While playing the co-op dungeon crawler Lost Reavers, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of nostalgia. While the game itself isn’t particularly brilliant in its current state, playing it does unleash a flood of memories involving time well spent enjoying one of gaming’s greatest contributions to the world of entertainment: the four player co-op game.
Four player co-op modes are a tricky thing to do right. You may think that it’s a simple matter of letting four people jump into a game together and start making memories, but as a number of poor attempts at this feature over the years have grown, finding the right balance to make this kind of cooperative experience work is no small feat. Even today, the concept remains a delicacy.
But when you do find that perfect four player co-op mode, it’s an incomparable joy. The very best four player co-op games don’t just provide an incredible gaming experience, they bring people together and provide each of them a sort-of inside joke that they’ll laugh maniacally at for years to come.
Here are our favorite four-player co-op console games:
10. Payday 2
2013 | Overkill Software | XBO, PS4, X360, PS3, PC
Let’s all be honest. We’ve all had a moment – usually after watching Heat – where we’ve sat down and imagined the perfect heist. Of course, if you’re like most everyone else, you probably spend most of that time trying to decide the coolest mask to wear.
Payday 2 is the game that finally let players enact those heist fantasies, masks and all. Where Payday 2 separates itself from similar games – including the original title – is in its emphasis on planning. While guns blazing will always get the job done eventually, only teams that are truly able to work together and execute a plan will be able to pull off the perfect job.
Oh sure, this level of cooperation means that there’s a greater chance you’ll walk away hating your friends, but isn’t that typically how these games end anyway?
9. Hunter: The Reckoning
2002 | High Voltage Software | Xbox, GC
Gauntlet may have set the gold standard for four-player co-op hack and slash games years ago, but its influence created a great number of similar titles all vying for the originator’s crown. Of them, Hunter: The Reckoning may just be the best. Like Gauntlet, it allows four players to choose unique classes, level them up, and take on waves of baddies across various locales.
However, Hunter’s trump card is its atmosphere. This is one of the few horror video games ever made that knows how to have a little fun with its subject matter, and that approach will instantly feel fresh for anyone that approaches this genre looking for a good time. The ghosts, ghouls, and creatures of Hunter: The Reckoning won’t soon be keeping anyone up at night, but taking them down with friends certainly evokes the proper feeling of becoming a horror movie badass.
8. Rainbow Six: Vegas 2
2008 | Ubisoft Montreal | X360, PS3, PC
Although it’s a pretty far cry from the heavily realistic tactical action of the first Rainbow Six games, Rainbow Six: Vegas still managed to distinguish itself from genre contenders by infusing just the right level of intelligence in its combat.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the game’s terrorist hunt mode. Tasked with eliminating a certain amount of enemies on each map, this mode requires constant communication between you and your friends, as the enemy placement varies greatly from turn to turn. This mode is a lot like a multiplayer roguelike in that respect and contains all of the difficulty you would expect from that genre. To this day, few other shooters have matched the mix of intellect and skill this mode requires.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
2004 | Nintendo | GC
Given that the hardware requirements to get this four-player game mode to work were more than most GameCube players were able to make work, there’s a fair chance that not everyone got to experience this game back in the day.
And that’s a shame, because Four Swords is truly one of the great co-op gaming experiences. Rather than simply throw some extra players into a Zelda game, Nintendo went back to the drawing board to find just how those extra players could enhance the Zelda experience, rather than hinder it. The result is one of the most rewarding Zelda games ever made.
Also, you can pick up your friends and throw them wherever you want, which really is just the best feeling.
6. Halo 3
2007 | Bungie | XBO, X360
Among the many joys that Halo: Combat Evolved brought to gamers everywhere, one of the greatest was its co-op mode. The combat style of Halo lent itself perfectly to multiple players and completing the game on Legendary difficulty with friends soon became a rite of passage.
Although Halo 3 didn’t exactly reinvent the game’s exceptional co-op mode, it did manage to successfully incorporate two extra players into the experience and give us the definitive version of an already phenomenal gametype. The real winner here is the brilliant level design which manages to maintain the sublime challenge of the original Halo even with the extra players.
This is truly one of the greatest four-player campaigns ever constructed.
5. Super Mario 3D World
2013 | Nintendo | Wii U
In many four-player co-op games, the moment your friends become a hindrance is usually the moment the fun stops. In Super Mario 3D World, it’s the moment the fun really begins.
Rather than design against the tendency of players to work against each other, 3D World embraces it. While a perfect team will be able to work together against the game’s many obstacles, most players will find themselves getting in each other’s way at some point and discover in that moment that half of the fun in this game comes from messing with each other.
This genius multiplayer experience manages to generate more uncontrollable laughing sessions than most games that bill themselves as comedies.
4. Borderlands 2
2012 | Gearbox Software | XBO, PS4, X360, PS3, PC, Vita
I have a confession to make: I have a loot problem. You show me a game that offers procedurally generated, tiered item drops and I will devote 50 hours to it at a minimum.
In the case of Borderlands 2, that number is significantly higher. Borderlands 2 is built around the joy of looting, and it’s a joy that becomes even greater when you play with three other friends. Oh sure, there’s the occasional fight over who gets the best weapon, but the combat itself is never more entertaining than when you and yours are marching into battle and using your specific sets of skills to endure large-scale conflicts.
But seriously, step away from that shogun or I will end you, friend-o.
3. Diablo III
2012 | Blizzard Entertainment | XBO, PS4, X360, PS3, PC
Diablo III’s co-op virtues are actually a combination of two other game’s on this list, as it has the four-player hack and slash mayhem of Hunter: The Reckoning and the loot-based glory of Borderlands 2.
What separates Diablo III from these and many other games is it’s craftsmanship. Call it the “Blizzard factor” if you’d like, but every detail in Diablo III is fine-tuned to perfection. No other game of this type can come close to matching the simple brilliance of its character building system, nor the way that Diablo III’s multiplayer action requires the perfect mixture of individual performance and teamwork.
A game with such underlying complexities shouldn’t be as accessible as Diablo III is, yet this game has the power to suck even non-genre fans into one of the best multiplayer experiences of their lives.
2. Rock Band
2007 | Harmonix | X360, PS3, PS2, PC
If you believe that the primary function of video games is provide fantasy fulfilling escapism scenarios that allow you to live out experiences that would otherwise be impossible, then Rock Band may just be the perfect video game.
Even if you were born without a shred of musical talent to your name, the feeling of wanting to actually be a rockstar is pretty universal. Rock Band may not allow you to recreate the hotel smashing and groupie wrangling aspects of that lifestyle, but it does succeed in conveying the sensation of taking the stage with your friends and jamming out to all-time great songs.
Wait…why did we stop playing these rhythm games again?
1. Left 4 Dead 2
2009 | Valve Corporation | X360, PC
Damn you, Valve and your ability to create gaming experiences that put everyone else to shame, but only come out every four or five years!
Left 4 Dead 2 may be creeping up on its seventh anniversary, but it remains the gold standard for four-player co-op experiences. While it lacks the unique character builds and general depth of some of the other games on this list, no other title can match Left 4 Dead’s chaotic scenarios that require players to completely absorb themselves in the moment if they are going to survive.
What’s most amazing about Left 4 Dead 2, though, is that how – after all this time – it’s still able to generate that white-knuckle intensity that you felt the very first time you saw a horde bearing down upon you.
Matthew Byrd is a freelance contributor.