It could just be us, but it seems gaming has taken on a whole new meaning — nay, importance — during this stay-home period. After all, the Nintendo Switch is actually sold out, not just in Singapore but all around the world, surely a testament to how home entertainment is keenly sought after. Introverts and geeked-up gamers rejoice, you’re the hot things now.
You can say that the gaming world’s practically a free-for-all; anything goes. While physical socialising is out, virtual ones can still occur. You could meet your friends over a quick co-op on Blizzard’s Overwatch — which recently debuted Singlish-speaking robot Echo — or swap fruits and visit each other’s islands on the latest and super-popular version of Animal Crossing. That said, exploring new worlds solo (and not being reliant on your teammates, ahem) is still the hallmark of many gaming titles, so we’ve got some underrated indie titles to recommend, as well as free PlayStation 4 games, all available as digital downloads. Browse our list, and don’t blame us for getting hooked.
1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Genre: Social Simulation
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Fishing, picking up fruits, hitting rocks and terraforming an island — that may not sound very enticing for a console game, but I assure you, to think that would be to undermine the soothing tranquility of Animal Crossing. Released at probably the most appropriate time ever, which led to its immense popularity, any player would say that this escape into an island of your own offers a necessary respite from the chaotic, ever-changing world outside. Complete with charming music too! Here, you’re in control.
You start off with a deserted island for your first house and collect resources such as wood and fish to earn bells, the local currency, while also using tools to plant flowers and beautify your island-now-turned-paradise. Game developers Aya Kyogoku and Hisashi Nogami have also introduced two new features in this latest version — crafting and terraforming, to allow players more control over the aesthetic of their town.
Therein lies the brilliance of this game: total customisation. You get to craft items as diverse as an industrial-chic iron table for your home, pick up a menu chalkboard to place at your pizza parlour, or create wall prints and custom t-shirts that commemorate your favourite rock bands. You can even input designs on a grid board to create entire outfits, or download user-created ones via shared game codes, to dress up in Harry Potter robes, as the iconic David Bowie, or a kooky character from Studio Ghibli. With so much user-generated content as well as a creative and giving community that’s very willing to share and trade tips, the possibilities are truly endless.
Also good to note, the seasons actually correspond with the real world, so you’ll get cherry blossom trees or Fall foliage, while the social aspect is just as admirable, since you can visit your friends’ islands to hang out, at least virtually. If anything, you’ll finally get what all those Animal Crossing memes are about.
ReleaseD: 20 March 2020
USD59.99. available at the Nintendo Store.
2. Final Fantasy VII Remake
Genre: Role-Playing Game (RPG)
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4
Yet another major release this season, the highly-anticipated remake of Final Fantasy VII is already a hit, for both new gamers and fans of the original role-playing game released in 1997. Game graphics then were obviously not as advanced or realistic as today, though the game was still renowned for its visually stunning and immersive world-building. Cut to today’s stellar technical effects, then combine that with a deep story and iconic characters — this one’s a combination made for, well, epic fantasies.
In this first installment of what is to be released as a multi-part saga, the story is set in a dystopic world that’s under the control of Shinra, a corporation controlling the planet’s life force. In the city of Midgar, you follow Cloud Strife, a former member of Shinra’s elite SOLDIER unit and now turned mercenary, who joins the Avalanche resistance group to escape. Combat and drama naturally ensue.
On the ‘what’s new’ front, developers Square Enix has upgraded the original’s turn-based combat, so you’re now playing it as a real-time action game, which should up the adrenaline during battles. Even better, this remake is said to go deeper into the events of Midgar and include new story points and characters, so there’s bound to be new tidbits and easter eggs to savour.
Released: 10 April 2020
$80.10, available at the PlayStation store.
3. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
Genre: Action / Adventure
Developer: Bluepoint Games \ Naughty Dog
Platform: PlayStation 4
As part of Sony’s ‘Play At Home’ initiative, the brand is offering free PlayStation 4 games to encourage us to stay home during this time of social distancing. Digital downloads will be available now till 5 May 2020, and you’ll also get to keep the games after.
Enter, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. Developed by Naughty Dog, also the storytellers behind The Last Of Us, this three-game collection, remastered for the PS4, is a beloved action-adventure series where you play as legendary treasure hunter Nathan Drake, taking on ruthless enemies in a bid to uncover precious fortune.
Included in this line-up: the single-player campaigns for UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune, UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves, and UNCHARTED 3: Drake’s Deception. The first sees Drake chasing the fabled treasure of El Dorado and then fighting for survival in a forgotten island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; the second has him lured by a mysterious artifact to the Himalayan valley of Shambhala; while the third installment features his journey to the heart of the Arabian Desert, to locate a lost city known as the “Atlantis of the Sands”. We can’t travel for any time soon in the real world, but here, you can safely traverse the world — though don’t expect the journey to be any less thrilling.
