While the writing and plot might have been a little hokey, there’s something about being able to share a story. So you’re looking for narrative experiences for a party or to kill some time with a friend, here’s 15 games worth checking out.
Tales From The Borderlands
Telltale stories have been a bit hit and miss over the years. But one of their best was also one of the most unexpected: Tales From The Borderlands, which is probably best described as an interactive Borderlands movie.
Because of that, it’s a great shared experience. There’s some light puzzle elements as well – not too akin from the detective aspects of A Wolf Among Us, the second season of which is due out this year.
Wolf Among Us has darker humour too, owing to the seedy nature of the Fables’ retreat from their homelands. Tales From The Borderlands is much more slapstick, and consequently it might be more suited for only casual gamers or people who prefer their entertainment to be on the lighter side. You’ll enjoy some of the jokes more if you’re familiar with the Borderlands cast, but the game’s perfectly enjoyable without it.
Life is Strange
Every Christmas I make an effort to play through a game with my mother, replicating an experience we shared when I was a young kid. It can be especially tricky since while my Mum is happy to get emotionally invested in narrative, character-driven video games, picking up a controller isn’t natural and decades of old-school typing has made the mouse and keyboard a bit of a painful experience.
So we lean towards story-based games on the shorter side, things that we can enjoy together even if one person is controlling the action. Life is Strange – the original, not the sequel – is a perfect foil, with some traditional point-and-click puzzles blended with branching dialogue trees and endings.
There’s something in it for everyone, and while there’s light profanity (mostly from Chloe) younger teenagers should get a good laugh from the dialogue.
While I’m not a fan of the app’s performance, Hidden Agenda does offer the closest experience that mirrors the joint input controls of A Way Out.
Supermassive’s follow up to Until Dawn is basically an episodic detective flick, with the player trying to unmask the creepy “Trapper” killer. The gameplay is a mostly dialogue choices with a few mandatory quicktime events, which can be a bit hit or miss due to the lagginess of the app.
That aside, it’s hard not to get engaged with the story as it comes to its final conclusion. I’d strongly recommend skipping the competitive mode, however: it slows the game down substantially, and doesn’t add to the experience at all.
A Way Out
A Way Out requires joint inputs from both players. If you’re looking for a pass-and-play experience or you’re sitting with a family member that’s not familiar with gaming, this might not be your cup of tea.
But that said, A Way Out is not a mechanically complicated game. Non-gamers in particular will enjoy the allusions to The Shawshank Redemption, as well as the variety of mini-games and challenges (while using the same buttons, and often asking little of reactions or timing).
Child of Light
Child of Light can’t be consumed in the space of a couple of hours, and it’s not a co-op experience that works across a larger group. But if you’ve got a partner who enjoys sharing an experience over multiple days, and you’re after something on the incredibly chilled side, the music, aesthetic and limericks of Aurora’s journey can be truly enchanting.
The game does hit a brick wall at points, and the rhymes start to wear after several hours. But the tactical combat encourages discussion and forethought, and the watercolour styling and soundtrack remains easy on the eye from start to finish.
Child of Light‘s co-op mode lets a second player control Igniculus in and out of combat. It’s not fully fleshed out – Igniculus can slow down enemies in combat, but it’s not able to attack or cast magic like any of the first player’s characters. But the game is still a lovely experience, as a European-stylised love letter to JRPGs. And it’s well suited if you have a partner who wants to share the gaming experience, without being tasked with the bulk of the inputs.
The original game to get friends and partners who haven’t played video games into video games. The reward you get for beating Journey is learning the name of your partner.
For many gamers – although not everyone – Journey is at its absolute best as a shared experience, an opportunity to discover the unknown with someone unknown.
The 7th Guest
Shared experiences don’t have to be modern ones. Sometimes it’s great fun to unpick a puzzle together, while laughing through some truly shitty FMV along the way. The 7th Guest was one of the original great co-op titles: there was a wide range of puzzles for partners and families to solve, varying from enjoyably challenging to infuriatingly miserable, coupled with plenty of hammy, barely recognisable actors against ray-traced backgrounds.
It was a simpler time, when gamers and developers were happy to absorb the massive increase in storage space that CD’s offered. But for all its flaws, and there are many, The 7th Guest offers a good laugh today and a great window into where the industry thought games might go. You’ll also be grateful for sharing the experience with a friend: many of the plot points aren’t experienced in a linear fashion, as the player has a good deal of agency in choosing which puzzles to solve first.
