Tue. May 21st, 2024

It’s not only multiplayer games that are fun with friends, some single-player titles are engaging even if you don’t have a controller in your hands. You can even pass and play to keep everyone engaged.

Puzzle Games Like Myst and Botany Manor

Two (or more) heads are usually better than one. That’s especially true when you’re trying to solve the sort of abstract puzzles you’ll find in a game like Myst. This 1993 classic received a full remake in 2020 and can now be played on modern Windows, Mac, and Xbox platforms (plus the iPhone and iPad). Myst is a classic that you should try at least once, but you will hit roadblocks and crowd-sourcing solutions is one way to overcome them.

Botany Manor is a 2024 puzzler that tasks you with growing plants from seed to discover their mysterious properties. You’ll need to create the ideal conditions for each plant while completing your character’s unfinished research. It’s a short experience that the whole family can enjoy.

Along the same lines are games like The Witness, which arguably benefits more from a pass-and-play scenario. This beautiful first-person puzzle game has you wandering around a mysterious island, but to say it’s challenging is an understatement.

Cinematic Horror Games Like The Quarry and Until Dawn

Until Dawn and its spiritual successor The Quarry gamify the experience of watching a slasher flick. The twist is that you are in control of the character’s fates, which means that every playthrough is different depending on your decisions and reaction times.

Prepare to have the whole room screaming directions at you, and reacting in unison whenever a threat rears its head. The games make use of interesting, static camera placements and quick-time event cutscenes that’ll test your reactions, which makes them compelling to both play and watch.

If you like these consider picking up Supermassive Games’ other titles from The Dark Pictures Anthology like House of Ashes and Man of Medan.

Walking Sims Like Firewatch and Gone Home

The contentiously named “walking simulator” genre is full of interesting games that slowly tell a story, often involving something of a twist at the end. Though these games aren’t for everyone, it’s unfair to say that they’re boring. Sure, you do a lot of walking around and looking at stuff, and they’re not going to test your reflexes, but these games are driven primarily by the narrative.

Firewatch is a beautiful walking sim set in the remote forests of Wyoming. You take on the role of a lookout, with nothing but a walkie-talkie for company. You’ll soon learn that not everything is quite as it seems, as you spend the summer unraveling a mystery. Gone Home is another classic of the genre that has you exploring a large and empty house.

SOMA and What Remains of Edith Finch are two other critically acclaimed examples of this kind of game. They may be linear, but they’re well-written, encourage discussion about what’s really going on, and are relatively short experiences that you can finish without a massive time commitment.

Head-Scratchers Like Outer Wilds

A game like Outer Wilds is so unique that it almost defines its own micro-genre. The game has you exploring a small planetary system that’s stuck in a 22-minute time loop. When the loop ends, you’re back where you started, armed only with the knowledge you gleaned from the last loop.

It’s the kind of game that encourages exploration and experimentation like no other since you have little to lose and everything to gain. You’ll slowly piece together the mystery of the time loop and learn a lot about the characters and cultures that inhabit the game’s world.

Having someone else with you to suggest potential solutions and ideate on what to try next is a great way to experience the game. When you know how the puzzle pieces fit together, it’s a game you can complete in minutes. If you enjoy the base game, you’ll also love the Echoes of the Eyedownloadable content.

Bone-Chilling Horror like Dead Space and Resident Evil

Do you watch horror movies alone? While many of us enjoy being scared by the movies, it’s generally more fun when you bring a friend. The same can be said about scary video games. There are an endless number of scream-a-minute titles we could mention here, but 2023’s Dead Space springs to mind as one of the best.

The game manages to be faithful to the original and thoughtfully modern, with new voice lines, superior visuals, and quality-of-life improvements like thrusters for navigating zero-gravity environments. It’s also utterly terrifying to play.

Capcom has been knocking it out of the park with their Resident Evil franchise for a while now. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard traps you in a house of horrors, while Resident Evil Village sees you stalked by werewolves in a snowy European village. Both are worthy of your time.

So too are Capcom’s Resi remakes, including Resident Evil 2 which tells the tale of Raccoon City, and Resident Evil 4 which is widely considered to be the best game in the franchise (and for some, the best of all time).

You can also take a stab at some other truly terrifying games like the Amnesia series, Outlast and its sequel, and Alien: Isolation.

