How To Play A Single-Player Game With Two People

two people playing a one-player game
Photo: Ponomarenko Anastasia (Shutterstock)

A co-op game doesn’t necessarily have to be a multiplayer game. You can turn any single-player game into a cooperative one by simply...taking turns passing the controller back and forth. What a concept! But before you start, keep in mind that there’s a code of etiquette at play. Stick to it as best you can because if you can’t, well, you might be better off playing a single-player game as intended.

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Don’t play story missions unless you’re together.

This is the cardinal rule of playing a game with a friend. It’s fine to tackle some stuff—grinding, rote quests, and the like—on your lonesome, but be sure to avoid progressing the plot alone. Even if your friend claims to “not care about the story” because it’s “trite” and “a child could’ve written it,” still don’t. Inevitably, they’ll come back and go, “Soooo, what’d I miss?” It’s human nature. You shouldn’t have to take the time out of your day to explain that Sam was actually working with Rafe the whole time because your counterpart didn’t feel like paying attention.

But let’s say they missed a plot point and genuinely care about what happens (maybe they missed out, or maybe you selfishly went ahead on your own). You could try to explain that Sam and Nate have to fist-fight Nadine, and then Sam pulls a gun on Nadine, and then Rafe shows up with armed guards, and then… Or, you could just reload an older checkpoint and let your friend play through what they missed. Be free!

Limit your group to three people at most.

Look. Trying to play a single-player game with two people isn’t always easy. Three people’s pushing it. Four is just too many for one game.

Come up with a handoff system.

If you’re playing a shooter, you could pass off the controller at every checkpoint (or three). A precision platformer like Celeste? Every five deaths is probably fair, unless one of you is far more skilled than the other. Puzzle games are easy: swap at every puzzle. So are linear action games, not that we get many of those these days. Just swap controls after every room or chamber.

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Split up the good stuff.

It’s not impossible to play an open-world game with a friend. It’s just difficult. Everyone knows that, in open world games, some tasks are just more fun than others. There’s a hierarchy here:

  • Late-game story missions
  • Boss fights
  • Multi-part side quests
  • Arenas, enemy bases, time challenges, things like that
  • Mid-game story missions
  • One-off side quests
  • Those mystery marks that may be something fun, maybe not, but hey, why don’t you check it out and roll the dice?
  • Early-game story missions
  • Regular side quests
  • Fetch quests
  • Tutorials
  • Everything else
  • Yes, including escort missions
  • Those missions where you have to quietly tail someone without being spotted

Don’t even bother trying to apply a formula to this. That’ll just suck the fun out of the room. But do endeavor to be conscientious. If you tackle something near the top, let your friend knock out a few things from the bottom in a row before taking back the reins (or vice versa). And while you’re at it, don’t hog all the stuff near the top.

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Don’t sell gear without asking.

You needn’t agree on loadouts—it’s so easy to switch up gear on the fly—but you should agree on what does and doesn’t stay in your inventory. You might be done with that Steel Sword of Killing Orcs In One Hit. Doesn’t mean your friend is. On a similar note, try to agree on what gear to upgrade. If you each have different favorite weapons but both still regularly use the Pistol of Killing Mushroom Zombies, spend your resources on that one. A kindergarten lesson works, too: Take turns. Trade off on personal faves.

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Agree on level-ups.

Everyone has different playstyles, and there are bound to be some disagreements as to how you should allot your skill points, but some level-ups are more universally appreciated than others. Focus on those first. Get the double-jump. Get the one that increases how much ammo you can hold. Get the upgrade that exists in every game and increases how much experience you earn so you can then earn more upgrades. No-brainers, all of ‘em.

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Try brutal games.

It doesn’t matter how good you are, a game like Doom Eternal is downright exhausting. Rip-roaring metal? Blood and guts and screeching everywhere? Combat designed so you’re pretty much always hovering on the brink of death? Yeah, it’s a lot. You’ll be able to stomach longer stretches of pulverizing demons if you have someone nearby who can take the wheel. The same principle applies to any game that could be accurately described as “a lot.”

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Play an actual cooperative game.

Yes, sometimes it’s nice to just play a fun game at the same time. We’ve got you covered:

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Staff Writer, Kotaku

DISCUSSION

If you want a specific recommendation:

Outer Wilds is one of the most incredible co-op games disguised as a single-player game ever made.

The game is chock full of content and extremely lean on filler, leaving very few slow/dull moments for spectators. And since the core of the game is intuitively figuring out the mysteries of the world you inhabit, it’s something everyone can participate in together, whether they’re holding the controller or not. It doesn’t matter whether they’re non-gamers, physically handicapped, or otherwise uncomfortable with the controls; even with an experienced gamer at the helm, onlookers can still experience the game with near-complete fidelity. Spectators become players. So very few games allow this.

And for people who’ve played the game before, enjoying the game through the eyes of other new players is literally one of the best (and only) ways to meaningfully replay the game again without somehow selectively wiping your memory. You will enjoy being backseated by new players. You will get to viscerally re-experience every gasp, every plot twist, and the thrill of every Eureka! moment, all over again.

It is unforgettable. Play it with friends. And share the journey together.