As anybody who has ever held a controller before would know, not all games are created equal. Some are total duds, while others are regarded as masterpieces. The area between those two extremes is filled to the brim with nuances that cover the spread of what makes a game playable or not.
One of the more polarizing categories that a game might find itself is at the intersection of bad and good. Now before you dismiss this classification as being nonsensical, consider that the playability of a game is decided by the sum of its parts - with some being, shall we say, more fine tuned or polished than others. When this happens, you end up with a game that features some strong elements that might be overshadowed by the inadequacies of others.
Being an advocate for co-op in general, I have often been in situations where I am at odds with the allure of a gratifying, wholesome cooperative experience packaged in a game that is lacking in overall quality - be that mechanically, narratively, or programmatically. While I am more often than not willing to look past a game's flaws, regardless of how pervasive they may be, my counterparts are usually more reluctant to go on that journey with me.
So without further ado, and for your cringe-filled pleasure, I have compiled a list of the top 5 games that may ostensibly be smoldering dumpster fires, but fortunately, you don't have to dowse those flames alone.
5. Army of Two (2008) - PS3/Xbox 360 | EA Montreal
Here we have a franchise that will likely be forgotten in the coming years, as its latest installment, the Devil's Cartel, was released back in 2013 to lackluster sales and fanfare. That said, I'm not here to mourn its indefinite demise and lament its passing into obscurity, I'm here to celebrate the game that started it all - The original Army of Two.
Built from the ground-up to be played cooperatively, Army of Two required players to work together in order to complete objectives. In fact, the game could not even be played alone even if you wanted to, and solo players were partnered with an AI-controlled counterpart that allegedly adapted to the player's strategy. As the title would suggest, one of the things that Army of Two got right was making it absolutely necessary to coordinate with and relay on one another as to not get overwhelmed by the opposing forces.
Where Army of Two went horribly wrong was its enemy AI, which seemed to be equipped with a series of super powers that allowed for unfaltering aim and an uncanny ability to see everything at all times. This made for a glaring counter-balance to the player's ability to leverage any sort of strategy in order to gain the upper hand against their opponents, as the all-seeing, all-knowing AI will know you're there before you even step out from cover. While it was fun playing as two battle-hardened badasses supposedly able to hold their own against overwhelming odds, the mechanical missteps with the enemy AI certainly didn't make it seem like a fair fight.
4. Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days (2010) - PS3/Xbox 360/PC | IO Interactive
You would not be faulted for overlooking this particular gem of a game, as Kane & Lynch was a short-lived franchise that never really found its' audience. Following the crime-riddled escapades of the titular Kane, an ex-con convicted of manslaughter and Lynch, a literal sociopath, Dog Days takes place shortly after the events of the first game. Kane attempts to start a new life, which of course doesn't work out, and the pair is reunited just in time to be thrusts into more drug-fueled, psychotic madness.
There are a lot of things wrong with this game: For whatever, I'm sure very edgy reason, the developers decided to go with a shaky-cam, documentary-style presentation for the game that reportedly could cause adverse effects in players ranging from nausea to annoyance. If erratic movements and grainy visuals doesn't quite do it for you, perhaps you would enjoy the super industrial dark ambient soundtrack that occasionally drowns out the rest of the audio. If one was able to program a seizure into a game, Kane & Lynch Dog Days would be the end result.
Despite Kane & Lynch's third-string Max Payne approach to game design, the one area this game shines is - you guessed it - Co-op. The fact that Dog Day's is a gritty, viscerally unsettling game makes it an ideal candidate for being something you'd share with someone else. It's kind of like watching a bad horror movie with a friend as opposed to doing so alone. Most of the "joy" Dog Day's provides stems from is the shared absurdity that you and your friend get to experience together.
3. Dead Island (2011) - PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC | Techland
This is perhaps the most frustrating addition to the list simply because Dead Island isn't necessarily a bad game, but rather a disappointing one that just did not live up to its self-imposed expectations.