Contradiction – Spot the Liar!
If cheesy FMV is your style, but you’d rather something a little more modern, Contradiction is a hilarious experience to share with friends. It’s a detective mystery at heart, with players working through evidence provided in conversation to uncover more clues to move the story forward.
I’d recommend this as a Friday night with friends and drinks kind of scenario – it’s definitely not at its best as a solo experience. The linearity makes it an easy experience for everyone to enjoy, and some of the scenes are brilliant.
Another single player puzzler that’s good as a pass-the-controller experience, CHUCHEL is a colourful adventure from the makers of Botanicula and Machinarium. CHUCHEL is a little more family-friendly: it’s colourful, silly, and incredibly varied.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but don’t expect the same action from one screen to the next. Solutions are more on the simpler side, so this might not be the best for adult gamers looking for a brain teaser, but if you want a silly twist on a puzzler or something to share with a younger gamer, CHUCHEL is well worth a look.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games
The Nonary Games is a bundle containing the first and second horror visual novels. Both games have a Saw-like element to them, where nine people are trapped in locked rooms by a serial killer called Zero.
The game itself is a mix of traditional visual novel reading, blended with escape room-style puzzles, branching dialogue trees, multiple endings, and a storyline that spans across multiple games.
Zero Escape‘s drawcard, however, is really in the intricacy of the narratives. As Jason wrote ahead of the release of Zero Time Dillema, the third game in the franchise, Zero Escape has some great writing and excellent characterisation. It’s the kind of storytelling only a video game could do, and it’s the kind that everyone should experience at least once.
Firewatch is great solo, but it’s an adventure that can be easily enjoyed with a group of people, passing the controller or just sitting by idly. A story about Hank and his summer job in the Wyoming national park, Firewatch in a lot of ways is a smoother, prettier take on the Telltale narrative experience, minus the quicktime events.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
This isn’t the simplest game to play with a partner or friend, and it’s not something you can share over one screen (until August anyway). But as far as large, sprawling worlds with endless stories and quests to share over hundreds of hours, DOS 2 has you covered in spades.
You can even use the game’s inbuilt creator to remake D&D campaigns, as Cecilia did. There’s plenty of story to unravel in the main campaign, however, and if you’re after a co-op experience that’s more involved, but not as action-oriented as a split-screen shooter or platformer, DOS 2 is a great option. (Those with older PCs can also give Neverwinter Nights a go, the remastered version of which launched on Steam last month.)
Like the idea of a choose-your-own-adventure, but set in a secret society in 1793? That’s the premise behind The Council, a narrative adventure that blends the Telltale episodic formula with RPG elements and a mystery-murder setting.
The added mechanics make The Council, the first episode of which launched mid-March, more complicated than Life is Strange or Telltale’s games. But if you have a couple of regular gamers, or you’re happy to drive the action on behalf of someone else, it’s an intriguing spin on story-driven adventures.
A list like this wouldn’t be complete without Until Dawn, the teen horror narrative flick that plays out better with a group than it does alone. The fact that so many people enjoyed Until Dawn as a shared experience was part of the inspiration behind Hidden Agenda‘s co-operative controls.
If you go one step further, you can even turn Until Dawn into a true multiplayer experience by divvying up the characters. Hayley has all the rules you’ll need below.
If you're a fan of Until Dawn and you're anything like me, you've probably already finished the game a couple of times. You've saved the teens, you've killed the teens, you've collected everything there is to collect. Or maybe you haven't got around to playing it at all yet. Well, there's a new way to enjoy it all over again - or even for the first time - and it hinges around getting a group of your friends together.Read more
The Uncharted Series
Everyone has their personal Uncharted favourites – I’ve always seen Uncharted 2 as the movie that Indiana Jones: Legend of the Crystal Skull should have been. But the narrative structure, with puzzle elements bookended by cut scenes, scripted sequences and gunfights, make for a shared experience that plays out like an interactive blockbuster.
Sharing the controller one chapter at a time is a great way to play through the later Uncharted games. The only caveat is that Uncharted 1 probably doesn’t work as well in this context, being the weakest of the series. It’s perfectly fine to start with Uncharted 2, even though it’ll take a few chapters to work out where everyone fits into the story.