I don't know about you but I get tired with competitive games, sometimes. There's only so much blood that you can shed, so much screaming you can engineer before you look at your viscera-splattered hands and think, "I need friends to do this with." Even in this season of single-player blockbusters, it isn't incredibly hard to find co-op games. However, it can be slightly more difficult to find those that won't cost you an arm and a leg. Diablo III is awesome but will your associates really commit to making that $60 worthwhile? Can you make that $60 worth all that ramen? It's hard to say.
But don't worry. As always, we've got you covered. Below is a list of budget-friendly, co-op PC games that you may enjoy.
Hands down, Monaco is probably my favorite co-op game of the year. This neon-bodied, top-down heist 'em up is a weird yet satisfying combination of Metal Gear Solid and Pacman. Like its minimalist narrative, Monaco's gameplay is tight and completely absent of unnecessary frills, a streamlined experience that personifies the idea that less is more. Everything has a place here. Everything has a reason for existing. More crucially, Monaco is one of those rare games that let you play it however you so choose. Did you feel like taking a more arcade-y approach? Dash through the hallways and unload that shotgun at will. Want to make Ocean's Eleven green with envy? Mince cautiously through the game's many environments, avoid detection and synchronize with your friends to ensure your abilities and equipment have the maximum impact.
A point of interest: Monaco all but enforces the need for co-operative play. If even one man is down, the rest will not be able to proceed. No one gets left behind regardless of whether you agree with that conceit or not.
Space Station 13
Space Station 13 isn't your traditional co-op game. Not unless your idea of one involves more than a legion of confused people, a galactic facility tottering on the brink of destruction and navigating the complicated politics associated with the janitorial chain of command. Bewildering, brilliant and brain-numbingly complex, Space Station 13 is definitely not one of those 'play it for a few hours then go do something else' sort of games. The learning curve isn't so much as a contour as it is a vertical incline. Space Station 13 doesn't even pretend to like you. Even before you begin, you're inundated with options and things to do. What is the use of a prosthetic arm? How do the stats work? Are there any benefits unique to each of the races? Why monkeys? The game won't tell you. You're going to have to find out yourself. However, if you can get pass the initial hurdle of figuring out just what the hell is going on, Space Station 13 will have you enthralled. Bristling with everything from cultists to xenomorphs to the tedium of a desk job, Space Station 13 is one of the most immersive role-playing experiences I've seen in a while. Sure, the pixel art may be kinda retro-cutesy but how many games do you know of can simultaneously evoke the terror of Dead Space and the tragedy of being a clown all at the same time?
Left 4 Dead 2
Hat-tip to easter for reminding me
Depending on who you talk to, Left 4 Dead 2 is either an improvement on the original or an unnecessary complication of a winning formula. Still, no one will refute it's good. It's great, in fact. If you haven't, for some peculiar reason, played it already , Left 4 Dead 2 is a first-person shooter with four unlikely heroes, a setting not dissimilar 28 Days Later and an omniscient A.I Director that will actively study your progress and modify its attempts at homicide accordingly. The results are amazing. Left 4 Dead 2 is a game composed of both tense, worrying 'oh-god-why-is-there-so-much-open-space' sequences, madcap confrontations with the Infected Horde and moments of pure heroism. The story isn't particularly great, though, but the voice acting and contextual dialogue make up for any flaws Left 4 Dead 2 may have in that department. Bonus points for DLCs, player-made Campaigns, characters of color and a tough-as-nails Expert mode. If you like zombies, you'll like Left 4 Dead 2. (Even if you don't, you probably will enjoy it anyway.)
Dungeons of Fayte
Hat tip to Spooky Squid's Miguel Sternberg for this one. I haven't had a chance to personally check out Dungeons of Fayte just yet but the sheer amount of unadulterated love and good will directed at it suggests that you won't be wasting your time here. The developers call it a 'bit of a mash-up between Zelda: Four swords and Princess Maker'. Others call it brilliant. As you might have surmised, half of the game involves navigating through retro-tastic dungeons in pursuit of glory and gold. The other half? You spend it in town where you can choose to languish in the tavern or do something useful with yourself. Your choice. Capable of supporting up to four players, Dungeons of Fayte is, according to those who've played it, stuffed with an insane amount of content and is certainly what most would call highly replayable.
