Ah, Christmas. That time of year when for one whole day I can become a generous person, instead of a cynical bastard. Okay, real talk now, the best thing about Christmas and winter is snow. There is nothing more therapeutic than having a pleasant evening in the company of a hot cup of cocoa and a warm blanket while the snowstorm kicks in. Even better company would be your favorite holiday video game, for full pleasure. And in the end, video game characters are no different.
While they don’t necessarily have the same comfort we do, they still manage to enjoy the lavish scenery of their respective worlds. They may be dangerous and full of surprises. But much like Santa Clause’s beard, are beautiful at this specific time of year. So let’s look at some. For this list, we will cover favorite winter season locations. So only games that take place during the winter are eligible. Segments like Red Dead Redemptions 2’s opening are also eligible, but only if they take up a considerable part of the game.
Number 10: Gotham City (Batman Arkham Origins)
When it comes to Batman games, the Arkham series is one that first that comes to the forefront. Being developed by a different studio, Arkham Origins doesn’t get the same praise as others in the series, which is a shame. Not only did the game feature one of my favorite boss fights in the form of Deathstroke, it also featured one of the best settings.
Gotham City always oozed a certain creepy mood during the winter season, and this time in the game, it’s highlighted more than ever. The plot takes place during Christmas eve, so the developers went all out in terms of setting the tone. A dark gothic and modern architecture, coupled with holiday decorations. Add to that its DLC titled ‘Cold, Cold Heart,’ which was inspired by the animated show episode ‘Heart of Ice,’ and the magic is there. A cheerful yet dark tone that perfectly reflects the brooding nature of its protagonist.
Number 9: EDN III (Lost Planet)
There is a big chance that not many recognize the name Lost Planet. A game entirely set on an extraterrestrial planet during an ice age might have slipped the public’s eye. That is mostly due to its gameplay and not its world. Nevertheless, the game still provided us with an unusual take on the sci-fi genre. What can be best described as an attempt to bring Monster Hunter to a futuristic setting, Lost Planet mostly manages.
The entire game is set on a hostile planet, EDN III, where the players will continually be encouraged to venture out into snowstorms and explore. Besides alien lifeforms, EDN also saw a substantial rise and fall of multiple corporations attempting to colonize its world. It is here where players get a chance to bask into the apocalyptic sub-zero scenery. There is nothing more uneasy than being surrounded by decay amid a blizzard. Thermal energy also plays a crucial role, so while many might be wheeled-in by the icy desert, you best pack some heat.
Number 8: Nepal (Uncharted 2)
Naughty Dog always had an eye for great set pieces. The Uncharted franchise is one of its exceptional achievements. A testament that even ancient historical locations have a certain beauty and charm to themselves in video game form. It was hard choosing between this and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but in the end, we went with Uncharted 2. The game starts right away in the snowy mountains, as Drake climbs his way atop a train wreckage.
One flashback explaining the first half of the game later, and we finally get to the present moment. It is this second half that takes us through astonishing locations in Nepal. From a small village in the Himalayas to the heart of the mountain, through ice caverns, and finally the entrance to Shambhala. Uncharted games always gave a realistic feeling to its world, and the second installment in the franchise proves that more than ever before. Simply put, it’s all breathtaking.
Number 7: Skyrim (Elder Scrolls V Skyrim)
By now everybody is familiar with Skyrim. Bethesda has pushed their most beloved game through so many platforms, that by this point, even your calculator can run it. So with that said, everybody is familiar with the land of Skyrim. An open-world full of multiple possibilities, this Elder Scrolls world might seem bland at times. However, the sheer scope and length of the map is in of itself an enormous achievement. Especially given the fact that many hidden paths and locations are unexplored even to this day.
All of this open space is filled with a barbaric and nordic theme and along with it, the harsh winter season. It’s a beautiful sight when you venture out of a cleared dungeon only to look at the horizon. Witnessing a gigantic mountain, its tip unseen by the layers of fog, and thick snow covering it. These small moments of breather are the ones that give temporary joy once completing a hard quest. And we found ourselves enjoying these moments more often as the game progressed.
Number 6: Shadow Moses Island (Metal Gear Solid)
I individually have a specific passion for the Metal Gear franchise. It is a franchise I grew up with and one that deviated from other stealth games. The one that initially introduced many to the series was also the first 3D one, Metal Gear Solid. Set on Shadow Moses Island, on an Alaskan Archipelago, players took control of Solid Snake on a mission to stop renegade FOXHOUND operatives. Many would argue that the majority of the game takes place inside the Shadow Moses facility, and they would be right.
