Reindeer, rocket launchers and a beardy dude in a red suit
With 2015 rapidly drawing to a close, we’re suddenly smack-bang in the middle of the festive season. For many South Africans, “festive season” translates to an almost month-long binge on booze, beaches, funny hats and braais. And that’s okay, except it’s important to find time to focus on the important things in life. Things like games, obviously.
Christmas also happens to be about spending time with the people you love and/or tolerate. With that in mind, we’ve not-so-carefully compiled a Mega List of some of our current favourite multiplayer games to share with friends and family these holidays. We’ve specifically focused on games that can be played on the couch, with everyone in the same room cheering/shouting/screaming at the same screen, preferably ending with everyone storming off in a huff because f***ing Uncle Harold keeps hogging all the item drops AND THAT’S JUST NOT F***ING COOL UNCLE HAROLD WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO STOP DRINKING ANYWAY YOU KNOW AUNT LOUISE DOESN’T LIKE IT SHUT UP YOU’RE NOT EVEN MY REAL UNCLE.
Yes. Not to limit ourselves too much, we’ve also selected a few games that can be played over LAN, because LANning counts and you should stop asking so many questions.
Right, let’s get to it, shall we?
We haven’t written nearly as many words about Rocket League as we should, and that’s an absolute travesty. I’ll probably remedy that by featuring it in a future Fashionably Late. It’s a game in which you fling your rocket-powered car of choice at a supersized soccer ball with the intention of bashing it into the always-too-small goal in the opposing team’s half of the field. Of course, it’s more likely you’ll flub the whole thing and send the ball awkwardly rolling into your own goal. But hey, well done for trying.
It’s a game about physics, mostly, and it’s kind of like actual football if it had just had an adrenaline needle plunged into its heart, minus the feet and wearing a faulty jetpack. Seriously, it’s great, and there are awesome/embarrassing slow-mo replays and everything. I’m not generally a fan of sportsing and sportsing-related things, but Rocket League has me hooked. It’s also really easy for non-gamers to quickly understand and appreciate (even though it’s very tough to master), which makes it the perfect game to whip out at your next social gathering. There’s split-screen support for up to four players available on PC (you’ll have to have controllers for all of the players though – it doesn’t allow the use of the keyboard and mouse in local co-op) and PS4. I hear there’s an XBO version in the works as well. Yay! But it won’t enjoy the same cross-platform multiplayer as the PC and PS4 versions. Boo.
Knight Squad describes itself as an “8 players top-down Bomberman meets Gauntlet game”. As if that’s not enticing enough, its developers call it a “chaotic arena friendship destroyer”. If you’d rather not take the dev’s word for it, Tarryn sums it up thusly: “Basically, it’s a top-down arena brawler, with a bunch of modes and maps, and one-hit kills. Drunk fun for the whole family.” COUNT US IN.
I’ve not played it myself, but from what I understand you and up to seven other humans battle it out across a variety of game modes (including one that’s very football-y – ‘ey Rocket League, you’ve got company). There are various power-ups (like Boots of Faster Running, which make you run faster) and crazy weapons like bombs and laser guns and magical staves and swords and stuff, and you use these to make your loved ones hate you forever. The environments are partially destructible, and it all looks attractively chaotic. Impressively, up to eight players can play on a single Xbox One, but you’ll obviously need hundreds of controllers for that.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III zombies mode
It’s an obvious one, but how could we not include this? Black Ops III‘s multiplayer is great fun (you should read Michael’s thoughts on it) and can be played split-screen, but nothing promotes family bonding quite like surviving the zombie apocalypse together. Except you won’t survive the zombie apocalypse. You’ll die horribly. Many times. And then you’ll die some more, and sometimes you’ll use your friends and family as zombie bait because it’s “for the greater good”. But you’ll do it together. Bonding!
By now I’m sure you know exactly what to expect from Call of Duty’s zombie mode, but importantly, Blops 3‘s zombie mode has Jeff “didn’t stop to think if you should” Goldblum in it, and he’s a magician. No, really. You’ll also spot Ron “Jax Teller, if you don’t put a shirt on I’m turning this bike around” Perlman, Heather “I once hid a slice of pizza in Zach Galifianakis’ beard and he didn’t even notice” Graham, and Neal “they gave me a jetpack in Minority Report and it was pretty sweet” McDonough in the game, and they each give a fantastic amount of personality to their respective characters.
Shadows of Evil is easily the most complex and challenging of all COD‘s zombie maps, adding a bunch of new features and things to worry about to the mix. What’s that, you’d like it more if it had four-player split-screen? Well it’s got it, so I’ve no clue what you’re even saying. Maybe it’s time you put down that fifth bottle of cider and have a glass of water instead.