Still not convinced? Here's Sternberg's take on it:
Dungeons of Fayte is a great little real time dungeon crawler that can be completed in a single sitting and played with up to four friends. The dungeon segments play out top down Zelda style and are admittedly a little rough around the edges (it was originally a jam game). Where it really shines is the excellent leveling system. Time between dungeons is spent in town where each player can choose how to spend the week: robbing graves, playing darts in the bar, training with smelly wizards etc... Often these activities will trigger amusing little story fragments and choices for the player. All of which result in various stat upgrades and occasional penalties. If this sounds familiar these town bits are very similar to the Yawhg which was inspired by DofF. Because it offers a complete experience in under a couple hours with enough randomness to keep it fresh for several replays it fills the same sort of niche as a good board game when you have a few friends over for an evening.
Spelunky. God. Where do I even start? Let's try here: Sister site Eurogamer gave the souped-up PC version a solid 100. PC Gamer gave it a 96. My twitter feed won't shut up about it. Spelunky isn't so much an indie game gone big as it is a legend. A bonafide legend. And the reason Spelunky works? Because it has a laser-sharp sense of focus. Spelunky is a 2D platform roguelike built on procedurally generated levels. It doesn't want to be anything more than that. The platforming is sharp, the controls tight, the challenges fiendish enough to keep you perennially worried. Spelunky even has a Daily Challenge mode that taunts its players to be the best at the daily dungeon. Get the best time and the world will stare in awe. The co-op mode lets up to four players challenge randomized death together, something that would ordinarily bode well for survival in another game. Here? Here you can sacrifice a bosom buddy for material gain. Now go think about that for a second. (Yes, it's as sadomasochistically awesome as it sounds.)
Being a dick can be fun. Gracious behavior and a team-centered mentality are great and all but sometimes, just sometimes, it's a lot more appealing to throw decorum to the wind and electrocute your best buds. That's what friendship is about, right? While Magicka is frequently (and innocently) billed as an isometric action-adventure game that draws inspiration from Nordic mythology, the truth is that it's a rip-roaring, tongue-in-cheek self-aware griefer's paradise. Friendly fire is always enforced here. You can't toggle it off. Not even if you want to. If somebody mistakes and levels a flamethrower at you, you will get burned. If you panic, shoot an ice beam at a friend then chuck a rock at them, they will invariably take grotesque amounts of damage.Coupled with its delightfully freeform combat system, Magicka is both a joy and a curse. Play it with friends that won't break the keyboard over affable genocide.
No. No. Nononono. Arrrrrgh. The premise behind Hidden scares me in a way that even games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Outlast cannot. Why? Because predictability. Horror games have rhythm. Somewhere, long before you ever got your grubby paws on the game, a team of developers sat down and mapped out exactly how they're going to frighten you into a visit to the loo. You know certain things are coming. You know that the monsters were conceptualized by a human made, have pre-determined paths and will not creep out from under your bed when you're done. With Damned? You don't have that. Here, the malevolence presence is an autonomous entity capable of cruelty and glee. It's conscious you're terrified to tears and it likes it.
Damned is described by its creators as a randomized online co-op/competitive horror game. Similar to The Hidden, a Half-Life 2 mod from years back, Damned pits a team of survivors and a monster against each other. Unlike The Hidden, though, Damned isn't an action game. The human players won't have the option to go down guns a-blazing. Instead, you get a dinky little torchlight and the option to run screaming into the night. The objective isn't to kill, it's to get the heck out of dodge. As for the monster in Damned, they're more Poltergeist than Predator. Think competitive Amnesia. Damned still has a way to go before it enters my 'buy now or we can't be friends' list but that doesn't mean you shouldn't check it out.
Or you could just get the Hidden which is free and fabulous. This article from Rockpapershotgun's Craig Pearson encapsulates all the reasons why you should figure out how to install it.
