Warning: Some of the video games listed below are not suitable for younger viewers. Please use caution and check each game’s ESRB rating before allowing children to play it, especially those rated M for Mature. M-rated video games may contain content that is inappropriate for children and/or unlabeled content that exposes younger viewers to explicit messages and themes.
There’s that old question: “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” It might, but without a listener, what good is a sound anyway?
Similarly, if you pull off a great move in a game, or defeat a boss-monster against all odds with only one sliver of health left for yourself, and nobody’s there to see it, does it even really count? Sometimes, you need a buddy (or five) to make a fun gaming session feel worthwhile. That’s where co-op games come in.
Co-ops are not competitions. They’re things you can play with other people, not against other people. What the best co-op games offer is camaraderie, teamwork, and sometimes, if you totally slip up, the comfort of your friends being on hand to save the day and do the hard work of winning for you.
We’ve assembled a list of 11 of the best PC co-op games on Steam that you play with friends. Some of these experiences are within co-op modes of competition games or solo story games, and others are built from the ground up with cooperation in mind as part of the satisfaction the game delivers.
1. Borderlands 2 by Gearbox Software, LLC, Aspyr
The future as imagined in the Borderlands 2
universe is a blender-mash of a Mad Max/Road Warrior
-roving, survival-of-the-fittest dystopia, meeting the RoboCop/Blade Runner-
style corporate-control-run-amok dystopia. And then mix that with the Tomb Raider
element of exploring the ruins and looting of an advanced alien technology setting.
All of this takes place on a planet called Pandora that has already been mostly picked clean by the evil Dahl Corporation, but is now left to fortune-seekers and claim-stakers to raid. Players loot the Vault, a massive alien ruin littered with exotic weaponry and technology. In the process, they stack items and build out skill trees that modify play along the way.
You’ll need all the weapons and skills you can get, because the Vault is lousy with other criminals, fortune seekers, bikers, and raiders, as well as robots and alien beasts. And all of them are intent on killing you before you kill them. To that end, you play as one such soldier of fortune, alongside up to three other friends in a co-op party.
The playable characters offer different strengths, weaknesses, and play styles. So co-op play really becomes a question of finding the right blend of skills and attributes that work well together. Each type has an action skill that acts as a kind of special ability or attack.
The wacky but deadly design of the world and characters, the genuinely clever and funny script, and the strategy of leveling up your character and building out his or her skill tree all combine with the joy of teaming up and making up for one another’s deficiencies.
2. Overcooked! 2 by Team17 Digital Limited, Ghost Town Games
Video games are not all grim and gritty, post-apocalyptic death matches on harsh alien landscapes, filled with kill-or-be-killed action and death at the end of a sword or in the cruel, snapping jaws of bloodthirsty monsters.
Sometimes, a video game can be about being a cute little chef who has to get a bunch of orders out to customers. Or, as in Overcooked! 2
, a bunch of cute little chefs, working in tandem, across 40 insane kitchen set-up levels. Overcooked! 2
, the sequel to Overcooked!
, adds new gameplay wrinkles to the original offbeat co-op kitchen actioner title.
Presented in bright and shiny, cute graphics, Overcooked! 2
is a kind of throwback to the old days of coin-op arcade action, when videogames with oddball topics like Root Beer Tapper
, Food Fight
, or Paperboy
sat next to more traditional shoot em-ups and platformers. It’s a third-person overhead game where you see the whole board at once on the screen, and move your onscreen chef avatar around frantically to get food on the plates.
Overcooked! 2 is a rapid task-completion game, where ticket food orders get displayed on the top of the screen, and you must pilot a little chef character (and work alongside others) in a rapid race against time to find and assemble ingredients, prepare them, throw them together, and get them plated to close out the order.
And just like in a real professional kitchen, there’s no time to rest and relax, because as you’re finishing one order, three others just came in, each with ticking countdown clocks on when they’ll be late. Unlike real professional kitchens, Overcooked! 2 has improbably built levels with things like white water rapids in the middle of them.
