seconds of their feet hitting the ground. They were so fast in finding weaponry that I remember we spent a good portion of our time wondering if people were dropping in pre-armed, as if loading up on bullets and backpacks was something you were supposed to do in the pre-game lobby - but no. These were just furious people who knew better than us.
Graham: I feel like I'm skipping ahead, but this wasn't much fun. I like DayZ for its scarcity, both in guns and in encounters with other players. It builds tensions and it makes the moments that breach the boredom all the more thrilling. I am however also keen on the idea of a game which shortens that experience, as these Battle Royale-inspired mods and games try to do.
We haven't explained how it works yet, really. You're dropped with all the other players into a vast stretch of terrain that includes villages, towns, farmland, fields, forests hills, and at timed intervals the play area shrinks due to approaching toxic gas. All players are therefore driven towards a central point and an inevitable, deadly confrontation. You can play it individually or in groups or, as we were, in teams of two.
While I like the idea, King of the Kill swings too far away from scarcity. I wish it was more boring.
Brendan: I think our inexperience didn’t help, but yeah, I agree that a little more ‘down-time’ would have helped. A lot of the joy of a Battle Royale comes in the build-up. Here, that build-up lasts ten or fifteen seconds while you’re in the air. You can see where other players are landing, how many are congregating around that cluster of apartment buildings or how many are going for the suburbs. At the same time, there are so many of them. You can barely land anywhere without at least someone dropping nearby. It forces conflict - a race for the plentiful guns - right from the start. I was laughing at the game’s ticker feed of incoming deaths, I think the population probably loses a quarter of its players, maybe more, within the opening two minutes.
Graham: I suppose that's part of the appeal, and I accept that our inexperience certainly didn't help, but I don't feel any desire to keep playing. Even when we started surviving a little longer, by choosing our landing site more carefully (or luckily falling over a less populated area), there didn't seem to be a lot of interesting choices to be made. Games like this are interesting because of the ambiguity over whether you can trust other people you meet, but there's obviously none of that here; you can't trust anyone. Or they're about learning the map and correctly, quietly navigating through dangerous spaces in order to retrieve valuable items, except here guns are everywhere and you're bound to run into another player whether you're quiet or not.
Brendan: But didn’t we work well together? Remember that moment in the office building, when we both found shotguns? And we both loaded our shotguns? And we both got shot to death by two other players who came storming in with other, better guns? I think we worked well together.
Graham: I'll always remember that time we spent in the public toilets together, picking up those pistols and the ammo and then realising the ammo wasn't for the guns we'd picked up and then dropping things on the floor so that we could swap. And then remember after that when we killed that one guy?! That guy who drove towards us and leapt out of his jeep to shoot at us. That was great. Til his partner killed us both.
That's the thing, though: it becomes a game about twitch shooter skills. Like Counter-Strike but every time you die in a round you need to disconnect from the server and queue to find another one.
Brendan: This was my problem too. In The Culling, which is of a similar breed, you have the usual Battle Royale patter. But you’re thrown in at a decent distance from each other, you have skills and perks that make you think about how you’ll play, you can craft traps, and the gas problem is much more pressing and noticeable. It has its own problems and it definitely doesn’t have the enjoyable long-windedness of DayZ but as we were getting shot and bleeding to death, I couldn’t help thinking I had played a better version of all this before. The problem, like you say, is all these guns. If all you want is a deathmatch in an open world, why not just fire up GTA Online?
Graham: Kill of the King does have a crafting system, so it's possible we could have torn up the spare backpacks we found and fashioned it into bear traps and hand grenades. But even this feels incongruous with the rest of the game. For example, there are bandages you can craft, but because bullets are so plentiful there doesn't seem many likely situations where you'll be injured and able to escape. The people who killed me always just sprayed bullets without any need to conserve them, hitting me three, four, five times and missing twenty more.
I also suspect, even if we were better at the game, that it would not be a good coop game. I'm not sure what room there was for working together given its pace.
Brendan: Which is a pity. Even DayZ has a sense of working together - communicating over a long distance, trying to meet up by shouting inaccurate descriptions of the landscape at each other, dividing resources like food and water when you finally do meet up. And you have choices too - do you both go to the airfield to find a precious rifle? Do you attack that player running up the road or hide and let him pass? Here, the choices are gone - just get away from the gas - and the teamwork is limited to shooting the same hostile person your pal is shooting.
I feel sad that the first game we’ve chosen for this new series has been a disappointing one, with no great stories to tell of united heroism or fickle disagreements. It was just kind of a rubbish shooter. But we’ll do better next time.
Graham: It was my idea to play this, so in this instance I am the BAD COOP. It's your turn to pick next week.
Brendan: I’ll have to think of something I’m already brilliant at, so I can blame you for all our failings.
Graham: I am always bad coop :(