There used to be a time when the only multiplayer options possible was local co-op with a friend or family member on the couch via a split-screen on TV or monitor. A split-screen competition was also possible that allowed players to compete against each other on the same computer. That was the only way to play a game with someone else back then.
Games like Doom revolutionized network gaming even when online multiplayer wasn’t even a thing yet. Doom allowed for co-op mode on a single PC for two players helping each other out in the game. But It also popularized deathmatches with networked PCs via LAN or Local Area Networks, and that’s where networked multiplayer gaming took off.
Mind you, it was still a local connection, but most game developers since then always provide some form of local multiplayer as a standard, either by local co-op or LAN. LAN parties soon became a thing.
Out of AAA games
With the advent of the Internet in homes, game developers started veering toward adding an online multiplayer feature.
Whatever local or co-op multiplayer that existed were relegated to a secondary multiplayer component that was just an afterthought. Pretty soon, most developers just abandoned the idea and concentrated on online multiplayer.
At the time, people were complaining about it, sure. However, game publishers knew that even without it, people were still going to buy their games anyway, so why bother adding them? Developers were already providing multiplayer online, and its popularity was growing fast. Business-wise it made sense, and it was the way to go.
Eventually, the online play became the dominant multiplayer experience that gamers have come to accept, and soon people forgot about local multiplayer were once in AAA games.
Why they’re still relevant
Many smaller or indie developers never forgot their value and continued to develop local multiplayer games. These games didn’t have the high production values of the bigger gaming companies, but that didn’t stop people from playing them. It was also easy for startup indie game creators to make one because they didn’t have the resources of these gaming industry giants.
Today there are still thousands of these games to choose from. It may not be a huge market, but these smaller developers have found their niche, and local multiplayer gaming has thrived and is alive and well.
It’s more personal
A lot of people still appreciate the value of playing games with their friends or family. There’s something about playing with or against someone you know face-to-face that you can’t duplicate in online gaming. Local multiplayer became a medium where friends could hang out with one another and have some fun together. It’s a legit market for developing games.
In online gaming, most of the time, you’re playing with or against anonymous people. Yeah, they have usernames, and you might see them playing online from time-to-time, but they’re not really your friends. At least we hope you don’t think they’re your real friends. We’re not saying it’s impossible to make real friends online, but that’s more of the exception than the rule.
It could be some angsty teenager or someone who swears up a storm. They were faceless entities on the other end of the connection, and they could be anyone. There’s little censorship, and it’s easy to be a bully other people online.
It’s so impersonal because it’s rare for anybody to care about anyone else online. Gamers are there because they’d rather play and compete with another human being, than with an AI (Artificial Intelligence) in the game.
You may know some of the people you’re playing with online on a personal level in real life, but it’s still different when you’re playing a game right next to them in the same room while you’re all having a great time together over some snacks and cold drinks. Bringing people together in real life is something that local multiplayer games do better.
It has been seven years coming, but Gearbox Software came up with the best one yet.
You play as a Vault Hunter on a planet called Pandora, which has, for a long time, known as a repository of long-forgotten alien vaults containing vast amounts of treasure, technology, and power. The Crimson Raiders are the resistance forces that protect Pandora. They’re the good guys that hired you to stop an evil cult that’s been searching for these vaults spread across the galaxy to harness their power.
The graphics in this game are top-notch with a unique art style people have mistakenly called cel-shading, but it’s not. Instead, they use Sobel shading to highlight the edges of objects, so that there’s a distinct outline around them. Let’s just say that it gives the Borderlands series has a stylized but gritty look even if the game world and characters are cartoonish.
It’s a first-person shooter that emphasizes on loot collection and weapons and equipment modifications. The customization in these games has always been mind-blowing, and Borderlands 3 refines and even expands on this tradition.
A split-screen takes care of the local multiplayer gaming. It’s pretty smooth and impressive and made possible without compromises. This game uses the Unreal Engine 4 and was meant to run on current-gen systems, so there shouldn’t be a problem in this mode.
The enemies will scale up to the player with the higher level. So if you’re just starting to play a game with someone who has already spent considerable time with it, keep in mind that you’ll be a lot more vulnerable to enemy attacks. You’ll be rewarded more XP, though, then with weaker enemies.
Mortal Kombat 11
Fighting games have always been a staple of local multiplayer games, and what better way to enjoy the genre than with the latest from NetherRealms Studios, Mortal Kombat 11.
