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So after playing a bit of the ol' Halo 4 multiplayer (and initially hating it) at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo game industry trade show, I got bit by the Halo bug. I came home, threw in Halo: Reach, cued up the Team Objectives list, and suddenly remembered why I stopped doing that very thing in the first place. Everybody wants to play Capture the Flag modes, and I mean every time.
Don’t get me wrong; I like flag-capturing just fine…in moderation. But it did call my attention back to the fact that some multiplayer modes are so obvious and tired that they almost qualify as clichés.
It also reminded me that plenty of alternatives exist. I’ve already listed a few modes you really should play, but it so happens I’ve got more. Five more, to be precise. And even if the games themselves hold no interest for you, every gamer owes it to themselves to give these multiplayer matches a try…if only to give those flags a break for a few minutes.
Mode: Payne Killer
Game: Max Payne 3
Rules: A bunch of scrawny punks with guns start on a map, but then something magical happens. The first one to get a kill turns into the game's star, Max Payne, fully loaded with serious weapons, armor, and special abilities; the second turns into Max’s equally formidable partner, Passos. From that point on, it’s them against the world…until somebody bags one of them. That lucky player assumes the Max/Passos role for a bullet-timing spree of their own. For as long as they can last, anyway.
Why it’s awesome: It’s a team match, it’s a free-for-all, it’s absolutely insane. You have to work with your fellow gangbangers to stop Max and/or Passos, but the second you succeed, it’s time to turn your guns on your former friends. The constant switch between allegiances keeps everyone on their toes. And naturally, only Max and Passos can score points…as if the chance to become a heavily armed superhuman and wipe out packs of hyper-aggressive weaklings don’t provide enough motivation.
Mode: Spies vs. Mercenaries
Game: Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow/Chaos Theory/Double Agent
Rules: A team of fast and agile spies zoom around a “secure” facility to hack terminals scattered around the map while an opposing team of heavily armed mercs hunt them. Simple, no?
Why it’s awesome: Well, actually, no. Few multiplayer games balance risk and reward so well, or make two completely opposite play styles feel so rewarding. Spies must rely on speed, stealth, and deception; mercs trust sound sensors to tell them when hidden spies are close. Hacking terminals sets off an alarm, so smart spies do things piecemeal, grabbing a bit of data in one location, then running off to hit an unprotected terminal before the gunmen show up. Smart mercs don’t fall for it, effortlessly killing spies who push their luck too far — or setting traps in places they suspect their foes may pop up. It’s an amazing mix of pacing, tension, strategy, and action. I’ve heard a few people returned to the Spies vs. Mercs matches after Splinter Cell: Conviction dropped the mode, but good news, kids…SVM returns in force for 2013's Splinter Cell: Blacklist.
Game: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
Rules: Welcome to the Turing test of multiplayer matches. You’re assigned to assassinate one of seven other players, while someone else hunts you. You know what your target looks like (your hunter remains a mystery), and your radar points you in the right direction, but the environment’s littered with A.I. doppelgangers. Killing one of them fails the contract and leaves you exposed, because the second you do something unusual, you’ve blown your cover…and that’s when you’ll find a knife in your back.
Why it’s awesome: From basic conception forward, it’s like no other multiplayer game out there. Tactically, you can play this one any way you want. Try to blend in next to a bunch of bots that look exactly like you do (and even booby-trap the approaches), patiently wander the map pretending to be a fake until you can strike your target, or play it loud, running over rooftops, breaking pursuits, and performing spectacular death-from-above kills. And for balance, if you really start dominating, the game assigns two other players to end you. That’s what you get, smartass!
Mode: Battle Commander
Rules: An unlocked addendum to otherwise standard-rules team deathmatch and control-point games where the A.I. assigns priority targets (i.e., enemy players) for bonus experience points. But…
Why it’s awesome: …Homefront's mediocre campaign hides a smartly designed multiplayer that recognizes the problems inherent to other military shooter matches and takes steps to fix them. Yes, you earn XP and rank up over time, but you also earn in-match "battle points" to spend anytime you want. Instantly buy yourself extra armor or an RPG, or save up to get an armed drone, a Humvee, a tank, an Apache attack helicopter…and as you earn XP/BP for nearly everything you do, matches go from zero to crazy fast. You can even choose to spawn directly into the gunner's chair in someone else's vehicle. Oh, and spawn camping? Those kills earn zero points. Touches like those elevate Homefront well above "obligatory multiplayer" status.
Game: Halo 4
Rules: Developer 343 Industries owes Bitmob/GamesBeat editor-in-chief Dan “Shoe” Hsu some royalty checks for this one. Take a basic free-for-all deathmatch and score every kill. The player with the highest current score becomes the "king," tagged with an always-visible waypoint marker on everyone's screen and an ever-increasing bounty on his head. That’s a jackpot every other player on the map wants to win…even if they have to shoot every other player on the map to get it.
Why it’s awesome: It’s the perfect self-balancing system. If you’re the best player and take the lead, everyone’s gunning for you. Meanwhile, people in the mid-skill range have a decent shot at swiping the lead at the last second by nailing the king and reaping a huge point bonus. And you always have one big, fat, juicy target on your radar, providing clear direction on where to go and what to do. That leads to some terrific madhouse gunfights where everyone converges on one spot to claim the crown. The only real downside? You have to wait until this November to try it for yourself.
Hey, I didn't even mention Grifball! If you've got a great multiplayer mode that does things differently, tell us what it is and what makes it better than your average deathmatch in the comments below.