A great co-op game leaves you with a memorable shared experience, something you can reminisce with a friend about months or even years later. They can forge friendships, maybe test the limits of others, or even just bring people closer together. We love co-op games at IGN, which is why we wanted to take some time to put together this list of the top 10 cooperative games of all time.
Before we start though, a few caveats as we define what “co-op” means for this list. First, we wanted to focus on games that were truly built around that cooperative experience. This is a list of the top 10 cooperative games, not the 10 best games that happen to be playable cooperatively, which is why you’ll see a lot of games, or separate modes, that can only be played with two players. There are going to be a few that can be played solo, but these experiences are really defined by their cooperative versions. To make room for those games, we had to make some tough cuts, including Halo and Borderlands.
Also, to keep this from stepping on the toes of other genres, we’re omitting MMOs, MOBAs, and any games that are solely focused around competitive cooperative play. Rainbow Six Siege and the Battlefield games are amazing cooperative experiences for those on the same team, no doubt, but for this list, we want to highlight the games that bring people together to work towards a common goal that’s not simply “beat the other team.”.
With that said, here are the 10 best cooperative games of all time.
10. Splinter Cell Conviction
Even as a complementary mode to Splinter Cell: Conviction’s main story, the co-op campaign absolutely shines as a thrilling and fun way to team up with a friend to eliminate tons of bad guys from the shadows. Set as a prologue to Sam Fisher’s story, you take on the roles of a US and Russian agent working together to stop a deadly black market sale, and can use the “Mark and Execute” mechanic in tandem to pull off some amazing, cinematic takedowns.
Communication is key when crouching through the dark, ratcheting up the tension as you split up to take different paths or protect your friend as they put themselves in a vulnerable situation, cleanly and quietly picking off interlopers as they try to attack your exposed partner. This surprisingly meaty campaign caps off with one of the most surprising and exhilarating endings to a co-op story ever, which may end up putting a slight strain on your friendship.
The one bummer is that servers were turned off in 2019, making it exceptionally hard to play in 2021. Just another reason why it’s high time to bring both Splinter Cell and this incredible co-op mode back for all to play.
9. Overcooked 2
Overcooked became the foundation for a job-based co-op genre that has spawned many similarly frantic experiences, but there’s a level of polish and iconic charm that keep us coming back to Overcooked specifically.
With the addition of the throwing mechanic in Overcooked 2, level design transformed from teetering on the edge of somewhat manageable to total, gleeful kitchen chaos. Story campaigns have chefs running back and forth between moving food trucks, pirate ships on the ocean, tossing food over active volcanoes and other varied locales that you wouldn’t normally plan to cook a plate of spaghetti at.
Nailing perfect coordination and understanding the fine-tuning of each kitchen’s quirks is the key to going for perfect ratings, and it’s truly a feat that only the most iron-willed chefs working in tandem can pull off.
8. Streets of Rage 4
Street of Rage 4 is anything but a nostalgia play, despite coming out over 15 years after the last entry in the series. This is one of the best beat-em-ups of all time, straight up, and it shines even brighter in co-op mode, and not just because you’ll have a much better chance to survive it’s challenging difficulty. More than anything else, what makes Streets of Rage such a great co-op game is its balance of approachability and depth.
It’s super easy to jump right in, adjust the difficulty and assists to your preference, and have a blast even with someone who doesn’t know all of the ins-and-outs of the franchise. But gather together a group of veterans who know how to really dig into Streets of Rage 4’s mechanical depth, and it’s even more fun to challenge yourself to get as far as you can, especially with the Mr. X Nightmare Survival mode DLC released after launch.
Whichever side of the fence you’re on, grab a metal pipe off the ground, an apple for health out of a trash can, and jump into one of the most fun co-op games around.
7. Divinity Original Sin 2
Much like its clear inspiration, Dungeons and Dragons, Divinity Original Sin 2 is a tremendously fun cooperative experience, but it does require finding the right partner or group to play with. After all, it’s an incredibly dense RPG with tons of dialogue, character customization options, and turn-based combat, but if you do find that right person or people willing to engage with its depth and commit to a full campaign much like you would with a D&D group, Divinity Original Sin 2 is an unforgettable co-op experience.
Every fight is its own cooperative puzzle where you must coordinate with your party, plan moves ahead, and make careful use of your own character’s unique skills in order to overcome some truly tough battles. And just like a good D&D game, it’s all about exploring the story as a group, discovering how your choices impact the world, and working together to achieve your goals.
6. Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter: World brilliantly retains its intricacy, difficulty, and sense of wonder through multiplayer. A great single-player experience is catapulted into the amazing category with fellow hunters in co-op. Whether on the hunt against a fantastic beast, or back at the hub just getting silly, sharing the exhilarating process of prepping for a difficult battle and barely making it by the skin of your teeth is one you have to experience with your pals, and not just your Palicos.
