Over the years I’ve played a lot of games that claim to have a “co-op” mode, and I’ve enjoyed them a great deal. Take something like Uncharted 3 or Farcry 4. I played through the co-op campaigns with a friend and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was the same intense shooter action with a mate along for the ride, what could be better? Looking back though, I have come to realize that there was something missing. Something big. What the co-op lacked (and this is true of numerous other games) was any actual cooperation. I was never reliant on my partner and could have done the whole thing by myself (barring a few set-piece moments).
It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the game at the time but could more have been done? Maybe not given the kind of games I was playing, but regardless it got me thinking. A lot of games that advertise themselves as “cooperative”, simply aren’t. There might be more than one of you, but you don’t ever really need to work as a team. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and like I said, I’ve had fun with it in the past, but it often feels like a missed opportunity. There seems to be a real gap in the market for something properly co-op focused. Enter Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is exactly what I’ve been looking for, a game built from the ground up to be played with friends. You won’t be able to beat it on your own. The basic idea of LIADS is pretty simple. You and up to four of your friends have to pilot a spaceship through a series of levels, rescuing various animals as you do so. However, you do not directly control the spaceship. Each player takes control of one of the crew members and you all run around inside the ship, manning the guns, shields, and thrusters as necessary. You have to work together and make decisions as a team or else you will fail, and fail hard. Things can get hectic and enemies can quickly swamp you if you don’t stay on top of things, making communication key to success. If the pilot jumps onto one of the cannons to take down an onrushing alien without telling someone to take his place then it could easily be game over. If the guy directing the shields isn’t made aware of the imminent laser strike, then you’ll soon be taking an unexpected spacewalk.
The true stroke of genius, at least in my opinion, is the non-linear upgrade system. There are two parts to it and the way it forces your team to communicate is simply masterful. Rather than specific upgrades being tied to specific parts of the ship, all upgrade parts can be applied to anything. You’ll never come across an “engine” upgrade, meaning that your team must decide, on the fly, which part of the ship is most in need of tweaking. Secondly, when you actually get and upgrade it appears somewhere in your ship and has to be manually taken to where it’s needed, be it guns, shields or the engine. What this means is that you have to decide among yourselves who is actually going to go and pick the thing up. You can’t all abandon your posts for the same upgrade part, it would spell disaster.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime has shown me that with a little bit of thought, we can bring some meaning back to the word “cooperate”. I’m not saying we should do away with traditional co-op campaigns, not at all. We all just need to bear in mind that sometimes, a little bit of teamwork can be a hell of a lot of fun.