Where Has All The Split-Screen Gone?

There appears to be a disturbing trend in video games recently – a lack of competitive split-screen. This has come to the attention of many since it was announced that Halo 5: Guardians will not have split-screen multiplayer. Through reading online comments, I can say that I’m not alone in saying that the best Halo experiences were playing it with your family and friends, crammed around the television, laughing in their face as chaos ensues. Now people all over the world have spent a ludicrous amount of money on four controllers for their Xbox One, and for what? Back in the day we were given competitive split-screen in games that didn’t need it (Metroid Prime 2, I’m looking at you), but now game developers seem less and less enthused with the mode.

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t any games that offer local competitive multiplayer for up to four players; the Wii U is loaded with them, and on the PlayStation 4 you have Rocket League, but I don’t think that is reason enough to buy more than two Dualshock 4’s. Indeed, it is not only Halo that is skipping out on local competitive multiplayer. As far as I can tell, Star Wars Battlefront doesn’t contain a local version of its multiplayer (it does offer split-screen co-op for its mission mode); Titanfall as well, another multiplayer game that didn’t have a local split-screen mode – clearly missing what a lot of players actually want from a multiplayer game.

Still one of the best split-screen games.

Of course, PC gamers have lived without split-screen forever, but the ability to play multiplayer games on a big screen with your mates is something the home console has always had over the PC, which is an online and single-player-centric machine. Games are moving into the online space more and more, even Nintendo’s at it with Devil’s Third neglecting the local multiplayer options and Splatoon never shoehorned in a four-player mode, sure it has a two-player, but I want a four-player, party-centric mode.

Why do games lack competitive split-screen modes? I think it’s because game developers are too strung up on graphics. Indeed, every game developer these days goes out of their way to assure fans (or crazed over-hyped children) that their new game is going to be 1080p, 60fps. Every online message board you look at has people arguing over what console is better because a game runs at a higher resolution or framerate, and these same people complaining when a game isn’t 1080p or 60fps are complaining currently that Halo 5 doesn’t have competitive split-screen multiplayer. I believe, however, that game developers and producers are caving in too much to the demands of comments on message boards. They believe that inferior graphical fidelity will negatively impact sales of their game, so it is not worth their money to invest in creating a mode that will have lower quality graphics, at a lower framerate and resolution. Am I sounding a tad crazy? Of course I am, I like split-screen gaming and I enjoy a good conspiracy theory, but seriously, if people weren’t so hung up on graphics, developers would feel more inclined to include a split-screen multiplayer mode – at least that’s what I think.

Not in Halo 5 unfortunately.

Did we used to care about graphical quality? Maybe, but we were having too much fun to care, all I can say is that it never bothered me that a game’s multiplayer mode would look worse and run a little choppier than the single player component. To be honest, this whole time I’ve only really been talking about shooters, but these are the best fun in multiplayer, particularly Halo – there is a simple pleasure in killing your brother by sniping him in the face while he’s driving a Warthog. As I said above there are still many games that allow four-player split-screen, and of course you can always go back to playing your old games (Goldeneye anyone?), but where are the new games?

Perhaps game developers simply think that not enough people use local multiplayer options to bother creating them, although there are still games coming that incorporate local four player multiplayer, so developers are aware that there’s a market for the option. Indie developers for example are creating games with competitive four player split-screen multiplayer modes, such as Fast Racing Neo. However, the upcoming Screencheat in particular has an interesting concept in that you cannot see anyone else without looking at their screen to find their position on the map – this sounds not only innovative, but also like great fun. Despite this, as Screencheat and Fast Racing Neo are indie games they are likely to be played by a small group of people, whereas blockbuster games such as Halo 5 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 will be bought and played by millions, why can’t we play these games amongst our friends or family in good ol’ four player split-screen?

Some developers are kind enough to include four player local play options, such as the upcoming Trackmania Turbo and Animal Crossing: Amiibo Party, but why aren’t Star Fox Zero, Halo 5, Black Ops 3 or Star Wars: Battlefront offering this style of play in a gaming environment where a lot of consumers demand that video games only release with monumental amount of content? Perhaps developers are so desperate to get their games running at 1080p and 60fps and out in time for their ever-demanding publishers, that making a split-screen multiplayer mode simply requires too much time, money and manpower to create a feature that maybe developers feel people simply aren’t using.

Toby Saunders is sometimes opinionated, and you’ll find him posting garbage about games, films and his beloved Spurs and Bath City FC on Twitter.