3. Artemis (6 players local, online)
2011, hit Steam in 2013
Let's get this one thing perfectly clear from the beginning:
is not a Star Trek game. That needs to be understood for legal reasons, OK? OK. Definitely not a Star Trek game.
Artemis is the greatest Star Trek game ever made. It's billed as a “spaceship bridge simulator,” and its secret, devious genius is that every player has a different control scheme and information readout. The players (captain, weapons, helm, engineering, communications, science) can only see what's in front of them or what's on the main viewscreen, so there's no way for, say, engineering to help out with aiming weapons or piloting the ship. If you want power redirected to subsystems, though, engineering can do that.
The center of this storm is the captain, who, bizarrely, plays the game without any controls: the captain just yells at the crew to get things done. Artemis recently release version 2.0, which saw a huge overhaul to its art and control schemes. If you haven't played Artemis since it first hit big, you need to organize a LAN to get another look.
It's incredible how quickly you fall into a perfect naval-style call and response pattern (“Helm, set course for Deep Space 1, half impulse.” “Half impulse to DS1, aye captain.”). Not because you're LARPing, but because you've got to make sure you heard the command correctly or you'll all die.
Well, maybe a little because you're LARPing.
2. Arma 3 (64 players online)
Arma takes second place on this list almost entirely due to its massive scale. It's one thing to have an adventure with two or three friends, sure, but the Arma engine supports dozens of players at once. There's really something to be said for having a human pilot fly you and ten humans to a war zone, drop you off, and leave you to link up with twenty other humans for an assault. Arma 3 doesn't have to be strictly cooperative, of course, but it's included on this list because it shines the brightest when everyone's on the same side against an overwhelming AI foe.
While you're diving into Arma 3, be sure to check out the
Zeus multiplayer mode
. One player, as Zeus, runs the game as a D&D-style dungeon master, spawning equipment and enemies. Anger your vengeful god, and Zeus will strike you down with a bolt of lightning. It's a fantastic, flexible take on co-op mission scripting that should not be missed.
1. Left 4 Dead 2 (4 players online)
It's really saying something about the strength of Valve's terrific zombie shooter that it's still clawing its way to the top of lists like this one after five years. A fanatically balanced, cleverly written shooter, this game is built on the strength of four survivors working as a team, making it the iconic cooperative experience.
Valve must also get some credit for continuing to update this five-year-old game, adding level editors,
Steam workshop support
, porting in the maps and characters from Left 4 Dead 1, and continuing to offer “mutations,” always-changing game modes that offer something new for experienced players.
Left 4 Dead 2's active modding community is a huge part of why this game is at the top of this list. From replacement character models for
or campaigns exploring
Lord of the Rings' Helms Deep castle
, the amount of top-quality content for this game is vast.
There are a lot of different kinds of ways to play with friends represented on this list, but the carefully constructed rules that force players to help each other up or free one another from an attacking zombie create dramatic, action-movie set pieces seemingly from thin air. On top of all of it, the B-movie stylings and character voiceovers make Left 4 Dead 2 a real pleasure to play and, more importantly, to enjoy with friends.