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The best co-op games

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By Gabe Gurwin


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Video games can be a harsh, dog-eat-dog place to hang out sometimes. Whether you’re getting repeatedly murdered by the same Dark Souls boss over and over again or being taunted by 11-year-old Call of Duty prodigies, the challenges they present can often slip from fun into frustrating, which is especially annoying when you’re trying to play games in order to unwind from a stressful day. Fortunately, games can also present wonderful opportunities to play with and alongside other people, and not just against them. Here are some of our all-time favorite co-op games, ranging across a wide range of platforms, difficulties, and gameplay styles. No matter what sort of games you’re into, you’ll probably find something to love here … unless you’re feeling anti-social and want to play alone.

‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’

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Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 may have ditched the previous games’ single-player campaign mode in favor of the new battle royale option, Blackout, but Treyarch didn’t ignore those looking for a rewarding cooperative experience. At launch, three different Zombies maps are included in Black Ops 4, each offering a radically different setting to destroy the undead and survive for as long as possible. As was true in past Zombies modes, working with your teammates is absolutely essential, as you’ll need their assistance in case you happen to be knocked down by a horde of zombies you didn’t see. With sprawling, multi-level designs and a bunch of different types of undead creatures sprinting toward you, Black Ops 4‘s Zombies mode isn’t easy, but it is incredibly rewarding.

‘Sea of Thieves’ (Xbox One, PC)

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We’re the first to admit that Rare’s Sea of Thieves is light on content at launch. This open-world online piracy adventure game reveals nearly everything it has within several hours of play, and it could definitely use an infusion of things to do and see. Players that just want to burn through content are missing the point, though: Sea of Thieves is about people. Its loose framework of going out on voyages to dig up treasure, fight skeletons, or transport cargo, is just meant to create opportunities for fun and interesting player interactions, both with your own crew and with other pirates you meet out in the world. It looks a lot like an MMO if you squint, but one that’s radically friendly and accessible in practice, focused on moment-to-moment play and creating stories instead of metagame progression. As such, we can’t think of any other games that are as custom-built for lighthearted, cooperative fun with friends.

‘Overcooked’ (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)

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If you ever wanted to feel the rush of a competitive cooking show like Chopped or Top Chef, Overcooked might be just what you need. Up to four players control chefs completing cooking challenges that generally involve some combination of gathering and chopping the right ingredients, cooking, and plating. The twist is that the levels make it tricky to get around between stations: In one level, the kitchen is divided across the back of two flatbed trucks, moving down a highway at variable rates. In another, you’re on a slippery iceberg. It’s a great balance of relatively simple tasks that compound in complexity when you’re yelling at your friends and sliding around, which is exactly what you want for a light, local co-op game.

‘Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime’ (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)

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As modern video games, a lot of the entries on this list are gritty and realistic in style. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is the opposite: Bright, colorful, and cartoony, it’s a Lisa Frank-style explosion of pink and cute animals flying through space. Up to four players working together (or one with an artificial intelligence-controlled dog friend) pilot a small, round spaceship through levels to rescue cute animals from captivity. Like in FTL, the ship is divided into separate stations that control movement, weapons, shields, etc. There are always more stations than there are players, forcing you to run around to get things done. It’s charming, colorful fun.

‘Divinity: Original Sin 2’ (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Divinity: Original Sin 2 early screenshot

While many of these co-op games are focused on fun, fast, lightweight experiences that are relatively easy to drop into with new players, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is the opposite end of the spectrum: It’s an epic, fantasy, PC-style RPG with all the bells and whistles, but one that’s built from the ground up to be played cooperatively. They don’t even have to cooperate! The game allows for party members to be actively working against one another if they so choose. Between that social structure and a deeply systemic, simulation-focused design throughout, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is about as close as digital games have come to capturing pen-and-paper roleplaying.

‘Portal 2’ (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

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Portal 2

The original Portal is a perfect, focused, and hugely influential curio of game design, combining razor-sharp physics platforming puzzles that explore its core, portal gun mechanic, with hilarious writing in your taunting robot overlord, GLaDOS. The sequel is bigger and better in every way, with a highly-produced campaign, an expanded cast, and new mechanics to explore. For our purposes, it also adds a truly excellent co-op campaign, completely separate from the single-player story, which tasks two robot friends with solving puzzles that require two sets of portals. Doubling the number of portals in play makes the co-op campaign fiendishly tricky at times, but all the more satisfying when you do solve it, especially with a friend.