The gang is back, and it follows the events of Mortal Kombat X. Time controlling deity Kronika wants to fix the timeline that she thinks Raiden messed up. She wants a present without a Raiden. To accomplish this, she recruits the cast of Mortal Kombat 2. You should complete the well-produced story mode to find out what happens. There are 25 playable characters to choose from.
The fun part of the convoluted plot is the character interactions and the personality differences with their past selves. As amusing are the reactions of the characters from the past, seeing what had become of their future selves. It’s funny to see how the present Johnny Cage, who has mellowed down quite a bit, finally realizing his younger self was a happy-go-lucky, self-absorbed jerk he’s known for throughout the series.
It’s still a lot of fun to play this game on your couch with a friend, as always. Just select “Local” in the Fight menu and be sure your friend has a controller. After that be ready to pull each other’s guts out, in the game’s player-vs.-player mode, of course, or join forces as a tag team against the AI. There’s also a tournament option that you both can enter and compete against each other and the AI.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
It’s another fighting game, this time a crossover from Nintendo’s game franchises and other third-party franchises, and has been around since 1999. This latest one from Bandai Namco Studios that came out in 2018 is the 5th installment in the series and features 74 playable characters.
The object is for you to knock everyone else out of any of the 108 stages. The more damage your opponent takes, the easier it is to launch him out of the arena. It’s like a sumo wrestling match on steroids. Scattered on these stages are powerups you can use to make the job easier. Every character is treated with love and care so that they remain true to their original games.
Another massive addition is an RPG-like adventure mode (story mode) called World of Light in the single-player campaign. It would probably take 20-30 hours to complete it 100%, and 15-20 hours to beat the ultimate boss and finish the story. It, however, features multiple endings.
The campaign gives you a chance to unlock the fighters so you could put them in your roster. You do this by collecting spirits that help you unlock other areas on the map that you couldn’t go to before. You then encounter imposters along the way, and you defeat them to unlock the character.
With the sheer number of characters and the diversity of styles they bring, sometimes you just want to see what the other can do. Because of their individual quirks, the action never gets old on arenas that are even more varied and outnumber the characters themselves. With the sheer volume of quality content, it will have you and your friends glued for hours.
For local multiplayer, up to 8 people can play just as long as they have a controller that the game recognizes, but you have to set them all up on the menu. It could either be a Gamecube controller, Pro controller, Joy-Con, etc. Once all the controllers are set up for each player, they can start choosing their respective characters and let the mayhem ensue after that.
A Way Out
This very original game has no single-player mode and is only playable with either local or online multiplayer co-op.
You and your friend play as either Vincent or Leo, two convicted felons who joined forces in trying to escape from the prison they’re in. From there, a bigger story unfolds as they set out to get revenge on a common enemy, a crime boss named Harvey.
You have to work together and coordinate your actions to outwit prison guards and escape the facility. Gameplay for both players isn’t synchronized. It’s as if they’re each playing a different single-player game in the same universe happening at the same time.
They see the other as another NPC they need to team up with to complete objectives. Only this time, their NPC partner happens to be controlled by the other player, who’s also playing his single-player campaign. Each player could be doing something different but is still in the same story. They share a common goal and have to help each other out to achieve it.
It sounds like a weird dynamic, but it works. You could be watching a cutscene on the prison yard during your playthrough, but at the same time, your friend may be gathering more info by talking to another NPC in a corridor somewhere. Or both of you could be close by you could see your friend’s avatar doing what he needs to do.
If there’s anything negative we could say about this mechanic is that it makes it difficult to focus on your half of the screen. You’re curious about what’s happening on your friend’s screen too. It’s important to look at both screens. At times, you both are trying to coordinate your actions to complete an objective. Sometimes when the two of you are talking to different people, the conversations would overlap, and it can be hard to understand what people are saying.
Aside from those issues, everything else is peachy. The local 2-player co-op implementation is with a dynamically adaptive split-screen. Sometimes the screen is divided horizontally and sometimes vertically. Sometimes you get a bigger screen, and sometimes your friend does. It changes to whatever would suit the current scenario best and gives the game a movie-like feel.
Left for Dead 2
As a testament to how good a game Left 4 Dead II is, it’s still enjoyed by gamers even a decade after it was released. It proves that sequels can be superior to their originals. That’s what this game is. Developer Valve Corp. took everything right from the first one and improved upon it in every way to deliver a fantastic zombie survival horror classic.
