Games have no business taking part in Christmas.
Love? Understanding? Those aren’t the principles of the medium that has made murderers of us. Be honest: you wouldn’t be remotely interested in candy cane unless it gave you +1 tooth damage as an off-hand weapon. I bet you thought mistletoe was a symptom of the plague that ravaged the Northern Kingdoms during the events of The Witcher 3. Christmas spirit? Not a Diablo summon, you idiot.
As such, I’m not going to recommend any seasonal games. Instead, I’ll highlight some of the more egregious occasions when games threatened to destroy the holidays altogether.
There’s little more seasonal than sleigh bells. They’re a surefire way to turn an ordinary song into an indisputable Christmas single. And in Death Stranding they seem just as cheery - announcing the onset of snow in the mountains.
Except that snow in Death Stranding means two things. First, that your cargo containers are soon to be ruined by timefall, the sci-fi precipitation that accelerates the age of anything it touches. And second, there are probably BTs nearby - the invisible undead who want to drag you to hell. Ho-Ho-Hojima.
What could possibly make being stuck in a boarding school over Christmas tolerable? How about a xylophone rhythm action sequence in front of all your classmates, dressed as a nutcracker, under threat of an instant F in Music? It’s not just the grade that’s at stake: protagonist Jimmy Hopkins is all too aware that his peers might engage in some nutcracking of their own.
“C’mon Miss Peters,” he tells the teacher. “This is the kind of thing I’ll have to talk to my therapist about when I’m older.”
To make matters worse, the school band absolutely butchers Little Drummer Boy. Forgive them, Bowie, they know not what they do.
Hideo Kojima is a serial yuletide offender, or ‘career Chriminal’. Back in 1988, he set a sci-fi take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers against the backdrop of “busy year-end shoppers milling about everywhere”. One character dresses as Santa, but only to escape detection by robots roaming a future metropolis with the faces of human beings.
“You might be able to learn something about illicit hospital operations by checking up on pharmaceutical orders,” he tells you, festively.
The game’s great, but the version of Jingle Bells that rings out over Neo Kobe City is terrible. There are reasons to be nostalgic about chiptune; this isn’t one.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Saving Chicago from a biological attack just before Christmas isn’t such a bad evening by Sam Fisher’s standards - this is a man who once slept in a ditch in Baghdad. But the goons on the other end of his gadgets? They’re living their own festive Predator nightmare.
Imagine creeping around a pitch black shopping mall, jumping at the crunch of baubles beneath your feet and pointing your flashlight into the shadows behind Christmas trees.
“Daddy’s axe goes chop, chop, chop,” croons a Christmas singer through the mall’s tinny speakers.
“Man, why did they pick this place?”, one of the terrorists complains. Nobody wants to find the corpse of a colleague in the Caramel Apple stand.
Forget Santa Claus - the closest thing Shenmue has is Santa Maeno, a bloke in the street who promotes cocktails in the costume of the big man. “MeEEEERRy Christmas,” he yells, with the modulating desperation of somebody whose entire job consists of standing outside, trying to cajole strangers into karaoke bars.
Maeno’s beard appears to have grown to cover his mouth completely, leaving him to speak through a muffled white lattice of hair. More than Santa, he’s reminiscent of Keanu in that interrogation scene from The Matrix. I have no mouth, and I must scream Merry Christmas.
Killing Floor 2
No developer has made such a concerted effort to ruin Christmas as Killing Floor developer Tripwire Interactive. Year after year, the studio has used the raw stuff associated with the holidays to create abominations. It started with Krampus and his crawling, eight-legged elves. Then it gave Badass Santa the voice of Gary Busey, who once starred in a film called The Gingerdead Man, in which he was baked from spices and the ashes of a serial killer.
In the spirit of giving, the Badass Santa Bundle was made available as a cosmetic purchase at $9.99.
Saints Row 4
Volition took that whole creepy Matrix thing and ran with it in How the Saints Save Christmas, the holiday DLC in which Claus is trapped inside a simulation.
For most of us, Christmas arrives when Home Alone comes on the telly. For Saints Row fans, the season doesn’t start until you’ve pressed triangle to revive Santa. Or disabled a mechanical reindeer by shoving your hand up its arse and pulling out the cables. Or shot traitorous elves dead on the steps of Santa’s workshop.
“Clawz gave us a better deal, plumpy,” Twinkle the elf explains. “Weekends off, sick pay, and we get to make guns - real ones.”