It’s a pleasant change of pace to not be shooting bounty hunters or crawling through monster-laden dungeons or sewers. But you’ll be happily surprised at just how tense and nerve wracking it is to work with others to fill demands. It’ll give you an appreciation for what goes on behind the kitchen doors the next time you eat out.
3. Rayman Legends by Ubisoft
Atari, the company that arguably created the video game craze back in the late 70s, re-entered the console market in the 90s with a system called the Atari Jaguar.
Rayman began its life as platform mascot game for the Atari Jaguar. Rayman is a wacky cartoon head, with an invisible body and goofy gloved hands and shoes that float improbably as he runs, jumps, and shoots. It was the one reason to even turn on an Atari Jaguar.
But with the failure of that console, developer Ubisoft ported the game to PlayStation and other consoles. And the concept and execution were so fun, that this now-forgotten relic system has been outlived by its intended mascot for over 24 years now, with new installments for gaming consoles and PC
over the decades.
One of the best PC co-op games, Rayman Legends
is a beautifully animated platformer that really shines in co-op mode. It’s a great showcase of why the tried and true idea of platform games will never go away. They’re fun.
Playing with up to three others requires you to have teamwork and on-the-fly strategy coordination to get through the levels. It’s actually a lot more fun as a group activity than in single-player mode.
is old-school gaming with a modern polish with bells and whistles that don’t get in the way. Unlockables, special character skins, and network play all add up to a satisfying delight to play.
4. Payday 2 by Overkill Software
Everybody loves a good bank heist movie. So making a good bank heist game seems like a great idea. Which is what Overkill Software did with the Payday series, now in its second installment.
is a first-person game where you and a small crew team up to rob banks. This takes the FPS look and mechanics out of the battlefield and into the city. The tasks are all about disarming alarms, incapacitating guards, evading or neutralizing cameras, and avoiding capture by police and SWAT, should things go south for your crew.
Missions are chosen with a clever menu selection idea. You log into a fictional area of the dark web within the game called Crime.net and choose from different contracts, which each have their own objectives that must be reached to complete. But the basics are the same for all. Get in, get the loot, get it out to a drop point, then make it to a safe exit.
does offer single player mode, but there’s really no reason to play it. The whole fun of the experience is all about the cooperation and the thrill of high-stakes, high-risk team work, making off with other people’s money. Voiceover work by famous actors like Ron Perlman and John Cleese make this lawbreaking adventure a class act.
5. Spelunky by Derek Yu, Mossmouth, LLC
Gaming is a multibillion-dollar industry now, and triple-A (AAA) titles often cost millions to make, with giant teams of resources put into their development. But at the end of the day, a game is a thing you play for fun, and even now, smaller indie studios can still compete by making fun games. Enter Spelunky
It was developed as freeware in 2008 by a single programmer, Derek Yu. The game is a testament to the idea that quality can and will win out over high-impact glitz and production. Spelunky is a masterfully crafted game, not made by committee or team, but artisanally hand-crafted by a guy with a vision.
The game is a third-person platformer, with charming, cartoony graphics that have players progress down a level, traverse obstacles, beat monsters, and leap and swing from platform to platform. All the levels seem really well designed, which is a big feat, because the level design is always different each time you play. Yu created a brilliant system where the levels are all procedurally generated by algorithms.
Still, each level feels planned, which means the programming of the “planning planner” must really be elegant and smart. Which is what Spelunky feels when you play it: Elegant and smart. It really comes to life in co-op mode, where the intelligent design of the game dynamics make working with a friend really satisfying.
6. TowerFall Ascension by Matt Makes Games, Matt Thorson
Another indie game, TowerFall: Ascension
is a little gem of an action platformer. It’s a sequel and update to the original entry TowerFall
, which spawned a lot of imitators of its fun, fast-paced, arrows and platforms gameplay.
In Ascension, that finely tweaked and honed platform gameplay, which used to only offer PvP versus multiplayer, now gives players a co-op mode where they defend each other against a variety of beasties and monsters.