It is set the southern US in the post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a pandemic virus called the “green flu” that mutated people to become violent against anyone who isn’t infected. You can play as any member of a team of four survivors that are trying to reach a safe zone set up by the government and the military to rescue evacuees.
The different mutant types in this game got their names based on their particular behavior. The Spitter is a female that spews out acid. The Jockey rides on its victims’ backs and directs them towards the horde. The Smoker releases a toxic cloud of smoke when it dies. The Tank has super strength and can toss vehicles and slabs of concrete at you. There are many others.
Another unique feature about the AI is what Valve calls the Director. It orchestrates the zombie attacks on the team, depending on how good the players are. If it senses that you’re an expert at the game, it raises the difficulty and unleashes more of the mutants on you. If it seems that you’re having difficulty, it backs down a bit to give you a breather. That way, every playthrough is different and varied, giving the game a very high replay value.
The game has five campaigns that you can select on the main menu. Each campaign is set in a different location and advances the plot. The goal is to reach a safe house that serves as a game checkpoint. There are three or more levels in each campaign. The final level is the most difficult and presents your team with a different challenge to overcome while awaiting rescue and warding off a horde of mutant zombies.
You can take on the infected as a team of four in a LAN. Or you and a friend could play any two of the four main characters in a split-screen. There are also other modes of gameplay like the Survival mode that will keep you busy playing this game for a while.
Grinding your way through the story and the world of Sanctuary in Diablo 3 with a friend can be a lot of fun while you both grab the best loot and earn more XP by annihilating every demon that you meet along the way.
You can play as one of seven character classes, namely, barbarian, crusader, demon hunter, witch doctor, wizard, monk, or necromancer. Each has their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Each offers a different gameplay experience, different types of weapons, armor, and skills. That and the procedurally generated environments keep every playthrough fresh so that you never get bored.
Every time you level up, you get a new skill choice as well as passive buffs that you can put in slots if you want to use them. These slots are limited, especially near the beginning, and also increase at certain levels. These skills and buffs aren’t permanent, meaning you can change them whenever you want until you find the right combination that you like for your character. The rune enhancements for the skills you’ve selected are unlocked every time you level up so you can improve on those skills.
You also unlock higher-tier weapons and armor at the blacksmith that you can have built. If you train your blacksmith, he can craft new gear on the list and expand your choices. There’s are blueprints of the gear he can make for you that show the materials you need to find and how much gold you need to pay for it. If you have other gear that you don’t want, you can salvage them for those materials.
Gems upgrade these items that you fit in slots and provide different attribute bonuses. There’s a jeweler where you can have your gems improved. There’s a book that can identify all the legendary items you’ve found before you can use them.
There’s a great satisfaction to be had finding some epic loot that will make you more efficient at disposing of whatever monstrosity the game throws at you. Ever so slightly, you can feel these creatures go down more easily and quickly, and it motivates you to go scrounging around for more loot until you find one that’s even better. Rinse and repeat. It’s this never-ending search to find the ultimate monster crushing artifacts that is the most addicting aspect in Diablo, and even in this third time around, it never gets old.
In fact, it gets better. Blizzard manages to outdo everything that Diablo III’s revered predecessor did right and added more nuances that completely overshadowed it. The sense of scale alone dwarfs the original. Granted, it took them a little more than a decade to release this game. We wouldn’t be surprised if this one manages to stay relevant for that long as well.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
It is the highest-selling title on Nintendo Switch, which is an enhanced port of the original game plus all the DLCs. Incidentally, it’s also the first Mario game in this hand-held. In this game, you race your customized go-cart against other characters in Nintendo’s Mario universe.
A total of 42 characters are playable in this game at the start. Each has its own unique cart, and as you race them, you collect gold coins on the tracks. There are several gold coins needed to unlock parts so you can further customize your ride. These can change the looks, acceleration, and top speed, improve handling characteristics, add weight to knock out other vehicles, and traction to improve grip. These aren’t just ordinary vehicles but can sprout gliders or parachutes, drive under the ceilings and run up walls, and do all sorts of stuff that defy gravity and physics. There are a total of 48 highly detailed tracks that can accommodate up to 12 carts per race, and their design is top-notch and imaginative.
