Co-op gaming on the couch or over the coax
While gaming makes for a great solo hobby, there are some titles that are actually improved by playing with someone else. Not against them, with them.
Whether you're teaming up to take down zombies, or solve puzzles or square up to another team of real-life gamers, co-op games are a great opportunity to create some lasting memories.
The best thing about co-op play these days is that more often than not you have the choice between local and co-op play. Getting all your friends gathered round the one TV is great, but if that's not possible you at least have the opportunity to round them up online.
Here are 20 awesome co-op games that you should be playing now locally or online with your buddies at hand.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
Never Alone is a game that's genuinely improved when a friend joins you. Though there's a single-player mode, the companion AI leaves a lot to be desired so having a reliable friend alongside you makes this game's story all the more meaningful.
The game puts one player in control of a young Iñupiat girl called Nuna who is seeking to stop the terrible blizzards that are battering her village. Player two takes up the role of the small white fox that accompanies her. This is a local co-op experience that requires two controllers.
Never Alone is available on PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.
On paper, Overcooked is a simple game that asks you and a group of friends to work together as chefs to prepare, cook and serve meals in a busy restaurant in a certain amount of time. In practice, though, it's so much more complicated than that and will make you understand the truth of the phrase "too many cooks spoil a broth."
Up to four people can play together locally in Overcooked and it's amazing just how tricky things can get. It's some of the most frantic fun you can have in a game and it's amazing how quickly even the most tight-knit friendships can start to melt when subjected to a hot kitchen.
Overcooked is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Rocket League is one of the best co-op and multiplayer games to be released in many years. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, it's basically football/soccer with cars instead of people which is fantastic. Secondly, it's got an excellent physics system. And finally, it's incredibly easy to just pick up and play a short game with friends no matter where they are.
Rocket League supports both local and online co-operative play, allowing you to play with a team of strangers or friends against another team of players. You'll find yourself cheering as you score goals together and heaping blame on one another when one of you lets an easy shot slide through your goal. All in all, it's an exhilarating co-op experience.
Rocket League is available on Xbox One, PC, PS4 and it's coming to Nintendo Switch.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Whether you're fighting off Brutes with a shotgun or cruising around in a Warthog taking out Grunts, the Halo series is undeniably leagues more enjoyable with friends. And while the latest entry in the franchise, Halo 5: Guardians, notably omits couch co-op functionality in favor of a central online focus.
Nevertheless, you can experience co-op both locally and over broadband in the Halo archives, lovingly packaged as The Master Chief Collection on Xbox One. It compiles Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4, along with all of their respective DLC on a single disc or download.
What's more, a 1080p upscale of the fantastic Halo 3: ODST can be added on for 5 bucks as if $35 wasn't enough of a bargain already for nearly an entire blockbuster game series.
This was originally launched on the PC back in 2012 by Blizzard Entertainment, but it's now also offered on the two Xbox and PlayStation consoles with the Reaper of Souls expansion pack included.
It's an action-packed role-playing game (RPG), allowing players to choose from six different classes – the Witch Doctor, the Barbarian, the Wizard, the Monk, the Demon Hunter and the newly-added Crusader – and embark on an adventure spanning five Acts to defeat both Diablo (Acts I to IV) and Malthael (Act V), the Angel of Death.
The game includes an adventure mode outside the main campaign that allows players to roam through every available region in the game to collect loot. On the consoles, Diablo III is playable with friends both online and offline, whereas the PC version is online only (a sore spot with many PC gamers).
Oh, and you can kill armed, sentient cows in the game – 'nuff said.
At its heart, Borderlands 2 is a shooter, but it offers RPG elements such as gaining experience and leveling up your character. Developed by Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games, players set out on a quest to take down Handsome Jack, the president of the Hyperion Corporation who is controlling a new resource called Eridium in order to rule over Pandora.
Six playable characters are offered in the game, two of which can be obtained by purchasing downloadable content. The game is a riot overall, and provides plenty of virtual territory for exploration with friends. Players can pick up randomly generated loot from fallen enemies, purchase gear from local shops, and so on.
The game allows up to four friends via invites, or up to four random players via the matchmaker, in a single game. Borderlands 2 is available on multiple gaming platforms.
Left 4 Dead 2
Here's another co-op multiplayer shooter, this time from Valve Software. Available on the PC, Xbox 360, Mac OS X, and Linux, players team up with three other gamers to plow through zombies infesting the city. The main objective for each round is to fight your way to the campaign's end, stopping along the way at safe houses that serve as checkpoints.
There are five campaigns in all spanning across Savannah, Georgia to New Orleans, Louisiana, and the gameplay will supposedly adjust itself to match the players' overall performance. There are four characters to choose from that have their own unique set of traits: Coach, Nick, Rochelle, and Ellis.
There's also an overall story offered in Left 4 Dead, but when you're playing alongside friends, it tends to take a backseat as you fight to stay alive. This is a massively fun shooter that can be played with friends locally or online.
This is another of Valve Software's first-person shooters, although you're really not shooting anything alive. Instead of a laser rifle, players equip a portal gun that shoots wormhole-connected openings, or portals, on flat surfaces.
It's a puzzle platformer game at heart, requiring the player to think about how to move onto the next room using these portals. That said, this may be an ideal experience for multiple players as they talk out where a portal should go and when.
In the multiplayer mode, which takes place after the single-player campaign, two players assume bipedal robots named Atlas and P-Body that have their own portal guns. The object is to locate The Vault, which contains humans stored in stasis.
