The bad news for video game fans – and the parents or grandparents of same – as Christmas approaches is that our old friend 'supply chain issues' means that the latest consoles – the PS5 and the XBox Series X – are going to be tricky to get your hands on. Best hope that Santa drops a bumper sack of the elusive components they need down the industrial chimneys of the Sony and Microsoft manufacturing plants. The good news, though, is that 2021 has bought a goodly crop of new games to play in the consoles you already have; or to download onto your PC via Steam.
First off, whoohoo! There’s a new Halo. Dust off your railgun and prop it by the chimney in the hopes of dropping Santa a hint: Halo Infinite, the latest iteration of one of the slickest and longest-lived shooter franchises in videogames has dropped just in time for Christmas. And judging by the almost incomprehensible kvetching online about the progression system, the fanbase is just as, er, engaged as it always was. It’s been described by PC Gamer as a 'sharply balanced and wonderfully satisfying arena shooter', which is good enough for me. You can keep your so-called Fortnite, kids.
There’s been the predictable slew of big-hitting cross-platform sequels – and in AAA games, unlike movies, a sequel is no bad thing. These are where the biggest studios spend their time, their money and (if you’re lucky) their creativity. So there’s the genre-crossing baldy-headed sneak-em-up puzzle shooter Hitman 3; a glorious-looking open-road car-racing game in Forza Horizon 5; another slice of sinister survival horror in Resident Evil: Village (complete with a troublingly attractive zombie monster lady in a hat); and another instalment of a classic open-world adventure, Far Cry 6.
If you’re after something a bit less drivey-shooty-killy, mind, that old favourite Super Mario 3D World has at last come to the Nintendo Switch – and is bundled with an all-new adventure called Bowser’s Fury. Jump on those mushrooms! Another well-loved platformer gets a fresh outing, too, in Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart – which delivers all the silliness and fun that fans of the series (a PS5 exclusive) have come to expect. Marvel fans, meanwhile, will likely dig the new Guardians of the Galaxy game, available on all platforms. Some critics kvetched about the slightly repetitive gameplay, but it looks glorious and has the humour (and tunes) that made the movies so winning.
But amid all this triple-A action, let’s not ignore the more eccentric offerings. PC and Switch users, for instance, were treated to what you might think of as Marie Kondo: the game. Unpacking invites you to spend a soothing few hours, well, unpacking... and as you sort a person’s cherished belongings into drawers and onto shelves after they’ve moved house, you get an intriguing sense of who they might be as well as nourishing your OCD. Get that bra out of the kitchen drawer! What’s wrong with you?
Yearning for a rogue-like dungeon-crawler crossed with one of those cutesy dating adventures? Boyfriend Dungeon (PC, Switch, Xbox One) has you covered. Paddle in the dating pool of Verona Beach (whose inhabitants can turn into weapons because... reasons) and let your love-life guide you through a series of dungeons; but not in the smutty way you might have imagined.
I’m intrigued, too, by the science-fictional puzzle adventure Opus: Echo of Starsong on PC. This has been described as a 'deeply moving' deep-space narrative, played out in the lead character’s unreliable memory, and shot through with gorgeous visuals and absorbing sound-based puzzles. Likewise I like the look of the spooky indy adventure Scarlet Hollow (PlayStation and PC) and the spatial puzzle game Maquette (PlayStation and PC) and -- for Boxing Day family fun – the co-operative pick-up game It Takes Two (consoles and PC). Oh, and I can’t make head or tail of Pokemon, personally, but the kids who are into it are really into it – so if your kids are the sort who blether on about evolving Pikachus, pikachu them up a copy of the new Switch titles Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, lavish remakes of the Nintendo DS classics.
Fans of the multiplayer version of the long-running Final Fantasy RPG series will be looking forward to the long-delayed release of its latest expansion, Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, taking the storyline forward as well as bringing new zones, raids and character options. But for those, like me, still playing World of Warcraft Classic, the big deal will be the release at the end of November of Phase 3 of The Burning Crusade. The Mount Hyjal and Tempest Keep raids will be up, the big guilds will be forging through the content... and those of us still struggling to get our best-in-slot kit from Phase 1 will fall yet further behind. But, as my raid leader says, 'that sounds like a you problem'.