Despite this, players often needed to traverse between different facility wings, by venturing out in the open. The sound of crunching as Snake walks through thick snow, and the rushing wind that blows through the earphones as you venture deeper into the compound. It gets even more emotional when both the protagonist and player return to the island in MGS4. By the end of the first game, a certain calmness fills our hearts, as our protagonist looks out over the Alaskan dessert only to see the sunrise. No longer dark and foreboding, but tranquil and majestic.
Number 5: Bullworth (Bully: Scholarship Edition)
There is one thing every child looks forward to when the holidays start, no more school. Rockstar has always cared about creating a realistic world, with slightly unrealistic mechanics and ideas. Bully is a game with such notions in mind, with Jimmy Hopkins’ adventure spanning through one whole year. The entire third chapter of the game takes place during the winter break, which gives us and Jimmy plenty of time to cause some off school mayhem.
This is the part where I can relate to the character. Jimmy is by no means a good guy, but he isn’t a bad one either. Sure he gets in trouble, but we all did when we were young. It is this kind of approach that enables me to relate to the character. Much like Jimmy, I used to leave school early just so I can partake in a snowball fight. While his activities are more on the side of a GTA protagonist, the feel Bullworth gives while accomplishing it is a holiday one. As you change from one season to the next, people start dressing appropriately, new clothes are available, and best of all, presents.
Number 4: Blackwood Mountain (Until Dawn)
If you were planning on taking your significant other to a mountain lodge for some alone time during the winter, I urge you to reconsider. The survivors of Until Dawn would also advise you the same thing, assuming they all make it out alive. There is no denying that the game is scary, but in all that horror, one can’t stop but admire the level of detail on the snow and weather.
Since it is a story-driven game, the developers put a lot of emphasis on design and scenery and nailed it. One can not stop admiring the way it was all executed. The Washington Lodge and its surroundings, while instilling a sense of tension, give a certain aura that doesn’t rely on just terror and jumpscares. Yes, it is dark and scary, but much like horror movies, there is a real artistic beauty to the place in which the survivors find themselves. Much like in Skyrim, one takes a moment of breather to appreciate all the small details.
Number 3: Town (Animal Crossing)
Okay, time for something cute. Animal Crossing is a very unique game. By that, I mean the game functions on a real-world timer. So if you are playing the game during the winter holidays, the game will recognize it, and will keep track of it. The season officially starts at the end of November and lasts all the way to February’s climax. It’s during this period that players will gain new items, events, and tasks, all in the spirit of Christmas.
The biggest thing between this game and many others is that its world is alive and fully immersive. So one month, you might have a casual snowy day while the next you might get caught up in a snowstorm. Add to that your favorite, and least favorite, NPCs join in on the action, and this becomes a positively immersive sim. Cutting down and decorating trees, making presents, and building a snowman. There is no game out there that gives the same sense of Christmas joy as this does, and I would gladly be sharing it with Tom Nook, then some of my family members.
Number 2: Everything (SSX Trickey)
From the beginning, I said to myself I would exclude all sports games. However, SSX was one franchise I simply could not overlook. People tend to go out of town during this period, for one specific reason, snowboarding and skiing. There is no better feeling than the rush of adrenaline, all while witnessing some gorgeous landscapes. SSX Tricky has got you covered in that department. The game puts a lot of emphasis on speed and stunts, yet still manages to impress with its locations as much as with its gameplay.
Alaska, Garibaldi, The Elysium Alps, all iconic locations, all with their own distinct personalities. In terms of the size and scope of the mountains you snowboard, they are by far the largest. While they may be simplistic due to the game’s graphics, back in the day, these were some of the best winter locations seen in video games. For some, like myself, this was an experience that they knew they couldn’t afford in real life, so they relied on the game to provide them with this extreme feeling. Snowdream, in Japan, is by far my favorite location in the game. The moon shines ever so bright as you rush downhill to the finish line, while the snowflakes pass by you due to your speed. One word – amazing.
Honorable mentions go to Moscow from Metro 2033, Northrend from Warcraft 3, The Cut from Horizon Zero Dawn and Alaska from Never Alone.
Number 1: Great Bear Island (The Long Dark)
Most of the games on this list had the winter incorporated as a minor factor, but none of them made it their primary one. The Lone Dark is a harsh experience, one that I took lightly and made a fool of myself. Great Bear Island is both terrifying and beautiful. No zombies or fantasy creatures. Just you, your equipment, your feet, and Mother Nature. Fast travel is an option that does not exist. From the start, it was intended for you to cross this snowy wasteland on foot, to soak in all of your surroundings.
The game always manages to have a realistic feeling, like you’re actually there. Surviving, witnessing your first aurora and watching as the sun rises after a cold and brutal night. There is nothing more dangerous than nature’s predators, and so one must adapt much like the animals do. Go play it, give it a go, and tell me you don’t feel scared when encountering a pack of wolfs, and humble at the sight of rabbits hopping in the frozen woods at the break of dawn.