Cooperative gameplay is a beloved part of many titles. Whether it's passing controllers around while playing classic Super Mario titles or challenging a Halo campaign with friends, co-op is deeply ingrained into gaming culture. Couch co-op has diminished over the years, but online play has risen to replace it all. Some games, like It Takes Two, are built entirely around the concept and push it in interesting new directions.
However, even though co-op is a nice feature to possess, you will find different examples of co-op quality. Drop-in co-op from retro games has become rare, and loading right into a lobby simply to take part in a singleplayer experience with two-to-four people can be a hassle. It gets even more awkward once the limits of the game's co-op are found, and players need to exit and re-enter to help keep playing together. Amid many co-op experiences, Volition's Saints Row franchise has shown particularly impressive in how it handles its co-op.
How Saints Row Brings Co-op to another Level
From the very first game, Saints Row separated itself from Grand Theft Auto via multiplayer. Initially, it just used a primitive form that supported special missions, but Saints Row 2 and onward allowed for full co-op campaigns. That is impressive on its own, and the work that went into refining it is much more so. In addition to many minigames and side modes supporting multiplayer, certain missions received unique multiplayer forms. Saints Row 2 might have the best cases of this, using the hospital rescue mission "Visiting Hours" requiring players to part ways and perform two different missions that will result in a clean getaway.
Saints Row 1's nonlinear story is not able to be experienced with someone, but later games do their best to create up for it. Players aren't tethered to each other in the open world, though they teleport when one partcipates in a mission or minigame. The commitment to ensuring the entire Saints Row 4 campaign, barring its prologue, is playable in co-op is great considering the game's varying set pieces. Each player controls their custom character, and in a revolutionary move for co-op games, keeps all of their progress when switching between single-player and multiplayer. Which includes mission completion, upgrades, and collectibles. The upcoming Saints Row may even allow for players to skip later solo missions they've familiar with multiplayer.
Other Co-op Games Have to Catch Up to Saints Row
It's not really a stretch to say that Saints Row supports some of the best campaign co-op in modern game titles. Unfortunately, while this means Saints Row fans can regularly find boundary-pushing multiplayer experiences, other gamers aren't so lucky. Co-op is still not really a ubiquitous mechanic, and the ability to instantly drop in and out is generally reserved for offline play. Nintendo got better with this particular through the Switch port of Super Mario 3D World, but most of its multiplayer extras still just use offline co-op.
Allowing for progress to become kept and for multiplayer to continue uninterrupted are also common issues. Dark Souls and Elden Ring force players revisit their house worlds after defeating a boss, and also the boss is only considered beaten through the host. Elden Ring allows players to explore its open world together without Torrent, and can eventually set up a fog wall to help keep sessions locked to particular areas. These limitations are more aggravating when one considers that item drops are rolled per-player, so someone could make meaningful progress building their character without clearing the game's content. More games should look at what Saints Row has been doing with its co-op multiplayer, but until then, a minimum of co-op fans have this series to satisfy their cooperative needs.
Saints Row releases on August 23, 2022, for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.