A few years ago, I read a book called The Terror, by Dan Simmons. The book is a fictionalization of what happened to a pair of exploratory vessels that tried to force the Northwest Passage and sail through the Arctic Ocean in 1845. Bad things happened in no short supply, and the combined horrors of starvation, hypothermia, madness, and cannibalism are only made worse by a mythical being stalking the sailors. The book is excellent, and I highly recommend it. What put the experience past the realm of just reading a book though is the fact that I read it over several of the coldest and snowiest weeks of winter. When the characters were freezing, I was freezing. When the captains looked out over a sheet of ice, I looked over an ice-covered field. It was a strange duality and I feel that it really helped my enjoyment of the book and my identification with the characters.
What does all this have to do with video games? As I felt more and more in touch with the book, I realized that if reading a book about the arctic can be even more chilling in the winter, so too could playing a video game based in a cold setting. Sure, games have had freeze rays and ice levels since programmers realized how to do differential traction coding, but we want to show games that really embrace cold. As most of the Midwest is digging out from/bracing for more of big snowstorm, we’re going to help you get the most out of your gaming in the freezing, icy winter. Die Hard Game Fan has compiled this list of games that-when played when the wind is howling outside and the ice is coating the world in a transparent sheath-take on a whole new level of immersion.
Before we take the icy plunge, I’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a few games that, while not being completely about cold, certainly have some key elements of cold.
Mortal Kombat Series
Why? Two words: Sub Zero. You can’t tell me you didn’t see that coming. Subby and his freezing attacks have been a trademark of the Mortal Kombat franchise since its inception. In fact, Sub Zero appears in every Mortal Kombat game except Mortal Kombat: Special Forces. He even became so popular that he appeared in his own game, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero. Of course, he alone can’t carry the franchise onto our list, but this ice man needs to be discussed in this list.
Bungie clearly has a love for the cold, because they showed off a snow level in every Halo game. Some of that was the desire to show the multiple environments within the Halo rings, sure, but some of the best multi-player levels have taken place in the cold. Avalanche and Snowbound are the first two that come to mind, and they are completely opposite in scope. Snowbound is a tiny, almost intimate map suited for small team battles and deathmatch. Avalanche is a sprawling, winding map that demands vehicles and caters to team playlists. The reason it isn’t on the list? Halo tosses players around so much that it isn’t likely you’d see the same level twice in a row.
The Top Ten
10. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
WoW had a few wintry zones in the first iteration. But it wasn’t until Wrath came out that a cold snap really hit Azeroth. The frozen wastes of Northrend took players across a massive continent that was covered in ice and snow. Fog-bound beaches and haunting music put you in a desolate place that seemed hopeless. The inclusion of several new NPC races, like the walrus-based Tuskar, perfectly suited the arctic feel. However, it isn’t until you learn cold weather flying and take off to the peaks of Icecrown that you can really feel the chill. WoW also gets points because, let’s face it, if you’re snowed in, you might as well be grinding rep as opposed to grinding with a snow shovel. My gaming pc is on the second floor, and has a window nearby. I’ve flown through the snowstorms of Northrend while a real life snowstorm raged outside. It was…epic.
Rune had a lot going for it, and a lot of issues as well. It was, if not the first, then at least one of the earliest games to use the Unreal engine for something other than a first person shooter. The graphics at the time were very good, and it had some really neat ideas on weapons. Instead of always grabbing the most powerful item and swinging wildly, Rune let you choose from any number of axes, maces, and swords, with different effects. You could also pick up a lot of environmental items, such as torches, and use those to warm the hearts and beards of villainous vikings. Rune told the story of a young Viking warrior named Ragnar who was betrayed, killed, and brought back to seek revenge. Despite the fact that the first third or so of the game had you fighting giant crustaceans and some questionable platforming, Rune managed to cram a lot of Norse mythology into the story. No less than Odin himself, with Hugin and Munin flying around his head, commands you to stop the forces that tried to kill you. The snowy fjords start out clean and white, and soon end up stained red with the blood of your enemies. It’s hard to argue with a game that lets you use severed limbs as weapons.
8. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Capcom has never been a stranger to ice, seeing as how almost every Mega Man game has some sort of cold based boss. However, Lost Planet might take the prize for most square feet of cold. Lost Planet is takes place on a world that is completely frozen, with horrible monsters and relentless pirates ready to kill you just to harvest your body heat as it fades. The good news is that you have a bunch of ways to fight back, including some heavy metal mech action. It is also a great time to play this game again, as there is a sequel on the way.
7. The Thing
John Carpenter and Kurt Russell have combined for some great movies, but the re-imagining of The Thing is the best as far as I am concerned. Paranoia that can only come from a parasitic alien that can copy, cell by cell, the appearance of anyone around you makes for a compelling film. To see that same fear brought over to the video game is amazing. The Thing takes place just a few hours after the movie ends, and asks you to track down any surviving alien with a team of soldiers as backup. Your teammates had some fairly advanced AI for the time, and could turn on you if you shot them too much or displayed strange behavior. On the other hand, sometimes they could be infected, and if you didn’t shoot them, they could turn on you in the worst possible moments. If the action got too much for you retreat was available-typically into the sub-zero temperatures of Antarctica. While there, you would gradually freeze to death if you couldn’t find shelter. While the game never quite matched the “testing a hot wire into the blood”Â scene of the film, it was an example of a great survival horror game where the environment was just as deadly as the alien threat.
