Though less common with modern titles, many AAA games focused on single-player also had an online multiplayer mode of some sort. While many of these could be considered tacked-on afterthoughts, some offered fresh and compelling takes on multiplayer within the universe of their respective franchise. Sadly, many of these games have reached the end of their lifespan, prompting their online servers to be shut down.
Games like Assassin's Creed and the Batman: Arkham series seem ill-equipped for competitive gameplay. Their character driven, intricate narratives pair with action-adventure progression to provide a hefty single-player experience. Similarly, Mass Effect's RPG mechanics and Splinter Cell's NPC-dodging stealth cultivated dedicated fanbases that would have been perfectly content without a multiplayer component. Regardless, these four franchises are some of the best examples of unique multiplayer modes that should come back.
While the main game of Batman: Arkham Origins is not ranked highly among fans of the Arkham games, its multiplayer mode is remembered fondly by many. Unlike the campaign, the multiplayer focuses on the gangs of the Joker and Bane battling it out for supremacy. The thugs have access to guns, drones, and bombs that they can use to hunt and kill the opposition in a traditional death match. However, what truly made this mode unique and so fondly remembered is the presence of a third party in every multiplayer game. This third team comprised of Batman and the Arkham games' completely overthought Robin as they stylishly and stealthily played against both teams.
The Bat Family's gameplay centered around an Intimidation Meter, which fills when the team takes down enemies in unique ways. Beating enemies in the same way yields reduced rewards, encouraging players to actively seek out new takedowns. The addition of the bat family added an interesting element to an otherwise traditional death match game where not only do players have to compete against each other but must also cooperate to defeat Batman and Robin when they are discovered.
Sadly, the way Batman games have been progressing, this type of multiplayer does not look like it will be seen again anytime soon. With the approach of Gotham Knights imminent, it is unlikely that another competitive multiplayer-centric game or mode would be released to compete with it, even though Gotham Knights allows 2-player online co-op. Coupled with the fact that its servers are now shut down, Batman: Arkham Origin's multiplayer mode is sadly not coming back, at least for a while.
While Splinter Cell has not had a game in years, it is still a beloved franchise. What's more is that its most recent game, 2013's Splinter Cell: Blacklist, had a pretty solid multiplayer. The multiplayer mode of Splinter Cell: Blacklist was very unique at the time it was released. It pitted two teams against each other: Spies versus Mercs. The Mercs were a more traditional shooter team that focused on gunplay and explosives to overwhelm their lighter-armed adversaries. The Spies used advanced stealth gadgetry like thermal goggles and grappling hooks to outmaneuver the Mercs and complete espionage-based objectives on the map.
Ubisoft's announced Splinter Cell remake could bring back this mode that was a unique take on asymmetric multiplayer where both teams feel wholly different, yet balanced. Sadly, servers were shut down, making this mode unplayable. However, a newer version could improve the gameplay by bringing the technology used by the operatives up-to-date. Modernizing the game's tech and graphics of the multiplayer mode could lend well to today's setting. Perhaps even leaning into a more sci-fi angle could give unique gameplay feel that could help differentiate a modern take of this multiplayer from its previous incarnation.
Mass Effect 3's multiplayer was very interesting in that it was both very entertaining and had a unique tie-in to the narrative of the main game, making the Legendary Edition compensate for its lack of multiplayer. This multiplayer mode had players assume the role of various agents as they fought hordes of enemies cooperatively. However, what was unique is that these battles increased the galactic readiness of the main game, giving the feel that the multiplayer matches were happening in the canon of the main game as you assume the role of a soldier fighting back against four different factions of enemies. Additionally, the multiplayer mode offered unique characters that were not seen in the main game, such as allowing the player to play as a Geth or a Volus. While Mass Effect: Andromeda had a similar multiplayer, it had a much more limited selection of enemies, classes, and weapons that make it not as engaging as its predecessor's counterpart.
While not completely dead and gone (some servers are still operational), multiplayer omission in the Mass Effect Legendary Edition means that the multiplayer service is likely on borrowed time. Without a new influx of players that the Legendary Edition was hoping to bring, matchmaking may be difficult to populate and many players looking to revisit the multiplayer might be fighting hordes on their own. This is unfortunate but has an obvious solution - patch multiplayer into Mass Effect Legendary Edition. With updated graphics and attention from new players, this could effectively revive the multiplayer mode and bring it back to the levels of play it saw previously.
Arguably the most well-known on this list, Assassin's Creed's multiplayer is known for its innovative and unique take on competitive matches. Despite their recent shutdown, reveals of new Assassin's Creed projects have renewed interest in multiplayer. The backstory of the multiplayer mode is that it is a training program for Abstergo agents. Assuming this role, the player takes the form of a Templar and competes against other Abstergo agents in massive games of cat-and-mouse.
Within each match, players are given a target (another player) that they must assassinate. As players kill each other, they gain points and rank up on the leaderboard. The higher the player is ranked, the more agents will be coming after them. This forces a lot of planning and cunning on the player's part as they must use abilities and rely on Assassin's Creed's social stealth mechanics with the NPCs around them to mask their identity and lure their target in for the kill. It was a remarkably unique take on multiplayer, which usually pits teams against each other in brutal death matches. Instead, Assassin's Creed focused on the individual player and how well they can outsmart their opposition.
Sadly Ubisoft has shut down support of this iconic multiplayer, leaving it entirely unplayable. Additionally, Ubisoft's current trends when it comes to development of the Assassin's Creed franchise suggest that this type of multiplayer may not be seen again. However, it is conceivable that multiplayer make a resurgence should the developers bring back features of traditional Assassin's Creed games. Players could even see improvements in the gameplay such as new power-ups, abilities, weapons, and more dynamic locations. Modern consoles could even create far more realistic NPCs that could make the game even more compelling by offering more ways for cunning assassins to take advantage of.
While some players may never get to see some of these multiplayer modes, like the defunct and dying online components of Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect respectively, those that have played these often remember them fondly. It would be a missed opportunity to deny these opportunities to new players. Not only were these multiplayer modes unique and fun, but they expanded on their respective franchises in ways that aren't incredibly common anymore. While these multiplayer modes may live on in the hearts of players, they deserve new life on the screen.