10 co-op games that actually require cooperation

Defense of the Ancients

In short, if you don't work together in Defense of the Ancients, you'll lose every time.  DotA is a team-based RTS where two teams of five each struggle to destroy the other team's Ancient, which are huge structures that lie on opposite sides of the map. Each player controls a hero that gains experience and levels up like an RPG, so everyone has a stake in the action.

Above: Everything you need to know

DotA started as a custom scenario for Warcraft III, and while it still isn't technically its own game, for all intents and purposes it is – its popularity and appeal have vaulted it into its own realm. Valve is even working on a sequel, Dota 2, set to release late this year.

Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead doesn’t just reward you for good teamwork, it also punishes you and your fellow survivors for not cooperating. Stray too far from your team and try to take on the zombie apocalypse by yourself  - and you’re liable to get pounced, smoked, charged, barfed or spit on, or just plain torn to shreds. Bad things happen in Left 4 Dead when you don’t work together and the constant threat of death – is what makes Left 4 Dead’s race to the safe house and last stands so intense.

Above: The best laid plans...

The same level of coordination is also required when playing as the infected in versus matches. Strikes on survivors need to happen at the right time and in the right spots. If an infected team of four lacks constant communication with headsets and mics, it’s hard to react to the survivors properly and all too easy to get blasted to bits.

Bubble Bobble

The genius of Bubble Bobble's co-op is in its subtlety – you don't have to work together, and there's nothing overt in the game that indicates potentially advantageous strategies for working together, but once you get to some of the tougher levels, Bubble Bobble becomes a litmus test for how strong your friendship really is. Not only will you find that levels become easier when you lend each other a hand, but there are so many goodies and power-ups scattered throughout each level that learning to share nicely is absolutely essential if you value your friendship. Woe is the dino who takes the shoe whilst already enjoying the power of the shoe when his friend has none.

The necessity for cooperation in Bubble Bobble is clearest in its final boss battle against Super Drunk. If Bub and Bob go to their respective corners and shoot bubbles at the wall trying to get as many hits in on Drunk individually, the battle is nearly impossible and both dinos will die from being pelted with alcohol bottles. But when you pair up and take turns creating a bubble stream for each other, you'll be surprised at how quickly the big alcoholic goes down, even with his 80 HP. It's like the difference between two people trying to scale a too-tall wall individually versus one making a foothold for the other and then pulling him up.

Gears of War

Gears of War made massive changes in the world of co-op, not the least of which was building much of the campaign around the concept. Where other games made single system co-op fun, the first Gears with its impressive drop-in/drop-out online co-op actually made solo play seem lacking in comparison. Major setpieces were built around characters working together, such as one projecting a protective spotlight as their friend explore dangerous ground, or pushing a flaming vehicle side-by-side for cover. It made the camaraderie between giant meatbags Marcus and Dom feel pretty believable despite their unbelievable circumstances.

Gears of War 2 was another colossal shift in co-op gaming with the introduction of Horde. The mode teamed up to five players at once against a steady stream of increasingly tough AI enemies on maps designed specifically for Horde. Teamwork was very necessary, but personal achievement was awarded as well. The competitive cooperation challenged the classic multiplayer modes in addictiveness and was the biggest selling point of the sequel. Soon Horde became so popular that similar modes were a prerequisite for almost every shooter that followed it.

Portal 2

Four portals instead of two. That’s technically all Valve had to add for Portal 2 to feature a “cooperative testing initiative” mode, but such a simple description cannot do any modicum of justice to how much the gameplay transforms as a result. With four portals, you and your puzzling partner can accomplish astonishing, death-defying feats of physics that a single player would never even consider.

Suddenly you can build up twice as much velocity, launching yourself twice as much distance. Suddenly you can stretch light bridges and excursion funnels to previously unimaginable corners of the test chambers. Suddenly you can combine and coordinate Aperture technologies to push a button while still standing on a pressure switch, or catch a flying companion cube in midair while directing that cube’s flight from across the room.


Above: No exaggeration

None of this is remotely possible without constant cooperation and clear communication between players – not only because the puzzles are complex enough to require four portals, but also because they are difficult enough to require two brains, testing theories and sharing ideas every step of the way.

This is merely a cross section of our favorite types of co-op that actually require cooperation - let us know what your favorite co-op games are in the comments below.  

May 31, 2011


Portal 2 co-op video walkthrough
Our Portal 2 co-op video guide will help you and your frustrated friend from killing each other!