Released: 7 October 2015
Free, available at the Playstation Store.
Platform: PlayStation 4
Here, we have another of Sony’s free games — but I can personally vouch for how beautiful this one is. You’re now playing a mysterious robed figure while traversing a vast desert, towards a distant mountain that always seems just out of reach. Along that journey, you’ll also get to meet other players, even cooperate for missions, but communication is limited; instead of speech or text, there’s only a soothing musical chime to mark your fateful assembly.
This subtlety, cooperation forged via emotional connection, is what makes the game so highly-regarded. I’d definitely count it as one of most unique games I’ve encountered, while this view is bolstered by several “game of the year” awards, as well as its Grammy-nominated musical score.
Journey ditches the realism of first-person shooters, war co-op games, and other violent escapisms prevalent in today’s gaming culture. Instead, it presents a truly beautiful aesthetic that graphic designers and creatives would love, a calming landscape filled with soft glows and the quiet rush of falling sand. There’s some sense of danger as your soar above monolithic ancient ruins, but overall, I’d still describe it as a wholesome ASMR-like experience. The score, composed by Austin Wintory, is just as entrancing, completing the developers’ desire to evoke in us a sense of wonder and mystical, moving connection.
Released: 13 March 2012
Free, available at the playstation store.
5. Ape Out
Genre: Action / Arcade
Developers: Bennett Foddy, Gabe Cuzzillo, Matt Boch
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Another indie find I’d highly recommend, the stylised graphics and jazzy soundtrack of Ape Out. This does fall into rather violent territory — you’re playing an escapee gorilla, on an intense path to freedom while crushing any and all captors that stand in your way. Then again, all this top-down action is rendered in abstract art, of graphic shapes and tones, so while you feel that satisfying violence, you never really flinch from its horror.
The game is also especially intuitive, using only two buttons to either grab or smash, which makes gameplay highly reactionary and easy to pick up. This adds another layer to its theme of primal instincts and brute force as well. Here, the grab tool is more multi-functional than you think; you can use it to grab and throw your captors against walls, send them hurtling towards another adversary, or even hold them for a very-useful-but-cruel human shield.
What truly stands out though, is the mash-up of visuals and music. You’re dashing through tight corridors and carefully-crafted labyrinths with frenzied momentum, all the while accompanied by the crash of drums and cymbals, which surge as you ramp up the quick-paced tension and chaos. With Ape Out, you’ll rage, but not want to quit.
Released: 28 February 2019
USD14.99, available at the Nintendo store (US) and Steam.
6. Untitled Goose Game
Genre: Action, Puzzle
Developer: House House
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
If silly (goose) games and slapstick humour is more your thing, you’ll enjoy the annoying antics of Untitled Goose Game. This Internet-famous sandbox title, which allows for total free reign, has you playing a tricksy goose that’s now let loose on an unsuspecting English village of regular people just trying to get on with their very normal day. But, as the story goes, you happen to hate them beyond reason.
Cue the unruly loud honking and the general harassment of stealing items, sneaking around gardens and corners in town, and setting up pranks. We’re actually surprised that there are objectives to complete here, which allow for game progress, but feel free to ignore them and set your own course for destruction; we doubt this game attracts much rule-followers anyway.
Released: 2o September 2019
USD13.99 (PC), available at epicgames.com.
USD19.99, available at the nintendo store and playstation store (US).
$29.95, available at microsoft.
FOR THE NOSTALGIA
7. The Sims 4
Genre: Life Simulation
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
What do building homes, drowning people in swimming pools, incomprehensible gibberish, and the word ‘motherlode’ have in common? They’re the recognisable hallmarks of The Sims, a game first released in 2000 and one of the early life simulation video games that had us hooked growing up. Hooked on unimaginable god-like power, that is.
As a god, you create life — in this case, virtual people called “Sims”, which you move into starter homes or entire houses you get to custom-design. The upgraded Sims 4 is an expansion of the original, though its premise remains largely the same.
You’re in charge of your Sim’s life, which can mean anything from cultivating relationships and falling in love, even a one-night ‘woohoo’ stand, picking their job and upgrading their life skills, having them earn big bucks to upgrade their house (or resorting to scrupulous cheat codes), and yes, even morbidly staging their untimely deaths.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, this freedom has led to many inventive ideas, including a famous story where one user kept their Sim locked up in a secret dungeon, to furiously paint and earn money for the clueless family living upstairs. There are no true objectives here, which makes wasting your time away on the game highly probable.
Released: 17 November 2017
$10.68 (80% off), available at the playstation store.
$60.90, available at Microsoft.
USD14.22 (PC), available at ea.com.