6. Icewind Dale Series
Black Isle may have hit the very definition of “epic story”Â in the Baldur’s Gate saga, but the Icewind Dale games have always had a place in my heart. Leaving much of the open story behind, Icewind Dale played more as a hack and slash RPG than an open-ended quest for glory. Despite the cookie-cutter story, the defense of Targos, then Ten Towns, and ultimately the world itself is an awesomely fun journey. The fact that you can build all six members of your party at the start of the game allows for wonderful customization of your strategy. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve thrown together a party, often pulling inspiration from various tabletop gaming groups, and launched the first few levels of Icewind Dale II. Fighting off the goblin horde with the water lapping up against the frozen pier is one of my favorite gaming moments.
5. NHL 10
It’s not fun trying to walk on a sheet of ice. It is, somehow, considered fun to strap a pair of metal blades on your feet and slide all over that sheet of ice. I’m not the biggest hockey fan around, but I know enough not to get called for icing. Hockey is the true sport of winter. The NHL series from Electronic Arts has been around for quite a while now, and each game puts a few more options in place. This iteration allowed for more use of the boards, better pass control, and a first-person fighting system. There have been some other great games in the series, but it is a given that the most recent release will have the most up-to-date teams and players. If you’re into hockey more for the action and less for the pure realism, be sure to check out Mutant League Hockey. Provided you can find a Sega Genesis and a cartridge, this game offered some of the best bloody fun back in the day.
4. Stoked: Big Air Edition
There are a wide variety of snowboarding games out there, each of them giving you the chance to trick your way down the side of a slow-moving avalanche. Stoked: Big Air Edition featured an advanced control scheme that might put newcomers off their boards, but the amount of licensed locations, sponsors, and boarders helped put it over the top. If you are tired of looking out your windows at flat, featureless snowfields, you can put some mountains in your view with this game.
3. Motorstorm: Arctic Edge
While Stoked may offer all the joy of heading down the mountain on foot, sometimes you want a game that offers a little more power. Motorstorm: Arctic Edge provides that horsepower. For extra credit, this game is a PSP title, so you can take it with you over the river and through the woods. Taking place entirely in Alaska, Motorstorm is racing game featuring a good variety of vehicle classes, from superlight ATVs to giant semi-trucks, all racing for glory. Developer Bigbig pushes the envelope of what you can detail on a PSP game. Little touches like gradual snow build-up on tires add a great level of realism to what is, at heart, an arcade racer. Motorstorm: Arctic Edge is full of things to unlock, and the PSP just might put out enough heat to double as a hand-warmer.
D2 is a survival-horror game that came out for the Dreamcast in the year 2000. The start of the game may be the most convoluted that I’ve heard about. Main character Laura falls asleep on a plane, which is then seized by terrorists, almost re-taken by a policeman, and just then a meteorite strikes the plane and forces it down. Laura wakes up two days later in a cabin somewhere in Canada. Just to add a welcome degree of “HUH?”Â some of the other crash survivors are going insane, and there’s a slight outbreak of mutated monsters to deal with. D2 is a game that celebrates the cold environs of Canada, and even has Laura hunting small game to regain health. Definitely worth tracking down if you still have a Dreamcast.
1. Pretty much every Star Wars Game Ever
Ever since that classic scene in The Empire Strikes Back where the Rebel Alliance fights off the Imperial Troops, Star Wars has had a close tie to the cold and snow. As far back as the Atari 2600 and The Empire Strikes Back, when gamers used Snow Speeders to topple AT-AT walkers, to today’s games like The Force Unleashed, Star Wars games have featured Hoth. Even when you don’t set foot on the planet you are Orbit around Hoth, as in the X-Wing expansion pack Imperial Pursuit. What about thousands of years before Luke and Leia? Well, the planet Telos in Knights of the Old Republic 2 was a frigid ball of ice. Rebel Assault, Shadows of the Empire, and Dark Forces all had levels where you were likely to freeze before your tauntaun reached the first marker. If I had a midichlorian for every Star Wars game featuring a Hoth level, I’d be the chosen one. In fact, if you made an effort to play every Star Wars game with a snow or ice planet, it would take you all winter long, and probably keep you warm from jumping up and down to swap discs, cartridges, CD’s, and memory units.
Warm Up With One of These
If you are sick of the snow, tired of the ice, and ready to move on to warmer climes, video games give you the opportunity to get your feet in the sand, feel the surf, and ignore the cold outside for the warm inside. Here are a few games that you might want to consider if you’d rather go to the tropics than face the shame of buying a snuggie.
Wii Sports Resort
Not only does this collection of minigames take place in the sun and sand, but it has the added benefit of getting you off the couch and moving around. Maybe that will warm the blood and keep frostbite from setting in.
50 Cent: Blood in the Sand
Maybe you want some bullets and attitude with your heat? This title hit with pretty much no expectations…and turned out to be playable, and occasionally enjoyable. There are certainly other third person shooters out there that are better games, but very few of them that would work for this category. If you’re looking to just tune out the snow and wind and heat things up with a RPG, feel free to pop this in the drive.
Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball
Look, sometimes you just want to sit back, look at the sun, the surf, the sand, and the gravity-defying attributes of the Team Ninja ladies. Despite looking like a very, very cheap attempt to cash in on the hormones of the stereotypical gamer dwelling in his parents’ basement, Dead Or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball featured a fairly deep volleyball game and a very structured relationship management system. Give the wrong gift to the wrong girl, and suddenly you’re without a partner. Regardless of the cheesecake factor, this game features some of the best tropical scenery around.
That’s it from us. Do you have any games that remind you of winter? Hope you stay Warm!