Depending on where you are in the world, there’s a good chance the winter months have set in, and those shorter days and plummeting temperatures can only mean one thing - it’s almost time for Christmas! So what better way to celebrate that special time of year than with 10 of the best (or maybe just unusual) games to embrace the Xmas spirit.
There’s a couple of obvious ones in there, but also a few that might just surprise you with their Christmas settings or unexpected Season’s Greetings. So grab a glass of eggnog, pull on the ugliest Xmas jumper you own and unwrap these winter wonderlands...
Bully (Canis Canem Edit)
When you think of Rockstar you probably conjure thoughts of shrinking horse testicles and questionable work practices rather than open-world boarding school sims - and yet back in 2006, the Scottish mega studio created just that. Bully (or Canis Canem Edit as it was known in the UK) was basically a sillier version of Grand Theft Auto, but that didn’t mean the academic year passed by without a visit from Santa Claus.
Unfortunately, when winter descended on Bullworth Academy, the only available Santa was a drink-addled homeless man who uses juvenile protagonist Jimmy Hopkins to run some extracurricular errands for him around town.
Die Hard Trilogy
While Twitter resumes the season argument as to whether Die Hard counts as a proper Christmas film (it does), why not return to a simpler time where John McClane fought terrorists of various persuasions in virtual form? Back on the original PlayStation, long after the cinematic trilogy had come and gone, the vest-toting NYPD copper proved a surprise hit with its odd genre mashup.
Of course, only the first two games are set at Christmas, although it’s the Virtua Cop-inspired chapter based on Die Hard 2: Die Harder that goes full Crimbo. Whether you’re gunning down bad guys in the snow, or shooting throwing knives out of the air through the wreath-decked halls of Dulles Airport, this classic remains a Christmas cracker.
Kingdom Hearts II
Not many people could have imagined a Japanese studio splicing characters from the Final Fantasy series and Disney’s long animated history, but then most things about Kingdom Hearts defy logic. The main entries in the series include plenty of Disney-themed worlds and characters, but few hold as much of a place in our hearts as the ones based on A Nightmare Before Christmas.
The Christmas Town level in Kingdom Hearts II finally made good on the Xmas part, complete with seasonal costumes for hero Sora and companions Goofy and Donald. With its snow-caked houses and colourful fairy lights, few winter lands are quite as wondrous to explore.
While not the most well known of series to appear during the PS3/Xbox 360 era, the Overlord games still managed to fill a niche all their own, mixing melee combat, exploration and some light real-time strategy tactics for good measure. So what better way to kick off the second game than a young boy unleashing some chaotic forces during a quaint festive celebration?
Because nothing says Christmas better than using your demonic minions to send villagers running in terror through the snow-covered streets as you go on a rampage fitting of your status as the new Overlord of terror.
Back in the mid-to-late ’90s, when survival horror rose to superstardom off the critical acclaim bestowed upon Resident Evil and Silent Hill, another series brought a new strain of scary action to the original PlayStation. Parasite Eve was its name and it was actually pretty good, with its focus on supernatural powers and a certain evil lady who wanted to make everyone burst into flames. You know, as you do.
It was also set in New York during the days leading up to Christmas, complete with twinkling fairy lights and plenty of heavy snowfall for good measure. Of course, you spent most of your time trying to avoid spontaneous human combustion, but hey, at least you got to do so with a little festive spirit.
No feature on videogames’ most wondrous winter locales would be complete without a trip to Freezeezy Peak. One of the most memorable mini-worlds in a game packed with brilliant level design, this Christmas-themed area showcased everything that made Rare’s N64 classic such a milestone for the console.
There’s a giant snowman to climb, leap off and slide down in the middle, a family of polar bears looking for some racing action, and some not-so-friendly snowmen who want to cause the titular bear and bird all manner of harm with some nastily-thrown snowballs. ’90s-era 3D platforming at its seasonal best.
Dead Rising 4
It’s always the way. You get all excited for the festive period, buying presents and decking out your home in the most gaudy of decorations - and then the world goes and spirals into a zombie apocalypse. Talk about bad luck. Well, that’s what happens to photojournalist Frank West when he’s thrust back into all manner of undead hijinks for Dead Rising 4. But hey, at least everything looks all Christmassy, right?
With tinsel on the walls of the overrun mall, lopsided Christmas trees and plenty of seasonal snowfall, the setting of the fourth numbered Dead Rising couldn’t be more festive. And what better way to bludgeon the walking dead than with a baseball bat wrapped in fairy lights? Negan would be so proud.
One of the earliest entries on this list, and one of the toughest, the videogame based upon Christmas classic Home Alone gives virtual home invasion a festive twist. Part of a largely forgotten trap-a-lot subgenre, the various iterations saw a digital Kevin McCallister combining household items around his empty home in an attempt to trap and thwart the nefarious Wet Bandits.
Whether making glue guns or sledding down the snow-covered streets, it was up to Kevin to live up to his cinematic counterpart and keep his Christmas-themed home from suffering a festive burglary. Fail, and Harry and Marv would take all your worldly possessions and flood the house in true villainous fashion.
Batman: Arkham Origins
While Rocksteady was busy rounding off the main trilogy with Batman: Arkham Knight, it fell to Warner Bros Montreal to fill the gap with a prequel that followed the Caped Crusader in his early years as Gotham’s dark defender. And if Batman Returns has taught us one thing, it’s that Dark Knight adventures are 100% better at Christmas.
Gotham is awash with snow, Christmas trees twinkle in the gloom of night and fairy lights glimmer as Batman swoops down and pummels another helpless criminal into submission. While it’s considered the black sheep of the Arkham family, Origins gave us a festive fight club that’s still well worth unwrapping.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
Black Friday has descended upon Manhattan, bringing with it tons of deal, savings and completely unnecessary purchases. Oh, and a viral outbreak that wipes out most of the city’s population in a matter of days. We’re sure there’s some subtle subtext about the nature of consumerism in here somewhere…
Well, the district might be crippled and mostly abandoned, but hey, look at these lovely snowy streets and festive lights strung up on every corner. And look at that massive Christmas tree outside that shopping centre. Sure, there are quarantine zones everywhere and gangs fighting over resources, but it all looks so festive.