Admittedly, playing through the main story with friends can be a bit of a tedious task at times, but the story missions are just a ludicrously small fraction of the hundreds of hours of adventure Monster Hunter: World has to offer, especially when much of the “post-game” content is at its best when played in teams, like the intimidating Behemoth with recognizable MMO mechanics from the Final Fantasy 14 crossover, or the sincerely difficult arch-tempered Elder Dragons, and the most challenging of all, Fatalis.
Defeating these fiercest of foes with your bestest of buds will strengthen those bonds even more – or make you want to disown someone for not drinking their Armorskin. Either way, it’s a great time.
5. Left 4 Dead 2
The Left 4 Dead games drop players into what is essentially a video game version of the zombie movies 28 Days Later or Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. That is, it’s you and some friends versus thousands of hungry and very fast zombies. And teamwork is essential if you want to survive the legions of the undead in this magic experience that developers have been trying to recapture ever since its debut.
Each campaign’s objectives will be much more achievable if all players work together, consistently communicate, and take on specific roles within the group. One of Left 4 Dead’s most genius inclusions is the A.I. director, which monitors your team’s progress and tones down — or ramps up — the difficulty based on how well you’re doing. If you’re doing too well, the A.I. Director can make success practically a nightmare, and having real human buddies at your side may just give you the edge you need to make it through.
Oh, and why Left 4 Dead 2 over the original? It’s got better Special Infected (the Jockey is a personal favorite), a better campaign, and Valve even ported over everything from L4D1 into the sequel…so you don’t even need the first game to experience all its fun.
4. Sea of Thieves
To those who have had dreams of donning a pirate’s hat and setting sail on the salty waves in search of treasure and wonder, Sea of Thieves is the game for you. From following lore-filled Tall Tales that lead to valuable treasure or manning the 4-pirate vessel, The Galleon, to battle enemy ships on the water; a coordinated band of friends makes everything a lot more manageable, and fun, in this swashbuckling world.
Having your crew at your side when setting foot on islands of nautical baddies and delving into caves with powerful pirate captains is always optimal to assure a bountiful voyage. Hilarity can ensue at any moment with a collection of pirate items on hand like a banjo and hurdy-gurdy for sea shanty sing-alongs or a tankard for some booze-based camaraderie.
And for those who always hoped for a Pirates of the Caribbean video game, the Disney-collaborated Pirate’s Life storyline now available in Sea of Thieves makes these virtual high seas all the more alluring to explore. Savvy?
3. It Takes Two
If creativity was electricity, It Takes Two power an entire town. Hazelight Studios’ brilliant co-op-only adventure released just this year and yet it is so good that it clearly deserves a spot in the upper echelon of the all time great co-op games.
The key to It Takes Two’s success as a cooperative experience is that it always maintains its core as a co-op platformer, but with every new area, it changes up the rules, and how its two characters, Cody and May, must interact with each other. The result is a game that always feels fresh, and always encourages its co-op partners to figure out new ways of working together.
Just when it feels like the game has done everything it can with one mechanic, it moves on to a new one that’s just as fun as the last. And most importantly, everything is built around the idea of cooperating with your partner, as it literally cannot be played alone.
2. Rock Band 4
Guitar Hero may have started the plastic instrument trend, but when Rock Band came out, it turned it into a co-op phenomena, and while we could really put any of the Rock Band games here, we’re going with Rock Band 4 simply because it’s the most available one to play in 2021 and features years of iteration under its belt.
Rock Band is quite simply the ultimate four-player co-op experience for two key reasons: it’s a damn good rhythm and karaoke game first and foremost, regardless of what instrument you’re playing, with an expansive catalogue stretching across genres and eras. But secondly, there’s a unique social aspect to Rock Band that just isn’t present in any other game.
You can play Rock Band to achieve high scores and gold star every song on expert, but its most joyful version is one where you’re not worrying about any of that. Instead, the most important part is goofing off with your friends and pretending to be rock stars together, an experience Rock Band delivers in (ace of) spades. For those that continue to virtually rock, we salute you.
1. Portal 2
Portal 2 is one of the greatest puzzle games of all time, but what’s even more impressive about it is that, in addition to having that stellar single-player campaign, on top of that is, in our opinion, the best co-op experience of all time. It’s perfectly paced, brilliantly split up into multiple areas, each focusing on a different puzzle mechanic, and strikes just the right mix between tests of skill and tests of the mind.
The puzzles themselves are more complex than ever before, especially since you now have four portals to work with as opposed to the two in single-player mode, but they somehow never become frustrating because it’s always fun to experiment, piece together the puzzle bit by bit, and collaborate with your buddy whether through voice chat or the clever pinging system. Even 10 years later, there’s still nothing quite like playing Portal 2 with a friend.
And that’s our list! Like so many others, this was a very tough list to cull to just 10, with games like Resident Evil 5, Destiny 2, and the aforementioned Borderlands and Halo games just missing this list for one reason or another. Let us know what you think in the comments.