Guitar Hero Live
This is more of a guideline than anything, because you could easily swap out Live for any of the games bearing the Guitar Hero (or Rock Band) logo and still have a rollicking good time. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve yet to give Live a go, but Tarryn reviewed it and seems mighty happy with the game, even though she claims to be really shit at it. I’m not sure I buy that though. I think she’s the Guitar Hero equivalent of a pool hustler, pretending to be JUST THE WORST so she can trick people into wagering money on beating her, only to end the night bankrupt, dazed and confused. That sneaky sneakalot.
The thing about Live is that it isn’t just a rehashing of the Guitar Hero of yore – the game is fundamentally different from its predecessors and presents a very distinct challenge thanks to the six-buttoned design of the fancy new plastic guitar at its helm. That, and rather than placing you in the Dr. Martens of a caricatured rock star playing gigs on a virtual stage in front of virtual people to give you a vague, virtual taste of what it’s like to play music in a real band, this newest Guitar Hero uses live-action video to let you wear your own shoes (kind of) and be an actual rock star (kind of) playing gigs on a real stage (kind of) in front of real people (kind of) to give you a somewhat-less-vague, somewhat-less-virtual taste of what it’s like to play music in a real band.
None of that’s really important though. All that matters is that I’m told it presents more of that same addictive, irresistible, everyone-wants-to-be-a-rock-star fun that helped Guitar Hero bury the world under a mountain of clicky plastic guitars. And it’s still a blast to play with other people, so it’s an easy addition to this list.
Mortal Kombat X
Depending on who’s visiting, this one might be a tad too extreme to load up for all the family to enjoy after a hearty Christmas lunch. There’s a very real chance Grandma Susan will never speak to you again if she’s forced to watch you rip out Cousin Becca’s spinal column and beat her to death with it. It’s spectacularly gruesome, but its obsession with excessive gore is a large part of what gives Mortal Kombat X instant spectator value. Even with only two people at the controls, you could easily entertain a room of 20 spectators eagerly awaiting their turn to play, OOOOH-ing and AAAAAH-ing and HOLY HELL WHAT JUST HAPPENED-ing as they watch a pair of angry combatants viciously punch and kick and slash and claw the innards out of one another. Check out Matthew Vice’s review if you need more convincing.
All that said, if you’d prefer a tamer, but every bit as entertaining fighting game to offer your more squeamish guests, Injustice: Gods Among Us is also very good and comes with a character roster comprised entirely of iconic superheroes and supervillains from the DC universe. Any of the Street Fighter IV games would make an excellent choice as well.
Four cartoonish knights charge from level to level hacking and slashing their way through hordes of hapless foes, gaining experience and unlocking new attacks and abilities as they do. Castle Crashers is really easy to just pick up and play, and its beat-’em-up mechanics are brilliantly simple to explain to people who don’t play many video games. It’s also complemented by some of the most adorably alluring art in all of gaming, and that should make it instantly endearing to everyone on Earth. Seriously, anyone who says they don’t like the art is hiding a terrible, terrible secret, and you shouldn’t trust them.
Nothing screams “Merry Christmas!” quite like grabbing your brother or sister by the leg and dangling them over a pit full of deadly grinding gears. Just don’t let mom or dad see, because they’ll probably spoil these happy memories. That, or they’ll ask to join in, because it looks like wacky fun. Gang Beasts is a four-player brawler in which your gelatinous avatar must punch and kick and generally upset your opponents’ gelatinous avatars, eventually incapacitating them enough for you to be able to grab ’em and lob their helpless jelly bodies into various hazards, or into the abyss below. It’s wild, and it’s sure to generate lots of shouting and resentful merriment.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it? We can’t feature a bunch of arcade-y games that simulate football in ridiculous ways and then not have ACTUAL football in here. You can’t really go wrong with offering everyone a bowl full of FIFA, because chances are it’s the only time ‘roided-out Cousin Ronnie won’t respond with “nah, computer games are naff charna, they’re for nerds”, instead pumping his fist skywards and shouting, “Ja bru great stuff I flippen’ love FIFA! Boet, I shotgun the United Manchesting Flapabouts.”
In all seriousness, FIFA with friends is usually a lot of fun, even if, like me, the only thing you know about football is that there’s grass, you’re not supposed to use your hands unless you’re wearing gloves, and sometimes people are offside.
Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition
Most of the local multiplayer games on this list are designed to be enjoyed in short bursts, but what if you’re looking for something more long term, something more substantial? Something that you and a buddy can spend many merry December nights adventuring through together. Enter Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition, an enormous, captivating role-playing game that looks to the isometric CRPGs of years past for its inspiration. Amazingly, this massive game offers split-screen play, which is unusual for members of this genre. Play it. Play it for glory.