The Top 7... games that should've had co-op
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How to be a d*ck in co-op
The definitive guide to being a cooperative online asshole


  • Dabenguin - June 1, 2011 12:46 a.m.

    There goes Valve conquerin' the lists again
  • Killshot - June 1, 2011 12:48 a.m.

    Loved chip in dale back when i had my nes
  • dontshootthereviewer - June 1, 2011 12:52 a.m.

    You knew if Chris Antista was part of this Chip and Dale or some other Disney game would be on here. Also I totally agree of Gears and Portal.
  • FlikNightshade - June 1, 2011 12:58 a.m.

    Haha. Someone already beat me to it. The moment I saw Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers as the thumbnail on facebook, I knew Chris had a hand in this.
  • Baron164 - June 1, 2011 12:58 a.m.

    I love the Gears coop, its made that series among the best of this generation for me because of the coop. Loved Portal 2's coop but the problem with that is as soon as someone finishes the puzzles on one play-through the second play-through is a lot less intriguing.
  • ibeberger - June 1, 2011 12:59 a.m.

    While it certainly doesn't seem to be everyone's favorite, I just picked up Brink today and I'm already learning that even playing only with/against bots you definitely work together or you're bound to lose.
  • Baron164 - June 1, 2011 1:02 a.m.

    Another set of great coop games would have to be Saints Row 2. That game was a blast with a friend. And it finally added the one thing GTA has needed for awhile, campaign coop. I can't wait to play SR3 coop, after playing through SR2 with a friend there is no way I could play SR3 solo.
  • Ironarm - June 1, 2011 1:04 a.m.

    If you count multiplayer then Bad Company 2 for sure. If you go lone wolf on that you're toast. Forget winning.
  • KnightDehumidifier - June 1, 2011 1:05 a.m.

    What about every arcade beat-em-up between 1987-1994?
  • JoeMulvihill1 - June 1, 2011 1:16 a.m.

    what? no lost planet 2?
  • NightCrawler_358 - June 1, 2011 1:17 a.m.

    Maybe its not the greatest game in the world, but why wasn't Army of Two included on this list!? SMG2 has interesting co-op, but its not like I need to have a partner to have fun. Anyway, great list.
  • GhostLightning - June 1, 2011 1:24 a.m.

    Okay, in all honesty. I found that in L4D I could just run away from my teammates and hide in the unopenable safe house.
  • Ensoul - June 1, 2011 1:41 a.m.

    I had a lot of fun playing Halo and Halo 2 with my brother, Ghost Recon too had moments. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light really is a fantastic game though. My girlfriend and I went through the whole thing together; she rarely plays games and when she does it's the Bejeweled or CSI style ones. LCatGoL she liked though, maybe it was the lack of split screen and/or First person view; most likely though it was just fun. Earth Defense Force 2017 is another one we liked the co-op in. Currently I'm trying to get her back playing GoW and Army of 2: TFD
  • D0CCON - June 1, 2011 2:03 a.m.

    Didn't you guys mention in your podcasts that there was a sort of Gears of War syndrome with many coop games, where the only coop is two guys saying "let's stay close to each other and not shoot each other and that's it." It isn't really cooperative, you just mow through enemies faster. It's fun, but it doesn't require cooperation. Other than that it's a good list (which instantly made me think Portal 2).
  • FETALJUICE - June 1, 2011 2:10 a.m.

    What about Bulletstorm's Anarchy mode where you definitely had to communicate with others in order to reach the score limit so you could advance to the next wave?
  • StuntzMcKenzy - June 1, 2011 2:28 a.m.

    I completely agree with D0CCON the only cooperation that Gears Of War requires is neither party be bullet sponges.
  • MyNameIsMyName - June 1, 2011 2:52 a.m.

    For what it's worth I made it to the light bridge on Portal 2 playing both controllers by myself.
  • spencertucksen - June 1, 2011 3:15 a.m.

    League of Legends is actually better than DotA. Just saying...that should have been your example. But it is good to see those games getting some mention.
  • JHONNYOHH - June 1, 2011 3:30 a.m.

    4playerpodcast, very nice <3
  • hester2 - June 1, 2011 3:38 a.m.

    Here's my problem with Portal 2: I waited too long to try co-op. Now everyone I try to play with has beaten it, which means they know how to solve it. Hearing someone say "Hey, I've done this before, just put a portal there, etc." isn't very fun. That's why I hope Valve releases some brutal singleplayer test chambers. Not all of us have the time to experience the whole game in three days.

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