The PC isn’t traditionally associated with social, same-screen multiplayer. In fact, the very geometry of a human body hunched towards a monitor with one hand spidering across a keyboard and another on the mouse seems to create a barrier of body language that deflects all social contact.
But times have changed. Today, all major console gamepads are plug-and-play compatible with Steam and Windows 10, and it’s easy to seamlessly connect your PC to your TV via Steam Link (which is also integrated as an app into modern Samsung TVs). These days, Windows is as viable a platform for couch multiplayer as a console, and to celebrate, we’ve amassed 10 of the best local multiplayer games for your PC, just in time for TechRadar's PC Gaming Week 2018.
Rather than blurring the line between competitive and co-op multiplayer, Crawl abuses it, violently throwing you into fleeting alliances in a game where there can only be one winner.
It’s a dungeon crawler, in essence, but one in which one player is the ‘hero’, while the other 1-3 players are ghosts who summon demonic creatures and possess traps in a bid to stop you.
Whoever lands the killing blow then becomes the hero, and this cycle continues as the hero progresses through randomly generated dungeons with the aim of defeating the final boss (also controlled by the other players).
The hero levels up, but so do other players’ monsters, making each 15-minute-or-so game feel like an deliciously dark dance of death that quickly escalates in intensity.
From Crawl’s depraved subterrane, you can cleanse your palette with this clean and cheery kitchen sim. One to four players control cooks in a kitchen, delegating responsibilities as they try to cook and serve increasingly complex orders to the contiguous restaurant.
It’s quintessential co-op, though as the pace and stress ratchets up, you begin to understand how Gordon Ramsey came to rely on such a profanity-filled vocabulary to get things functioning in the kitchen.
The beauty of Overcooked is that it leaves all organisation to the players; who’s frying the steaks? Who’s chopping the veg? Why is the onion soup on fire?!? Who the HELL is doing the washing up because we’ve run out of plates to serve food on?
Kitchens in later levels shift and change too, which can quickly disintegrate your clockwork-like kitchen into a hilarious omnishambles of rolling foodstuffs, dirty dishes and spreading fires.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Couch multiplayer is synonymous with fast-paced, intense sessions that leave you spent and satisfied in a matter of hours. But if you and a friend can handle tens of hours in each other’s company, and want to embark on one of the richest RPG adventures in recent memory, then this is your chance.
Recalling the RPGs of the '90s like Baldur’s Gate, Divinity 2 is a top-down RPG with a deep turn-based combat system. It feels limitless in all areas – from character creation, to dialogue options, to experimenting with spell combos to lethal effect.
Get to grips with its complexity, and Original Sin 2 unveils itself as a masterful RPG, allowing you to shape your character just how you want them, and meaningfully shape the game world around you.
Navigating this arcane world is best enjoyed alongside a good friend. Its co-op system is thoughtfully designed, switching between same-screen and split-screen depending on where you and your partner are in the world, and letting you continue your adventure online.
An old-timer as indies go, Towerfall: Ascension remains one of the most gripping, mechanically precise combat arenas around.
Set across a number of pixel-pretty single-screen levels (which crucially wrap around the sides, top and bottom), you and your friends take each other on in one-shot-kill bow-and-arrow combat.
A panoply of powerups – from wings to an edible that turns everything slow-motion – inject some chaos into the mix, but matches always feel like precise affairs, in part thanks to the limited number of shots in your quiver, and the fact that opponents can nab your wayward arrows.
Even though it’s accessible, there is still a level of mastery to Towerfall, such as the dodge move that lets you catch arrows, or learning to use the wrap-around screen to fire an arrow off the left side of the screen to kill an enemy on the right.
The instant replays after each round are an inspired addition too, because nothing stirs up competition like the round winner gloating and forcing you to rewatch their moment of victory in slow motion.
Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed
Any mention of couch multiplayer is almost certain to conjure wistful memories of playing Mario Kart 64 or Diddy Kong Racing using a trident controller, or perhaps Crash Team Racing for those on the Sony side of the fence in the '90s.
The PC, scattered platform that it is, never had its own IPs or mascots to turn into kart racers, but it’s benefited from Sega’s cross-platform diaspora with this overlooked gem. Beyond Sonic and pals, the Sega character roster may not be as recognisable as Nintendo’s (‘Football Manager’ from Football Manager, anyone?), but that matters little when the game itself is so vibrant and accessible.
Sonic & All-Star Racing is fun and forgiving, with tight controls and well-designed tracks that seamlessly transition between land, sea and air segments. PC gamers aren’t exactly spoiled for choice with kart racers, so it’s just as well that this is one of the best around.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
More and more games are crossing over into the kind of part-digital/part-reality hybrid experiences that could provide a whole evening’s entertainment in and of themselves. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is among the best of this bunch.
The premise is simple: There is a bomb with a timer. One person, fiddling with the bomb on the computer screen, must defuse it, while the others – with no sight of the screen – use an instruction manual to tell the defuser which buttons to press and which wires to pull.
It’s basically the ‘red wire or blue wire’ scene from Lethal Weapon, but with more options, more people, and less Mel Gibson, all of which are probably a good thing.
Peaking at your rivals’ screens in a split-screen shooter (scientific term: Screencheating) is one of the oldest tricks in the foul-playbook. Screencheat embraces this by making each player invisible, with their positions on the level only deducible by looking at their enemies’ screens, or waiting for someone to fire their gun to track the source of the shot.
Each arena is cleverly color-coded, so you can rely on peripheral vision to see when an enemy’s in the blue section, for instance, or at a juncture between red and green, to try and anticipate their position.
Playing Screencheat, you’ll learn that there are few kills as satisfying as one-shotting an invisible enemy based on your triangulations, though lobbing a grenade into where you think there might be an invisible crowd also has its appeal.
Draped in comical American patriotism and starring the great Hollywood action icons of the 80s and 90s, this 2D blaster gets so excessively explosive that entire levels crumble beneath your feet, as the entire screen becomes obscured by a cocktail of body chunklets and fire.
One of the more ingenious touches in Broforce (aside from skirting around copyright by giving each action icon a ‘Bro’ variant of their name – The Brominator, Rambro, Ellen Ripbro etc.) is that you’re assigned a random character each time, constantly tickling your group’s nostalgia senses and switching up the action; one moment you’re whipping enemies to their doom as Indiana Brones, the next you’re swinging your sword and making guttural Arnie grunts as Bronan the Barbarian.
The difficulty ratchets up quickly, but simple controls and sheer character of Broforce will keep you and your friends at it until your thumb joints start chafing.
Many local multiplayer games require you to at least partly take on the role of teacher to your newbie friends, which inevitably injects tedium into your session as you scramble to answer the barrage of questions being hurled at you.
Party Panic negates this problem with its instant clarity. The only controls are ‘Run’ and ‘Jump’, which are the foundation for countless mini-games where the visual language is wonderfully self-explanatory.
In one game, you’re running towards the screen to avoid the maw of a massive whale, in another you’re shooting ghosties or rolling around in a zorb trying to knock your rivals into lava.
It’s the kind of giddy, frantic simplicity that harks back to those old Track-and-Field games where you’d furiously press one button to win the race (but with less finger-ache), or to Nintendo’s much-loved Mario Party series. See? PC can do party games too!
- TechRadar's fourth annual PC Gaming Week is officially here, celebrating our passion with in-depth and exclusive coverage of PC gaming from every angle. Visit our PC Gaming Week 2018 page to see all of the coverage in one place.