Linear Eye Candy Like Hellblade 2

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 isn’t out yet at the time of writing, but it’s the kind of game that you can easily watch and still take something away from the experience. I’m basing my experience on the original Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which successfully blends mythology, fantasy, and a unique interpretation of mental illness into a short and engaging few hours.

The sequel looks set to be one of the best-looking games of the generation, which is what earns it the “eye candy” label. The franchise has seen developers working with neuroscientists, specialists, and sufferers of psychosis to build a realistic and compelling depiction of the condition in the game.

Short Narrative Experiences Like Venba

Venba is a game you can complete in one sitting that tells the story of a family emigrating from India to Canada. The gameplay consists of cooking mini-games in which you’ll need to process and add ingredients in the right order to progress. My main complaint is that there aren’t enough recipes to cook, but the game is still worth your time.

And that’s true even if you’re not the one who is holding the controller. Venba tackles a variety of themes, from racism to generational divides, struggles with money, and fitting in. Just be aware that you’ll be hungry by the time you’ve finished playing.

Modern Adventure Games Like Monkey Island and Broken Age

Adventure games aren’t all swashbuckling action-oriented affairs like Breath of the Wild and Horizon. There are plenty of slower-paced adventures that are better suited to entertaining multiple people. Perhaps the best example of this is 2022’s Return to Monkey Island, a love letter to the series that put point-and-click games on the map in the early 90s (still playable on modern platforms thanks to SCUMMVM).

Unlike the original titles, Return feels like a modern game with modern solutions. The clues and puzzles feel more approachable than they once did, and there’s even a hint system in there to help you out. On top of this, the game looks beautiful, is fully voiced, and works perfectly well with a mouse or a controller. Broken Age, Procession to Calvary, and NORCO are some other good examples of modern point-and-click titles.

Some games blend adventure and 2D side-scrolling with other gameplay elements, like Oxenfree and its sequel or Pentiment which fuses action RPG elements into the mix.

Choice-Based Narratives like Detroit: Become Human

Quantic Dream has a storied history, having developed titles like Heavy Rain and flops like Beyond: Two Souls before the arrival of Detroit: Become Human. Tonally, these games are all over the place. It’s best not to take them too seriously, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have fun (especially when playing with a friend).

Detroit: Become Human is perhaps best described as a “live with the consequences” adventure game, where you play the role of several androids existing in a world that sees their kind as disposable and untrustworthy. The choices you make as you play will ultimately shape the outcome.

Be warned: Detroit handles delicate themes with a heavy hand and frequently lacks nuance. The game is engaging yet silly and borderline offensive at its worst, but it still makes for an interesting tangled web of narratives. If you like this brand of pick-your-own-adventure game, Heavy Rain is also worth a look.

Unorthodox Puzzlers Like Viewfinder and Superliminal

Puzzle games have come a long way, with the genre trend moving towards puzzlers that invite you to think outside of the box. Two of the best examples are Viewfinder and Superliminal, with Macquette trailing not too far behind.

In Viewfinder you use an instant camera to manipulate the 3D space in front of you by snapping and layering images. The aims of each puzzle are simple enough, but the methods used to achieve a solution require that you use the game’s rather unique photography mechanic in ways you probably haven’t encountered before.

Superliminal employs a similar kind of puzzle solving, with a focus on shifting objects so that you can use forced perspective and optical illusions to solve puzzles. You might need to place a small object in a position that makes it look much larger within the level, giving you access to an area that’s out of reach.

Maquette didn’t receive quite as many glowing reviews, but it’s worth a look if these kinds of games appeal to you. Like any other puzzler, having friends nearby to shout out ideas or try to solve problems makes for a fun group activity.

Exhausting Run-Based Games like Returnal and Hades

Returnal and Hades are two fantastic rogue games, where each run is different and fun in its own way. That said, these games can be fatiguing. It can be exhausting to finish one run and immediately jump back into another, even if the games themselves compel you to try again. Pass and play is the answer.

Visual Spectacles Like Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Have you ever seen someone’s face when you fly them over their childhood home in Microsoft Flight Simulator? I wouldn’t recommend bringing your family along for a 10-hour A380 flight over the Atlantic, but for short “sightseeing” tours few games come close.

It’s especially compelling if the other party doesn’t play video games, or isn’t aware that the game lets you fly anywhere on planet Earth. Some areas are better mapped than others, but even remote locations are somewhat recognizable. Grab it on PC or Xbox and have some fun.

If you’re showing a newbie the ropes, you might be interested in our top couch co-op picks for non-gamers.

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By John P.

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