Naturally, the artificial intelligence GLaDOS keeps them busy, testing their puzzle skills along the way. Portal 2 is available on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, the PlayStation 3, and the Xbox 360.
Rainbow Six Siege
Even if you're not the type to rack up headshots every evening after work in Call of Duty, don't be so quick to write off Rainbow Six Siege as "just another competitive first-person shooter." It's not. Ubisoft has come a long way in realizing the Rainbow Six series' potential. With the advent of online gaming, the publisher was able to take teamwork to an entirely new level with Siege.
As our friends at PC Gamer said in their review, Rainbow Six Siege is "more dating sim than twitch test." While the game is mostly about cultivating brief yet unforgettable relationships with other players in fully destructible environments, it also requires a fair share of planning. Because of the limited resources you're given in each mission, it's essential to keep communication purely tactical in order to take down the opposing side.
Unfortunately there's no real story or local co-op element to speak of here, but if you're interested in joining up with a few buddies online for countless hours' worth of strategy-focused competitive gaming, Rainbow Six Siege is a safe bet.
Far Cry 4
This is an open-world shooter developed and published by Ubisoft and launched in 2014. The main setting is a fictional Himalayan country called Kyrat and centers on Ajay Ghale, who is caught in the middle of a war between the Golden Path rebel movement and Kyrat's Royal Army.
Thus, players are not only faced with fighting off the local wildlife, but enemy soldiers as they explore the surrounding mountains and forests. The co-op multiplayer portion, called "Guns For Hire," supports two players, and is not part of the main campaign.
However, the two players can roam the countryside and raid outposts they discover. Players take on the role of a Golden Path member or a Rakshasa, the former of which can carry explosives and drive armored vehicles while the latter can teleport and summon wildlife. Far Cry 4 is available for the PC, the Xbox consoles, and the PlayStation consoles.
You knew this would make the list, right? It's the ultimate co-op experience, allowing players to grab blocks and build worlds together that are only limited by imagination. The beauty of Minecraft is that it can be played co-operatively across different platforms, such as the main world residing on Windows 10 and others jumping in using an Android or iOS device.
Of course, you can go hardcore and join the numerous PC-based Minecraft servers seeded on the Internet using the original Java-based version of the game. And the creations you can find are simply mind-boggling, ranging from the reconstructing of actual cities to a full-scale Starship Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
If you don't know what Minecraft is all about, then get out from under that rock. However, in its simplest terms, Minecraft is a block-building simulator that seemingly has no limits. You can get Minecraft for the PC, the Windows 10 Edition, the Pocket Edition for mobile, and versions for the Xbox consoles, the PlayStation consoles, the Wii U, the PlayStation Vita and more.
GTA V Online (Heists)
Back in 2013, Rockstar promised online Heists as a highlight launch feature for its mega blockbuster, somehow still bestselling week-by-week Grand Theft Auto V. Unfortunately, in the modern games industry, "launch feature" is a loose term in a world where any developer can just patch stuff in later.
When the Heist missions finally did arrive in GTA Online in 2015, however, they were undoubtedly welcomed by an otherwise frustrated community. Mostly consisting of four-player cooperative multi-part tasks, Heists were not only a blast to play with a small group of buddies, but it was also quite lucrative with its virtual compensation.
Gnabbing some in-game cash without it feeling like a chore? Who woulda thunk it.
If you've ever wondered what it's like to pair up with a friend and deflect shots from sentient robots with a friend, Raw Data is a game to write home about. Obviously, being a VR game, you'll need an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive (or two) to take advantage of the first-person sci-fi shooter title, but once you have a VR-ready setup, you're good to go.
Sure, VR is an expensive barrier to entry, but Raw Data is also one of the best games out there right now to show off the tech. It's a bit repetitive considering the only thing you really do in the game is shoot hordes of robots with laser guns or slice 'em open with a totally-not-a-lightsaber branded laser katana.
On the upside, however, Raw Data is also not a full-price game, and even as an immersive tech demo, it's totally worth the money if only for the novelty. Just keep in mind that despite being room scale, the scale of the rooms in-game are a lot bigger, which makes for a wonky teleportation system that takes some getting used to. Other than that, Raw Data is one of the best co-op games around!
There are few things more delightful than a well-animated 2D platformer and Guacamelee! is one such game.
The story and visuals are inspired by Mexican folklore, taking you between the worlds of the living and the dead. Two people can play the game together locally, with one player controlling a farmer called Juan Aguacate while a second player takes up the role of a female luchador called Tostada. Together you must fight through undead enemies to stop the villain Calos Calaca from sacrificing the president’s beautiful daughter.
As well as combat there's puzzle solving elements which involve moving between the living and dead worlds to find the best means of defeating enemies and moving onto the next level. It can be immensely frustrating but when you get through it together it makes for some satisfying gameplay.
Guacamelee! can be played on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, Linux, Mac OS.
Little Big Planet 3
You can't really talk about great co-operative games without giving a mention to Little Big Planet. This game is a creative, adorable and extremely fun way to play with friends.
Allowing up to four people to join together either online or locally (or a mix of the two), each of you plays a character with unique abilities and characteristics. Combining the skills of each character opens up new and fun ways to solve puzzles across a variety of levels and defeat enemies. You can even create your very own levels which adds a whole new dimension to play.
Little Big Planet 3 is available on PlayStation 4 and Playstation 3.