The best co-op FPS games
You don't necessarily have to play all these games with a group, but they're better that way. Buy a copy with a friend—or maybe 20 friends depending on the game—and do a bit of bonding by graciously showing them where bottles of pills are and yelling at them when the bullheadedly dash into the next room before you're ready.
Day of Infamy
Day of Infamy co-op overwhelms you with enemies. They're dumb but accurate, they carry a variety of weapons (including flamethrowers), and they won't stop coming until you complete objectives. They'll also drop airstrikes on you, unless you're able to knock down the enemy commanders who are radioing them in.
It's a grinding, high-bodycount test of marksmanship and teamwork that plays quite a lot like Red Orchestra or Rising Storm 2, in terms of weapon handling and map layout. If you savor the clang of a discarded Garand clip, this is the FPS you should be playing.
Release date: 2013
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Arma 3 is about scale and detail together: it’s not just a snapshot of a battle, it’s the whole thing. It’s the realistic reloading, the helicopters that almost require real-life helicopter pilots to control them, and the damage you sustain from taking an enemy shot. No other first-person shooter offers a simulation on this level, with such high production values.
Bohemia has built on Arma 3 with the excellent Apex expansion, too, which adds Tanoa, 100km2 of gorgeous tropical landscape to navigate. It was one of Evan's personal favorites of last year, and Andy Kelly even created his own Olympics-style events in Apex using Arma 3's Zeus mode. It's an essential add-on.
You can even drive go-karts in Arma 3 at this point. What's not to love?
Release Date: 2005
Developer: Irrational Games
Enemies aren’t enemies in SWAT 4—they’re suspects, and they’re innocent until they try something stupid. Unlearning your instinct to shoot first is an initially uncomfortable but ultimately rewarding experience in SWAT 4 because it’s one that demands playing deliberately—dealing with civilians commingled with bad guys takes coordination in a way that’s comparable to Arma. That’s doubly-true in SWAT’s five-man co-op, where the mechanics for gathering information (like a fiber-optic camera), securing rooms, and breaking down doors come to life when paired with voice communication.
SWAT 4 is finally available digitally, too, after a wait of years. You can pick it up for a reasonable price from GOG.com and play it on Windows 10 right now. To celebrate its re-release, Andy took another look at it earlier this year.
Release date: 2012
Developer: Gearbox Studios
With the ideas that drove its predecessor validated by strong sales, Gearbox had the resources to pour production value into the second coming of its silly, more-is-more approach to a grindy FPS. Yes, there are a hojillion guns, but we’re more enamored with the way BL2 embraces its colorful, sci-fi setting to create unconventional enemy designs. Bandits scream, limp, kamikaze, and sputter last words. The Goliath subverts your years of training, counter-intuitively going into Hulk mode when you headshot it. Mutated pests swoop, leap, burrow, and shield their vulnerable spots. Polished, playful, and our favorite antidote to military shooters that take themselves too seriously.
Left 4 Dead 2
Release date: 2009
It’s insane how much mod meat has grown around the bones of Valve’s co-op shooter. Four years in, L4D2 remains an overflowing fountain of free content. Forget the stock characters: download skins and play as The Joker, Princess Zelda, and a bipedal velociraptor. Skip Valve’s campaigns: fight zombies in Helm’s Deep, in a meticulous 12-map recreation of Silent Hill, in levels from GoldenEye or as you and your survivor mates try to build and launch a rocket.
Release date: 1999
Developer: Sven Co-op Team
If the original Half-Life was a network of bizarre TV shows that you could channel surf between, it’d look like Sven Co-op. The years-long effort of a group of modders, Sven is 32-player cooperative Half-Life played on dozens of crazy, homemade maps. With the right group of friends, it’s a calamitous and hilarious mashup of Half-Life’s blocky cast of monsters, scientists, and security inside ever-stranger worlds. One .BSP, you’re inside a technicolor playground populated by Teletubbies, another you’re in a Mega Man homage, a secret military base, or Egyptian pyramids where you throw grenades at Anubis himself. Download an assortment of weird maps, hop in with five or six of your buddies, and lose yourself in hours of retro-weirdness, laughter, and awkward platforming.
Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide
Release date: 2015
Warhammer Fantasy is a perfect backdrop for Left 4 Dead’s ideas, as it turns out. Vermintide is a fully cooperative FPS where you and three friends axe, arrow, magic, and sword your way through different varieties of Skaven, a race of intelligent rat-people that’s occupied different areas of the city Ubersreik. These mice-men are more than simple substitutes for L4D’s undead: they’re pesky and, thanks to a great dismemberment system, more expressive than zombies. Picking them apart with a mixture of medieval and ranged weapons is a joy, helped by a combat system that values timing, distance, and blocking. The addition of an item drop system bolsters replayability, and your team can even decide on the fly if it wants to take on handicaps to increase the odds of getting a better loot drop.
Killing Floor 2
Release date: 2016
Tripwire is one of the best at designing and animating entertaining, convincing guns and gruesome enemies that react and explode from their force. Wrestling Killing Floor 2’s bullet spread into a headshot and popping a mutant off the wave’s ticker is a satisfaction on par with a Peggle Ode to Joy moment—except more hands-on. Surviving a full Killing Floor 2 round with friends is tense, stressful, and often overwhelming, but so gratifying when it goes right. The outlandish player-made maps add a lot of value, and novel weekly events like bobble-head zombies have kept us coming back since it left Early Access in late 2016.
On the next page, our favorite competitive shooters...