Writing on video games by Steve Hernandez

Monday, August 31, 2015

Empty Multiplayer


Nearly a decade ago, my brother and I would take turns with a Playstation 2, indulging ourselves in online gaming. He would play Metal Gear Solid Online, an online multiplayer feature included in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. When I finally got my hands on the controller, I'd play a game that coincidentally was also a threequel, Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal (UYA). The first two Ratchet and Clank games were strictly single-player experiences. UYA was the first in the series to add online multiplayer. The game modes were standard fare: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and siege mode in which two teams attempt to capture each other's base.

When I think about the overall time I spent playing UYA, it's not the gameplay or even the single-player mode that I remember with fondness, it's this one track from the game's soundtrack.


It sounds meditative and eerie. Back then, it encapsulated my experience with the game's online multiplayer perfectly. I had played the game several years after it was released and its online servers were now populated by a small group of dedicated and skilled players. It's common for online multiplayer games to be less active as time goes on, and UYA was no different. As a result of the small amount of players and the rarity of available matches to join, I spent more time in the game's lobby listening to that track than actually playing. The track, the small amount of players, and the time I spent just sitting around in the multiplayer lobby created this atmosphere for me that felt calm, reflective, and even desolate. It felt like I was exploring the past of a digital space that had been largely abandoned. Here I was in these digital battlegrounds, years after the game had been released, having battles of my own. I can't completely recall the matches I had but I do remember the fast-paced nature of the gameplay. I can also remember one-on-one fights that consisted of constantly jumping sideways, and the realization that a blaster-wielding snowman managed to infiltrate my team's base.

UYA's online multiplayer returned when the game, along with the two previous Ratchet and Clank games, were included in the Ratchet and Clank: Collection for the PS3. I revisited the online multiplayer and discovered that it was almost as empty as it was years ago. I enjoyed the very few matches I had though, and I'm glad I got the chance to experience that same sense of calmness and desolateness once again.

Written for Critical Distance's Blogs of the Round Table. This month was about nostalgia.

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