The best local multiplayer games on PC

Once upon a time, playing a multiplayer game meant no other choice than gathering your friends around the living room TV and hurling fireballs and trash talk at each other in equal parts. Friendships were made over Goldeneye and destroyed in Mario Party. Experiences like these mostly lived on consoles, though, as PC multiplayer was mostly limited to LANing games like Warcraft II and Counter Strike before the internet gave way to the matchmaking and ladders of online play. 

Luckily, a bevy of indie titles have answered the call of gamers looking for a dose of that old-school same-screen nostalgia. Some focus on fierce competition, parroting the arena brawling of games like Super Smash Bros. Others can be every bit as frantic, but pit you and your friends against the game instead of each other. However it is you like to play, these are the best local multiplayer games on PC.

Cooperative games

Overcooked

If Iron Chef has taught me anything, it's that there is no truer arena than the kitchen. This is a sentiment Overcooked takes to heart, simulating the chaos and commotion of a multi-station restaurant kitchen. Two to four players zip frantically around increasingly complex kitchen arenas to prep and deliver orders as they come in. Some are simple: for tomato soup, for example, drop three chopped tomatoes in a pot, let it cook for a moment, plate the dish and send it on its way. But most are much more complex, requiring a delicate dance of chopping ingredients, cooking others, and assembling dishes according to the various incoming orders.

Success requires a combination of coordination, communication, delegation of duties, and fine-motor skills in order to meet the demands of the dinner rush. It's chaotic fun—just try not to burn the kitchen down.

Rocket League

This brilliant game of car soccer has captured us completely. At first glance this may appear to be a purely slapstick game about rocket-powered cars bumping giant floaty balls into goals, apparently at random, but go deeper and you’ll find a fiercely competitive game of carball that almost drove editor Samuel Roberts mad.

Rocket League is an excellent couch game because it suits quick pick-up-and play sessions and is easily played when fully reclined—we tested. Once you start to get a feel for the controls a world of trickshots and bold upside-down car-kicks reveals itself, and a moreish stream of cosmetic unlocks gives the game even more colourful personality. It’s worth experimenting with 1v1 and 2v2 if the default six-player matches seem too chaotic.

Death Squared

Death Squared is the type of puzzle game that can single-handedly tear friendships apart. For either two or four players, you control colorful cube robots trying to make it to specific spots on each map, but as each player moves the level shifts around them—usually with highly lethal results for your teammates. It’s a phenomenally clever and challenging puzzle game, but one of the most successful parts of it is just how much coordination it takes. It’s difficult for one player to “quarterback” the solutions to every level, which makes it more fun for everyone.

Another great two-player puzzle game to look at is Kalimba. It’s much faster-paced than Death Squared, but it similarly rewards cooperation. 

Castle Crashers

There’s a special joy in getting together with three friends and beating the crap out of everything. Castle Crashers revels in that joy—it practically bathes in it. Each player controls their own knight in a seriously warped fantasy kingdom, running to the right and slaughtering countless enemies through forests, towns, castles, dungeons, and more. Each kill gets you experience for stronger sword swings or better magical attacks. There are tons of weapons, animal companions, and secret heroes to find and fight over, too. Sure, you can play it solo (or online), but we love playing with friends right on the couch—coordinating the “cat-fish” fight is way more insane when your companions are right beside you.

Local co-op is really the bread and butter of developer The Behemoth, and they have more games worth checking out. Battleblock Theater is a great two-player platformer with full Steam Workshop support for custom levels, and the more recent Pit People is a more casual, controller-driven take on a turn-based strategy game.

Streets of Rogue

A roguelike mashed up with an immersive sim, Streets of Rogue is both procedurally generated and heavily systems-driven. You and up to three friends can take on random missions that can be solved any way you like, similar to other games like Dishonored or Deux Ex but top-down and pixelated. The game provides a shocking amount of variety and freedom for how simple it looks, making it an easy one to pass up. While it’s not strictly a co-op game, I think it’s fair to say nearly any systems-driven game can become a lot more fun (read: absolutely chaotic) when a group of people are tackling it at the same time. 

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

The brilliantly named Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes simulates that action movie scene where the plucky hero has to disarm a bomb by describing what it looks like to a bomb defusal expert over the phone. In the game, only one player can see or interact with the ticking time bomb and its myriad switches, wires, and buttons, while the rest of the players have access to a bomb defusal manual. The game was built for (and plays best in) VR, but even without an expensive headset it aptly simulates the tense conversation of trying to solve a puzzle where you can't see the pieces. Just remember: keep talking and nobody explodes.

Enter the Gungeon

Another game that’s not strictly co-op, but Enter the Gungeon is a lot more fun with a friend sitting next to you. It’s a bullet-hell roguelike where you shoot bullets at bullets who are shooting other bullets at you. Do keep in mind, Enter the Gungeon is hard, and you will likely die a lot, ally at your side or not. But its co-op is integrated extremely well, and the punishing difficulty doesn’t feel as harsh with a friend to help. It’s a great combination of genres in a lovely pixel art wrapper, and one of the few games on this list that likely won’t make you extremely angry at your ally.

Broforce

This 2D shooter is a pastiche of both ‘80s movies and side-scrolling arcade games—it’s a very fun combination. You and up to three friends play as ‘parody’ versions of characters like Rambo (here called ‘Rambro’), the Terminator (‘Brominator’) and even more contemporary choices like Will Smith from Men In Black, or Neo from The Matrix. The fun comes in how these characters’ weapons all differ, as well as Broforce’s physics-driven level design, where every single block of the environment can pretty much be destroyed. While there’s not a lot to it, the variation in enemy types and environments mean this is a perfect couch game for a 30-minute burst of fun.

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a bit like if FTL was multiplayer and everything happened in real time. You and up to three friends each control an avatar on a lovely colorful spaceship careening through space. There are various stations to man, such as weapons systems, engine, shield, and map, and players have to run their little avatar from one to another as threats present themselves. It’s a hard game because you almost always need to be in more places than you can manage, constantly running from station to station while bumping into your shipmates. But a well-oiled crew can make piloting the clumsy ship incredibly satisfying, especially during Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime’s huge boss fights.

Hive Jump

Hive Jump is a procedurally generated ode to Super Metroid for up to four players. The levels are randomized each time you play, but with hand-designed rooms and challenges scattered throughout. You get new guns and upgrade your troops as your team descends further into the alien hive, and Hive Jump features a pretty cool respawn system that’s sort of like permadeath-lite. You can respawn on death, but only if you manage to keep a transponder on your back safe from enemies, which incentivizes players sticking together and helping each other out.

If you want another retro roguelike co-op option, 20XX takes the jump-n-shooting of Mega Man and puts it into procedurally generated maps for up to two players. 

On the next page: competitive games and arena brawlers like Nidhogg, Towerfall Ascension, and Videoball.