This Contra-style chaos fest is like a monstrous, plus-sized grenade packed full of machetes and carrying a flamethrower. It looks manic enough when played solo, but if you prefer to share your explosions with friends it also supports cooperative and competitive multiplayer for up to four players. It’s also made right here in South Africa, and that’s quite nice, isn’t it? BOEREWORS.
Truth be told I haven’t played it yet, because time is a cruel, impatient A-hole, and I can’t seem to keep up with its relentless forwards march. Still, important people keep telling me it’s “f***ing awesome”, and that’s more than enough to earn it a spot on this list. Also, I feel I should quote this excitingly brief Steam user review, because every time I read it it makes me laugh far harder than it should:
It’s a pretty good documentary about Americans.
Now for some lovely Christmas LAN-’em-ups, rapid-fire style
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void
Yes. A thousand times yes. Co-op missions, Archon Mode and more action-focused, aggressive competitive multiplayer have made this the definitive version of StarCraft II. Archon Mode is especially useful for introducing new players to the game. I’ll let Gareth Kerr’s review explain everything.
Killing Floor 2
It’s essentially a six-player, class-based version of Call of Duty‘s zombie mode, with a whole bunch of unique features with which to tinker. Use teamwork and the power of unbridled panic to fend off hordes of horrible monstrosities.
It’s Quake! You hop around, you shoot things and you eat rockets. It’s lightning-fast, it’s frantic and it’s hilariously good fun. The perfect way to remind everyone you know that CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT TOGETHERNESS BUT IF YOU DON’T BACK OFF I’M GONNA SHOOT YOU IN THE FACE WITH THIS ROCKET LAUNCHER.
It’s Unreal Tournament! You hop around, you shoot things and you eat rockets. It’s lightning-fast, it’s frantic and it’s hilariously good fun. The perfect way to remind everyone you know that CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT TOGETHERNESS BUT IF YOU DON’T BACK OFF I’M GONNA SHOOT YOU IN THE FACE WITH THIS ROCKET LAUNCHER.
Hang on, this is all feeling very familiar.
Another real-time strategy option. I like this one, mostly because it’s just a really good game, but also because it’s essentially about lying to everyone, all the time, about everything. And if Christmas isn’t about constant, unwavering deception (wait, what do you MEAN Daddy Christmost isn’t real?!), then I don’t know what is.
The most honourable of honourable mentions
Skylanders SuperChargers: Perfect to keep the young’uns busy while the grown-ups Get Stuff Done. Also perfect to keep the grown-ups busy while the young’uns look on, confused by what just happened. Here, let Miklós convince you.
Disney Infinity 3.0: Same as above really, except this one has the added benefit of being covered in Star Wars. Yummy! Again, Miklós is in charge of our Persuasion Department.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime: Cooperative spaceship management simulator. I haven’t played it, but it looks beautiful and Tarryn tells me it’s a “LOL-o-rama”. Tarryn, you had me at hello. Am I using that right?
Rayman Origins / Rayman Legends: Not only are these 2D platformers so pretty they’ll bring a thousand tears to your eyes, but they’re also incredibly fun to play with a partner. The musical levels are genius. Also, more football-y bits!
Grand Theft Auto V: Doesn’t have local multiplayer, but sharing the controller between a group of people and giving each person a few minutes to play before passing the baton to the next person is sure to deliver many power-chuckles. Bonus points because it’s got lots of potential for inspiring spectator-enforced challenges.
Until Dawn: Again, this has no multiplayer of any sort, but Matthew of clan Fick would like to share this family tradition with you:
Until Dawn: Hive Mode
One person has the controller for Until Dawn, everyone else (2+ people) is part of The Hive. Whenever a decision must be made, The Hive decides. If it’s time-sensitive, then the first answer shouted is the choice. If it’s not time-sensitive, it’s up to a vote.
The ultimate goal is just to watch Until Dawn like a horror movie, and bond over a few jump-scares. Naturally, The Hive will make the worst choices possible.
Actually, just play Until Dawn anyway, because Tarryn loves it.
Nuclear Throne: Crunchy roguelike-like (or whatever) that’ll make you want to punch everything every time you die. But they’ll be, like, FESTIVE punches.
Portal 2: Sure, Portal 2‘s solo puzzling is great, but have you ever dipped 20 (give or take) toes into the co-op mode? You should, because it’s wonderful. And turning off a tractor beam while your co-op partner’s suspended over a pit of death is the definitive way of quietly saying, “I can’t believe all you got me for Christmas last year was a pair of socks. Ugly socks. I didn’t even know they MADE ugly socks.”
Crypt of the NecroDancer: Packed full of killer tunes and clever design, this rhythmic roguelike is sure to draw attention away from the fact that you didn’t buy anyone gifts this year.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth: Crying children battling icky monsters with their tears? Demon babies? Killer flies? Deadly disembodied legs? Inexplicable poop, everywhere? Sounds like every NAG office Christmas party, ever.