‘Overwatch’ (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

First-person shooters almost always offer team-based modes these days, with games like Call of Duty, Halo, and Counter-Strike becoming some of the foundational esports. Those games are built on their symmetry, however, starting players off on equal footing in order to provide a test of raw skill. Blizzard took cooperative FPS play to a whole new level with Overwatch, a team-based “hero shooter” where every player controls a different character with unique skills. Overwatch follows from the team-based gameplay of Team Fortress 2, which divides players into specialized character classes, but goes even further by offering heroes that play radically different from one another, making team composition and collaboration crucial to success. Few (if any) shooters reward creative teamwork the way Overwatch does, since its growing cast of characters and maps synergize and counter one another in a huge and ever-evolving combinatorial metagame. With such a range of characters and play styles, Overwatch is the perfect co-op shooter for people that aren’t especially into shooters otherwise.

‘Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes’ (PS4, PC, Android)

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

It’s a classic, Hollywood scenario: A field operative is locked in a battle with time as they try to defuse an elaborate bomb. Meanwhile, a support team frantically digs through manuals remotely to help their colleague get out alive. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is one of the first virtual reality games that really plays with the medium (you can play it without, but the experience lacks a certain tactile suspense): One player, wearing a VR headset, must defuse a procedurally generated bomb, but has no idea how to do so. Everyone else in the game has to solve each of the bomb’s many puzzles, digging through physical manuals to help the defuser.

As you may have sensed, asymmetry is a running theme on this list. Putting players in different roles leads to fun and interesting cooperation, and this is a perfect example of how new technology can inspire wholly new types of play.

‘Destiny 2’ (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

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Bungie mastered the modern first-person shooter with its Halo series, but it took it to a whole new level with Destiny, using that buttery-smooth shooting as the mechanical foundation for an infinite, cooperative loot grind that draws as much from MMORPGs or Diablo 3 as it does Call of Duty. The sequel refined and evolved what so many people loved about the first game into one of the most polished, online AAA experiences available. Destiny 2 has a little bit of everything: An epic, space opera story, intense structured competition, and endless hunt for better and cooler loot, and also surprisingly chill PvE missions when you just want to unwind and shoot aliens with your buds.

‘Left 4 Dead 2’ (Xbox 360, PC)

Left4Dead 2

The oldest title on this list by several years, Left 4 Dead 2 retains such a committed community because nothing else has captured the fun and tempo of this cooperative, PvE first-person shooter. Up to four players have to survive as they make their way across zombie-infested levels. The game is so deeply replayable because of an innovative “A.I. Director” that can alter the layout of levels and the placement of enemies and items based on the players’ performance, in order to keep it fun, exciting, and unpredictable. Warhammer: Vermintide 2 just took a crack at translating the same basic gameplay into a gothic fantasy setting, but, for our money, L4D2 is still best in class for what it’s trying to do.

‘Payday 2’ (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Switch, PC)

Payday 2

Everybody loves a good heist movie, but there are shockingly few heist games. Grand Theft Auto V had a handful of co-op heist missions, but PayDay 2 is one of the only games where that is the whole point. There is no linear campaign to speak of, just a rotating selection of heist missions for one to four players, like robbing stores or hijacking armored vehicles. Between missions, players earn money and experience to be spent on weapons, cosmetic upgrades (such as a staggering variety of masks), and skill points that help them specialize into different criminal archetypes, like “Mastermind” or “Enforcer.” Released first in 2013, the game’s enduring community has led to a ton of additional content in subsequent years, making this a rich playground for any new players jumping in because of the heist fantasy.

‘Monster Hunter: World’ (PS4, Xbox One)

Monster Hunter: World Review

Striking out into the wilderness with your friends to hunt giant game just one step above Minecraft’s raw survivalism for capturing a primal, human fantasy in a video game. The Monster Hunter series has been hugely popular in Japan for years, and the latest iteration returns from handheld platforms to mainstream consoles for one of its biggest entries yet. Fans love the series for the incredible depth of both its combat and the crafting you do with the spoils of your hunts. Combat is big, chaotic, and visceral, made that much more fun with a friend or two there alongside you. Monster Hunter: World asks for a certain amount of commitment from its players to learn and master its many, many systems, but if you have friends that are up for the task, it’s incomparable.


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