Guns of Icarus Online
Imagine this: gun-toting airships duking it out in the sky. Both vessels are being manned by human players, each intent on blasting the other to smitereens. Familiar concept, eh? Here's the twist. Instead of having just one person in control, Guns of Icarus Online puts entire teams in charge of those airborne vehicles. In order to keep everything ship shape, players will have to load cannons, repair damage, scout for enemies, circumnavigate (or stage) mutinies and just bloody steer the thing. There are a varieties of roles to be played, of course, and a handful of airships to choose from. How much you enjoy Guns of Icarus Online is going to be reliant on how good of a team you have. Bootstrapping an impossible win is as wonderful as you think it might be, especially if victory was obtained moments after engineering declared your ship a lethal fire hazard.
Price: $10 for the regular package, $50 for the Collector's Edition
FPSTD is a peculiar acronym to have attached to your game but that doesn't stop Sanctum 2 from being rather infectiously fun. (Get it? Get it? Er.) A first-person shooter meets tower defense game, Sanctum 2 will put you and your buddies in control of four elite soldiers, each with their own individual strengths. Your objective? To keep some incandescent Cores from being ruthlessly headbutted by fungi-based aliens. Why? Well. That's what the story mode is for. Like any good shooter, it gives you a host of things to compulsively unlock. Unlike most shooters, Sanctum 2 demands considerable forethought. While a great aim is essential, you're pretty much required to have a decent grasp of concepts like maze-building and how to most efficiently deploy your towers. If you don't, well, you can be certain that Sanctum 2 will relish the opportunity to educate you. (Hint: pain is involved.)
Viscera Cleanup Detail
Look. I know this is going to sound crazy but you're going to have to trust me. There's a space janitor simulator called Viscera Cleanup Detail and it may be the best thing to have ever happened to the first-person shooter genre. Viscera Cleanup Detail is what comes after the fact, what transpires once the hero has gone off to get the girl and the janitorial crew is called in to deal with the god-awful mess. Chock-full of amputated limbs and miscellaneous slabs of meat, Viscera Cleanup Detail will have you hosing down the walls, tidying bullets and working to remove all traces of the epic space battle that happened a few hours before. Previously, you could only undertake the labour alone but that has changed. RuneStorm recently implemented a co-op mode so you can force a friend into joining your madness.
Price: The alpha is free, the finished product will retail at $5
Does Diablo III still make your heart twinge with disappointment? Can't get over how Blizzard thoroughly screwed you over with the Auction House? If you have trouble parsing the new improvements to Blizzard's much beleaguered action-RPG, why not try its' more cartoony cousin? Torchlight II makes no pretenses at a heavy plot. There's a story, yes but it's second to all the mayhem you'll be causing. Click. Click. Shoot. Loot. Click. It's a frantic, fabulous mess of dead enemies and shiny equipment wrapped up in a tidal wave of particle effects. Nothing more, nothing less. The best thing about Torchlight II, however, isn't the fact it exists but the fact that it has a tireless community working around the clock to produce bigger, badder mods. Why pay for a DLC when you can celebrate a monumental labor of love instead? Not that Runic Games appears to have any interest in earning money through expansions, anyway. The editor that they bundled with the game is practically the keys to the kingdom.
Trine 2 is gorgeous. Like, 'make Disney green with envy' gorgeous. The entire affair practically drips magic pixie dust and particle effects. Trine 2's basic premise isn't particularly ambitious: three heroes, plucked straight from Trope City, must work together in a bid to discover the dastardly repercussions of a sibling rivalry. Nonetheless, under the dream-like exterior and pedestrian narrative, there lies a puzzle-platformer just made for co-operative play. Each character has special abilities unique to them. In order to get to the end of the game, you're going to have to figure out how to use these talents in combination so as to be able to overcome the game's many challenges. Would-be supplicants should also be aware that Trine 2's charming visuals are somewhat deceptive; some of the puzzles will really demand you work your noggin.
Did we miss your favorite game? What was your best, budget-friendly co-op experience of all time? If you know of a title that deserves a spot on the list but is somehow absent, don't hesitate to let me know in the comments!