December is a great month to spend time with family and friends, take some time off of work, and dust off the Sinatra vinyl. It can also be a good time to take your shoes off and play some video games, and what’s better than celebrating the holiday season in the games themselves? The number of games set during Christmas isn’t incredibly long, but putting together this list, I discovered more than I previously knew about, including a few hidden gems that might be well worth a try if you’re looking for a festive new experience.
The list includes the most obvious examples–the first of which I’ve opened with below, those aforementioned hidden gems you may have missed over past Decembers, as well as some live-service options. For players who are looking for Christmas vibes in a live multiplayer setting, today’s participating games are rather numerous, with several of the biggest games in the world redecorating with tinsel and garland–and maybe a snowy world–in each and every December. Others are frozen in that time and place forever, with stories that lean into the setting in ways that, I’d argue, are more fun when played around the same time period in real life.
This list includes games new as of 2022 and those that are many years old. It even includes two superhero stories, because sometimes Christmas needs saving. Some of these games subvert the holiday spirit with activities such as assassinating villains, while others lean into the true spirit of the season–hot chocolate and home decorating. Here are some great games you can play this season to bring some holiday cheer to your console, PC, or mobile device.
Dead Rising 4
Arguably the quintessential Christmas game, Dead Rising 4 isn’t the best Dead Rising game, but it is perhaps the only game where you can beat dozens of zombies with snowball guns and giant candy canes, so it has that going for it. The open world returns to a shopping mall and its surrounding area, now sporting all the bells and whistles of a post-apocalyptic holiday season.
Batman Arkham Origins
Most of us would want to be cozied up indoors with our families on Christmas Eve, but Batman doesn’t really get to take days off. He spends one of his earlier career outings protecting Gotham from Black Mask, Firefly, and others who would do the city harm, Grinch-style. Snowy Gotham is the best Gotham.
The Escapists: Santa’s Sweatshop
In this free DLC for The Escapists, you play as an elf who is no longer willing to suffer the harsh conditions of Santa’s toy shop, and have to escape the North Pole in the style of the base game’s prison breakout. You’ll need the base game to play it, but it’s a great action-puzzler with a subversive sense of humor.
Fortnite and other live-service games
While the above examples (and most below examples) are more like single-player games that are forever set in the holiday season, live-service games do very well to redecorate and celebrate. Fortnite is my personal favorite, with its Winterfest annually giving out two free characters and a lot more to players, but other games, such as Final Fantasy XIV, Overwatch 2, Sea of Thieves, Destiny 2, Rocket League, and more also pack in a ton of seasonal content worth unwrapping.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
The once and future champion of farm life sim video games is famous for its seasonal updates, with the real-time calendar taking into account the outside world in fun ways. Around this time of year in Animal Crossing, you’ll find snow more likely to fall, presents in your mailbox, and arguably even more cheerful neighbors. Now if only Tom Nook could stop hounding me for late payments amid the holidays.
Disney Dreamlight Valley
The newest of the games on this list, Disney Dreamlight Valley is already proving to be a great virtual getaway for those looking for Christmas cheer. The recent Toy Story update also includes a winter makeover, with new recipes like gingerbread cookies, new clothing options like a wintry red dress, and new decor like a lovely fireplace decked out in festive stockings and lights.
Saints Row 4 – How The Saints Save Christmas
The Saints Row series has gone to some strange places in its time, but one of the most memorable–albeit still rather unhinged–is when the gang goes into a virtual world to save Christmas. As always, the punchlines are lower-hanging than faulty mistletoe, but if you’re into the series, this mission pack DLC redecorates the Saints’ world in all the ways you’d hope for, from a snowy city to some ridiculous gingerbread enemies.
Hitman – Holiday Hoarders
Hitman became a live-service with its World of Assassination trilogy starting in 2016, and one of the best recurring features is its Holiday Hoarders mission, which sees you taking out a pair of enemies that are very obvious allusions to Home Alone’s Harry and Marv. Dressing up as Santa is a long-standing Hitman tradition, and this free content pack is today as traditional as Mariah Carey’s Christmas album.
Sam And Max Save The World
Before it made a name for itself with games like The Walking Dead and its Bruce-centric Batman series, Telltale Games was doing the cartoonish point-and-click series Sam and Max. In the first episode of its recently remastered second season, the titular duo goes to the North Pole to resolve a mystery involving elves, possession, and the big guy in red himself.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales plays like a mini-sequel to 2018’s award-winner and still includes all the (jingle) bells and whistles of a Christmas-set game. Now starring Miles as he’s getting to grips with his role as Spider-Man, the entire game takes place during the holiday season, so New York City is frosty, decorated, and perfectly prepared for the Christmas season.
Perhaps the darkest entry on this list, the original loot shooter from Ubisoft focuses on a terrorist attack on Black Friday. That means the post-apocalyptic squad-based shooter unfolds over the weeks leading up to Christmas, as the world is left frozen in time waiting for a holiday season that will never really arrive, but also awkwardly isn’t really going away. It’s not cute, but it’s somehow still festive in its own way.