Festive Feature #2 - Top 5 Co-Op Games of 2011
Written Tuesday, December 20, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Playing games alone is great and all, but getting together and experiencing the tears and laughter as a team is often twice as much fun. Able to make or break relationships, a co-operative gaming experience is always a worthwhile pursuit, which is why we'll forever welcome a well-crafted co-operative game mode and celebrate it.
And so it is with our next festive feature that we round-up what we consider to be the year's best and most memorable co-op games, taking a single-player experience and transforming it into something that excels beyond expectations with buddies in the same room or in some far-off land, brought together through the magic of Xbox Live. So, whether you like to play co-op with your mate from down the road or a long-lost acquaintance living in Siberia, these are the games to do it with.
It's not often that a long development cycle ends with such a playable and addictive multiplayer game, but Dead Island managed to pull it out of the bag having sunk into obscurity for a few years following its initial announcement. Returning with a tearjerking backwards trailer, Dead Island was admittedly nothing like the video promised, but it still excelled as a co-operative experience.
Play Dead Island with friends or with a random stranger that happens to be in the same area as you, and the doomed island of Banoi will offer limitless zombie dismembering opportunities to you, with a wealth of blunt and sharp instruments at your fingertips. In 4-player co-op, each member of your team has unique abilities, making ploughing through the speedy undead hordes an unbridled pleasure. Who thought Dead Island would end up being such an enjoyable zombie slaughtering holiday?
Steelport might just be one of the finest sandboxes in gaming history, but it's not the world that makes Saints Row: The Third such a spicy proposition; it's the toys that Volition has crammed into the sandbox. Alone, a rampage through Steelport is fun, but with a friend, it's transcendent stuff that unlocks a huge treasure trove of possibilities.
Whether it's surfing on the back of a VTOL jet, marching into a turf war together brandishing matching penetrators, speeding down a highway in nitro-tuned cars or base-jumping off the highest building, there's never a dull moment in Saints Row: The Third's co-op, making it one of the year's most riotously fun gaming experiences that money can buy. How much chaos can you create on your own? Now times that by two and you have the reason why Saints Row: The Third is simply awesome in co-op.
If you thought that the 2D platformer was a genre consigned to history and the Xbox Live Arcade, think again. Rayman Origins is not just one of the finest platformers of any kind to grace consoles in quite some time, but it's also one of the most brilliant 4-player co-op games around at the moment, encouraging four-way slap fights and a race to each of the game's end of level goals.
Helping one another out is the name of the game though - provided you can resist the urge to sabotage your buddies - and you'll find that making progress in Rayman Origins' colourful and varied world is a lot simpler and more pleasurable with a four-strong team made up of Rayman, Globox and two teensies. It's a triumphant return for Rayman then, and having played Rayman Origins in 4-player co-op, we can honestly say that we hope to see a lot more from the wotsit and his buddies.
You know the drill: Gears of War 3 is pure co-op nirvana, curb-stomping its 2-player predecessors with support for at least 4-players across all of its modes. 4-player co-op campaign is just the tip of the iceberg, what with Horde, Beast and the Arcade mode all offering a wealth of co-operative gameplay that'll keep you chainsawing and gibbing for months, if not years. Equally superb solo or with comrades, Gears of War 3 is almost unparalleled as a co-op experience, lovingly crafted by a developer that knows this shit inside-out.
Competitive multiplayer is impeccably well-balanced – save for the inherent frustration the sawed-off brings for some – but it's our co-operative Gears of War 3 sessions that have really succeeded in standing out for us this year, bringing friends together both against the Locust in the newly revamped Horde mode complete with a welcome dose of tactical defensive fortification, and as the Locust in Beast mode. Killing waves of Locust is always great fun, but turning the tables on the COG is a stroke of genius. That said, Horde remains one of the greatest co-op modes in any game, remaining the original and best - like Corn Flakes – among a sea of soggy imitators.
Gears of War 3 is undoubtedly brilliant, but nothing has brought us as much joy and gratification this year as getting our melons around Portal 2's co-op test chambers. Where the first Portal created brainteasing puzzles with the genius concept of travelling in and out of portals, throwing lasers, balls of energy, switches and companion cubes into the mix, Portal 2 retains all of these components and goes not one, not two, but several better by stirring in velocity-altering gels, matter transporting funnels, catapulting faith plates and more.
The result is a brain-melting cerebral co-op experience that puts sweet and endearing protagonists Atlas and P-body through the wringer, as GLaDOS keeps an eye on every move that you both make. When you and a buddy aren't putting your heads together to unravel Portal 2's fiendish rat's maze, you can always taunt one another or enjoy a hug, and when you are thinking through your approach for solving each test chamber, not only do you have to reach a solution, but you also have to correctly co-ordinate that solution with careful communication and orchestration.
Portal 2 is the perfect marriage of smart design and great gameplay, which in co-op translates into puzzling alchemy that'll make or break friendships. But nothing beats that 'eureka' moment when you and your co-op partner finally see the route out of a test chamber, and for that reason, Portal 2 is hands-down the best co-op game this year.
Be back here tomorrow for our third festive top 5 feature! Be there or be square.