Where Did Split Screen Go?

Halo 5: Guardians

Has anyone else noticed the slow disappearance of split gameplay?

Daniel Cooper

By Daniel Cooper @danielcooper179

In an age where everyone and their mum has a smartphone. Where siblings have been known to text each other while sitting on the same sofa. Where free Wi-Fi is sometimes easier to find than a public washroom. It's somewhat evident that the world we live in is incredibly plugged in. It stands to reason that our entertainment has followed suit. The new generation of consoles -- the Xbox One and PS4 -- both pushed the new social aspects of their respective consoles during their original release. Games like Fable Legends and Evolve are designed around the concept of getting a group of friends together. But, with the new generation, certain aspects of gaming have fallen to the wayside.

So, if gaming is such a social experience (and it is), it has me wondering what happened to split screen? Games like Halo blossomed with their co-op campaigns and the ever popular LAN parties that put a group of friends together, in the same room, to battle it out big team battle style. In contrast, Halo 5: Guardians -- the series' newest release -- has purposefully dropped the feature, and for a good reason. The Master Chief Collection was plagued with performance issues and 343 Industries probably don't want a repeat incident.

The thorn in split screen's side is performance and the on-going console comparisons. With both consoles doggedly competing to outdo the other, the slightest graphical hiccup causes huge ripples in the ongoing console war. Many are aware of the oft flaunted underperformance of the Xbox One in comparison to the PS4, running at 900p instead of the intended 1080p, or 30 fps instead of 60fps. And this was, and still is, a big deal for many.

With such a heavy focus on performance issues and the resulting comparisons between consoles. it's evident that neither Microsoft nor Sony would willingly shoot themselves in the foot by purposefully hindering a game's performance. As technology improves games have been getting increasingly more complex with increasingly detailed graphics. This is wonderful for gaming and it's great to look at. And everyone seems to be wanting the prettiest game possible; just look at all of the HD re-makes that have flooded the market in the past few years. However, to play a game in split screen, the console has to render the same image twice. This puts extra strain on the console and causes drops in performance. The Handsome Jack Collection fell prey to this; it added split screen for the next generation, but performance issues appeared for the Pre-Sequel. Lag and frame rate drops were noticeable for anyone playing with a group of friends. The console just couldn't quite handle it.

By focusing on interconnectivity, developers seem to have found a way around these issues, and as such have altered the way people game. Multiplayer has slowly but surely taken on a new meaning: online play. Perhaps this is for the better. No longer do people have to suffer with half or even a quarter of a screen's real estate. Issues like screen-peaking are non-existent. And online play provides people with access to tens of thousands of people to play with at any time. Unfortunately, if you have a friend over to play, your choice of games is limited, unless you decide to take turns while the other watches. But, maybe that's just the way things are headed and with time split screen will become a thing of the past. It's becoming the norm that to play with a friend you both need a console and the same game.

The unfortunate thing is that any performance issues would only be present when, and if, a player decides to play in local multiplayer. A player could still play the same game in single player, or online by themselves, without ever noticing an issue. It's a shame that to save face in an arena of increasing scrutiny over performance, developers have gone ahead and removed the option completely.

And I'm curious, would you use split screen mode with a friend knowing that it would cause performance issues? Because the more that I think about it, it seems as though even in knowing that the Xbox One consistently under performs in comparison to the PS4, the Xbox One still has a large user base. People game on their chosen console for the experience that it provides. It's a shame, because local multiplayer is a totally different experience to that of playing with a friend online. There's just something about being able to shout at, or celebrate with, your friend in person rather than through a microphone. But, maybe I'm just being nostalgic. In any case, returning to the example of Halo, it's astounding that split screen has vanished when considering that local multiplayer was what popularized and made Halo the Xbox icon that it is. It doesn't seem like it would be all that difficult for developers to keep the feature for those that want to use it. But, I suppose until a solution is found people still have the option to haul their console and television over to their friends to game together in-person.

What are your thoughts? Would you prefer to have the option for split screen knowing that it could harm performance? Or do you prefer multiplayer's new focus on online play?

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