Years and years ago when we first were given a glimpse of the already highly-anticipated Dead Island, the trailer literally floored everyone. As controversial and dark as it was, the resulting game that it was supposed to tease was barely comparable. As many would point out, the only real similarity the trailer had to the final product was that it featured an island resort overrun with zombies. While that may seem like enough connection for some, the tonal and thematic differences were immense.
While the game certainly had its flaws upon release outside of not being what it was advertised as, the shortcomings were not enough to prevent it from being a fantastic co-op zombie hack n' slash. Dead Island featured a size-able, beautifully-rendered map that included diverse locals spanning from beachfront bungalows to swampy jungles, Indigenous villages to densely populated cities. All of which, I might add, is entirely traversable with up to 3 other players.
2. Resident Evil 6 (2012) - PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC | Capcom
"Wouldn't it be cool if Resident Evil was an action game?" - Asked no one, literally ever. But actually, someone did end up asking that, and that someone was apparently in a position of creative authority around the time Capcom began planning its' next entry in their long-running Horror/Survival franchise.
If I'm being honest, we probably should have seen this coming, what with the incremental steps the previous two games had made towards being a more action-orientated, streamlined experience that gave less focus to the inventory management and survival mechanics that had been a series' mainstay. Though not inherently bad, because objectively, if it didn't belong to the series that effectively invented the survival-horror genre, it might have actually stood on its own and not enrage nearly every longtime fan of the franchise. Eventually, Capcom would realize how much they messed up, and that's why we got entries such as Resident Evil Revelations that really embraced the core values that made the series unique.
Okay, now that the formalities are out of the way - it's unpopular opinion time:
I actually really enjoyed Resident Evil 6
Blasphemy, I know, but let me make one thing very clear: I'm a big baby when it comes to horror games and I absolutely need to be coddled through the whole experience if I am ever to participate in one. For this reason, Resident Evil 6 is the perfect fit for me because not only are survival mechanics essentially non-existent, but I can play through the entire game with an ideally much braver friend. For me, there isn't a single thing about Resident Evil 6 not to like. It has action, drama, zombies, and chiseled muscles courtesy of a certain Chris Redfield. Does that make me a bad fan? Maybe, but I already have enough anxiety without also having to worry about how much more terror I need to endure before I get to save my game again.
1. Dead Space 3 (2013) - PS3/Xbox 360/PC | Visceral Games
This was admittedly a tough choice for number 1. Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3 seemed to both have a lot in common when looking at the criteria for what makes them "bad". Neither of them are technically bad, they were just out of place within their own respective franchises. However, the reason why Dead Space 3 stands above the rest is that on top of being an exceptionally polished, well-made game (I won't get into the micro-transaction debacle that was later addressed), its implementation of co-op is so effective that I couldn't image ever playing it without a partner.
For a little backstory, Dead Space is another example of a franchise that started out as a different genre than what it became. The first Dead Space was well-received for its vision for a Survival Horror game reminiscent of the film Event Horizon. The game forced to you make difficult decisions about how to safely maneuver through haunting ,claustrophobic interiors as well as pitting you against enemies that are really bad at staying dead.
Naturally, the third installment of the series did away with all of that, instead opting to provide all the ammo and resources you need to curb-stomp your way through its roughly 12-hour campaign. Again, exactly how I like it.
Say what you will about the shift in genre being uninvited, or that the horror elements are compromised by the addition of a second player, but for me, the presence of co-op was the reason I played a Dead Space game at all. There seemed to be a very clear intention for the characters, and certain story elements revolve around each character's own personal journeys. As a result, character development feels like it was given a level of care and attention that is not often applied to cooperative-first games. Without spoiling anything, one of my favorite areas of the game involves a certain character experiencing PTSD-like hallucinations that the other player can not see. Despite being thematically grim, this particular event provides for a thoroughly gratifying interaction with your irl partner as you frantically attempt to explain what's happening on your screen. For me, it's moments like that which really epitomize what a co-op game can and should be.
What did you think of my list? What co-op games do you love to hate? Sound off your thoughts in the comments below!