7. Helldivers by Arrowhead Game Studios
A top-down shooter, Helldivers
was originally launched as a Sony co-op multiplayer game for its PlayStation 3 and 4 home consoles and mobile gaming device, the Vita. It’s a procedurally generated series of maps where players must work together while avoiding friendly fire.
You’ll need to blast through a chaotic map of bullets, enemies, turrets, and vehicles to complete a given level’s mission objective, call in a transport, and fly off to risk life and limb all over again. And again and again.
The bird’s eye, isometric perspective makes it feel like moving toy wargaming figures around on a frenetic, real-time, super-animated map of enemies and incoming fire. Players must coordinate attacks and defenses with each other and strategize in order to succeed. The fun of Helldivers isn’t just in the combat; it is in the combat as a team.
8. Far Cry 5 by Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Toronto
The Far Cry
franchise is a kind of anthology series. Think of how The Twilight Zone
or Black Mirror
all have episodes in various settings with different actors and premises, but all are unified by a common storytelling point of view. Far Cry
But it unifies the diverse stories across installments so that they are all about a lone person, in a vast wilderness or plains-type space where survival, scavenging, and being outnumbered and often out-gunned is the norm. Which makes Far Cry 5’s
inclusion of a co-op mode such a literal game-changer.
This is a two-person experience, and you’ll need a really dedicated friend to game with. The entire campaign mode of Far Cry 5
is available to play in two-player co-op mode. This changes the solitary nature and sort of enjoyable tension of loneliness the other installments have, and is a really neat wrinkle on a AAA title.
9. Dying Light by Techland
George Romero introduced the world to the idea of the zombie apocalypse in 1968, with Night of the Living Dead, and gave audiences the thrill and horror of the idea of survival as prey being a story in itself. Today, TV’s The Walking Dead is the most recognizable incarnation of this genre. We just can’t get enough of zombies, it seems.
is a first-person survival game, set in an open world, overrun by an epidemic of living, infected dead. There’s a single player campaign mode. But like Far Cry 5
, co-op support has been implemented not just as an add-on mode for sandbox play, but for the entire campaign as well.
If you’re gonna survive the zombie apocalypse in Dying Light
, it’ll probably be better to do it with a buddy.
10. Left 4 Dead 2 by Valve Corporation
Left 4 Dead
is another zombie survival game
, but this one’s more action-oriented. It’s playing through what feels like an action-horror movie and presented as such. The “4” in the title is not because the developers are Prince fans. It is to denote that gameplay is in a squad of four survivors; regular joe, zombie-movie archetypes thrown together by circumstance to stay alive in a world gone mad with flesh-eating corpses.
Even if you were to play single player, the game pilots the remaining band of 3 as artificial intelligence (AI) players. So really the fun is in the human interaction, as you face and survive the inhuman attacks of the living dead.
The character archetypes are an overweight, balding high school coach (called Coach), a con-man gambler named Nick, a wide-eyed TV production assistant named Rochelle who was working with a news crew when the zombies overran the area, and Ellis, a local town mechanic. The idea is to fight your way across the region (which begins in Georgia and ends in Louisiana) getting from safe house to safe house, and to extraction points that signal level ends. It’s a fast-paced, jump-scare thrill ride.
The same rule for horror movies applies to this horror video game
. It’s always better to see it (or, in this case, play Left 4 Dead 2
) with a group of friends.
11. Rocket League by Psyonix
If you like soccer and you like rocket-powered, tricked out cars, you probably don’t have many chances for those two things that you like to ever be liked together at the same time. Well, now you do.
is an offbeat idea. What if you crossed demolition derby with soccer, played with a giant, oversized ball that cars ram into to push down a field and into the opposing goal? But, as it turns out, this offbeat idea is a lot of fun in practice.
Gameplay mechanics, graphics, and inventive, out-of-the-box thinking go together to make Rocket League
a casual, fun romp. Team up with a friend, or get a group of four together to go two-on-two to perform slide skid hits and bank-shots by colliding with the giant ball. It’s silly and weird. But it’s also fun. Even more so with friends.
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About the Author: Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.
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