For a welcome change of pace, there’s a newly revamped Battle Mode with five modes on eight new arenas that are purposely built playgrounds for racers to smash each other up. There’s Balloon Battle where you have to pop each other balloons. The goal of Coin Runners is to have the most number of gold coins at the end of the match.
Bob-bomb Blast is where players carry up to 10 bob-bombs to blast each other out. The winner in Shine Thief is the player who can hold a shine sprite for 20 seconds. Renegade Roundup is where The Authorities team tries to capture members of the Renegades team. The Renegades can try to free any team member captured in suspended cells at the risk of getting caught themselves. The Authorities win if they capture all the Renegades and lose if there are still any driving around when the timer runs out.
Up to 8 players can play locally, and there’s even a split-screen option for up to 4 players where you can race with buddies using joy-con controllers. In fact, you can race in split-screens Switch against another one with the same setup.
It is the 5th installment of the Gears of War saga by The Coalition for the Xbox One and Window PC platforms.
It is a third-person shooter that differentiates itself from its predecessors, which were linear cover shooters. The cover shooting mechanics are still there and more refined, but the game has two open-world settings, a departure from the mostly corridor design of past the games. On a planet named Sera, human colonizers are battling a relentless army of a ruthless race called the Locusts.
At the beginning of the first act, you take control of JD Fenix (son of the main protagonist of the previous games) until you reach the second act. Del Walker and a robot named Jack that can both be controlled by other players, accompany him. After that, and for the rest of the game in the single-player campaign, you play the role of Kait Diaz in a journey of self-discovery after she finds out in the previous game that she’s of Locust descent.
She goes on her own and to try and uncover her family’s origins, which forms a rift between her and her pal JD. Del decided to help her and joined her on this quest together with Jack. Jack, who’s a small floating bot similar to Mr. Handy in Fallout 4, also acts as a navigator suggesting areas they could go on the open-world maps that haven’t yet been to. They travel to these new places on a skiff, which is a cross between a small sailboat and a sled, facing many dangers along the way.
For local multiplayer, Gears 5 supports a three-player split-screen campaign co-op mode. You and a couple of your friends play as the three main characters as they live through the story. Gears’ campaign is the longest in the series so far, and we think that the narrative has the most depth and is also the best one yet. You’ll be glued to your seat up to the very end as Kait discovers the secrets behind her Locust heritage.
Portal 2 has got to have one of the most underrated local co-op multiplayer modes ever.
In Portal 2, there is only one piece of equipment you need to know and master, and that is the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, or simply known as a Portal Gun. The gun can create two portals that are linked together. It allows the player to pass through a wall and come out of another. They can carry objects with them or pull objects towards them from another area that they need to solve a series of puzzles.
You inhabit a woman named Chell who, after awakening from stasis, tries to escape the Aperture Science Laboratory, which is a series of elaborate, maze-like test chambers. The laboratory is on the verge of falling apart, and Chell has to deal with two erratic AI that she encounters as she tries to find a way out of the place. These test chambers are like moving mechanical obstacle courses. You need to solve spatial puzzles with the portal gun to help Chell navigate through these chambers safely and advance in the game.
It sounds simple, but there is some great character development that happens, and the voice acting is charming and top-notch. The humorous writing is above average, and there are plot twists that will keep you invested in the story, which all pays off in the final act. The puzzles are brilliant but not too frustrating, and they make you feel very clever after solving them.
In the local multiplayer co-op feature, you and your friend take on the roles of a couple of goofy robots named Atlas and Peabody. Here Valve put a lot of emphasis on cooperation and the need for both players to contribute to completing the objective. Both players have a portal gun like in the single-player campaign, but unlike in single-player, they won’t be able to solve a puzzle and proceed without the help of the other.
These are our favorites and are just a small sampling of the best out there titles out there, although we must admit it’s hard to find quality at this level among thousands of other good local multiplayer games, and some not so good. But rest assured that the games on our list belong to the cream of the crop.
The market for local multiplayer games isn’t very large, and every once in a while, we get lucky, and a killer game comes out that offers this feature in their multiplayer component. Rarely do we see an AAA release that includes a local setup in the core multiplayer mechanics. Most of the attention goes to creating a seamless online gameplay experience, and we can’t really blame them for it.
As long as friends and family still want to meet up, or come on over so they can play games together, there will always be developers that will make local multiplayer games. And with technologies improving and making it possible for more gamers to hook up without having to go online, these local multiplayer games would continue to be supported and prosper. They are a genuine social gaming experience.