In these times of long isolation, fistfights over hand sanitizer, and eating the mushrooms growing in the shower, it's important to know how to get the most out of something. Games are no exception, and while there's plenty of great multiplayer and couch co-op games out there, there's also some single-player classics that are just as good when you have somebody to share them with.
Of course, you have to know what you're getting into with this sort of thing. We all know the heartbreak of excitedly showing a friend something we love, only to see their eyes glaze over as they nod politely. So to minimize the risk of this, we've amassed some basic rules and good starting points when sharing the gaming experience with a friend.
Sharing the Single Player Experience
It sounds obvious, but bears repeating: a big part of finding the right game is looking for something that both you and your friends will like. Action, story, strategy, whatever—it's all about finding the genre or gameplay you both care about. And while there's no truly right or wrong answer, there are some things you should probably keep in mind.
Firstly, you probably don't want to pick anything with a lot of grinding or repetition. It might be fun for the player, but it nearly never is for those watching or waiting their turn. Same goes for anything that's highly complex—just because you understand it, doesn't mean they're going to, or that they have the patience to listen to you explain it. There's nothing wrong with playing Civilization with a friend, but if you know all the little systems and nuances and they don't, that's going to be a bit daunting.
By contrast, a quick pace is excellent for game-sharing. Arcade-y minigames, controller-swapping on death, stories that bounce along at the speed of a TV show; all this stuff is good for keeping everybody engaged. But spend two hours chipping health off one boss, and people are liable to wander off to see what's happening in the kitchen.
In fact, you might want to be a little careful when it comes to action games altogether. I'm not saying that they can't work—something like Bayonetta is unlikely to leave anybody bored—but action is a very solo experience. If there's no spectacle or story for the other person to latch onto, they won't really be able to contribute. That's why strategy and puzzles are always good. Two minds are better than one, and nothing forms a friendship like collaborating on something together.
Finally, if you are picking a story, make sure it's the right kind of story. Last year a friend and I tried tackling Detroit: Become Human together, and after a few hours of pretentious, mishandled melodrama, we were both desperate for the end credits. Don't get me wrong, its crime wasn't being badly-written. After all, everyone knows that can be funny. No, it was just gloomy and humorless, which doesn't really make for a great social experience.
If all that seemed a bit much, don't worry—below we've got some good starting points for your own shared single-player adventures. If any of these are gathering dust in your Steam Library or going cheap in the future, now might be a good time to gather your housemates 'round and share a great experience.
Untitled Goose Game (PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One)
It might be short, but it'll be a fantastic evening regardless. Untitled Goose Game is the only game I've ever seen my technophobic mother both play and enjoy, and if that doesn't demonstrate its universal appeal, nothing else could. It's a premise as charming as it is infamous: "It's a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose." The appeal here is all in showing it to a friend who's never seen it before, and watching them learn all the little joys of being a bad bird with no limits and endless honking power. If you ever hid in the bushes with somebody while watching a third person approach a door with a bucket of water balanced on top, you'll both get along with this game just fine.
Until Dawn (PS4)
There are a lot of narrative-based, branching-choice games out there, and the appeal to groups is obvious: it's basically a movie and a choose-your-own adventure book combined, with all the added fun of saying "told you so" when somebody makes the wrong choice. And while there's no shortage of narrative experiences to choose from these days, I'd wager Until Dawn is the best for a group experience. It's a teenage slasher story that's shallow in all the right ways, with characters who are just broad enough to be enjoyable. It's the kind of story that you can still understand after four beers and an argument about the last pizza slice—and trust me when I say that's a strength, not a failing.
Return of the Obra Dinn (PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One)
At the other end of the scale we have Return of the Obra Dinn, one of the best games of the last decade. Obra Dinn is a thoughtful yet eerie mystery game about an abandoned cargo ship, and you the investigator are tasked to find out what happened to the missing crew. Where Goose Game is made better by having somebody who knows what to do so the pace doesn't drop, it's probably better for everybody to be ignorant going into Obra Dinn. Work together with a partner to solve killings and decipher clues' They're not the cereal box puzzles you normally get in mystery games, but real investigations you can piece together and feel smart for doing so.
Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One)
Binding of Isaac might have a two-player mode, yes, but I think there's equal fun in egging each other on to see who can get further through on their own. A gruesome, grubby roguelike with a truly vast pool of random elements to draw from, this is an arcade game in spirit, and you play it the same way; with somebody looking over your shoulder and shouting. Then you lose, they take your seat, and see if they can top your score. If not this, then try something like Ape Out for that same kind of vibe.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
This one is simple—get everybody to make their own character, pass the controls when it's that character's turn, and then wander out into battle to see who gets promoted and who gets splattered. If you want to make things more interesting, place a friendly wager or start a drinking game based on who can rack up the most kills in a given period of time. XCOM has always been good at making people invested in the little meatheads running about on screen, and War of the Chosen also gives you some enjoyably hateable villains to rally against. Now especially good for the long months ahead, set up a whole war campaign in your living room, with you and your friends as the generals in charge. Welcome back, Commanders.
What games do you think work just as well for two gamers as one? Let us know your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below!