Month three of the pandemic is upon us, and many of us have already burned through our videogame backlog and are hunting for new titles to play during these strange times. Luckily, TAG’s roster of games researchers are here to help! Below is a collection of games recommended by TAGsters, grouped by category and accompanied with short “elevator pitches” describing what they’re all about. Thanks to all the folks on the TAG Discord for sending in their suggestions.
Build, Explore, Craft (Animal Crossing, Minecraft, Stardew Valley)
These first three games need no introduction, and have transcended their already immense popularity by enabling activities that social isolation has denied us: going outside, exploring, and socializing! Animal Crossing is perhaps the game of our Covid-19 moment — allowing players to simulate outdoor adventure and live out the fantasy of home ownership — but it is worth mentioning two old standbys in Stardew Valley and Minecraft. Stardew Valley has always been a charming farm simulator, but the 2019 introduction of multiplayer now allows up to four players to band together as a happy little farming commune. There is something comforting about performing day-to-day chores in the company of others while arguing over mundanities such as proper turnip placement. Minecraft is the ultimate “play it how you like” game, with modpacks ranging from sprawling fantasy adventures to demonstrations of technical expertise. TAG has a well-documented fascination with Minecraft, including its current post-dystopian server After the Consequences.
Exercise (Just Dance 2020, Beat Saber)
Fitness games have been simultaneously met with joy and skepticism over the past decades, and have seen a recent flood of interest as gyms, exercise classes, and sports leagues shutter their doors. The rhythm game Just Dance 2020 has been the breakout star of exercise games among TAGsters, allowing them to get some cardio in while dancing to their favourite songs (perhaps in between Animal Crossing social events). Beat Saber — a rapid-fire mash-up of Fruit Ninja and Guitar Hero — is essentially a sword-centric version of Just Dance, providing TAGsters with the opportunity to flail along with the music in virtual reality. And those of us who have kept their Wiis around over the years (perhaps for modding purposes) still have access to the surprisingly-still-useful Wii Fit for a more traditional home exercise routine.
Tabletop Simulation (Boardgame Arena, Tabletop Simulator, Roll20)
TAG’s massive boardgame collection is, unfortunately, collecting dust back at the lab, but TAGsters have been actively seeking out ways to take tabletop games into the digital realm. While classic titles such as Scrabble and Chess have long been popular to play online, how does one scratch their itch for more complex boardgames and sprawling roleplaying adventures? Board Game Arena has been a popular, no frills option for online meetups, featuring dozens of free-to-play boardgames and an quick sign-up process. Combined with a simple voice chat service such as Discord or Zoom, Board Game Arena enables online play for games ranging from Carcassonne to Through the Ages. Tabletop Simulator is a step up in quality, but also in cost, featuring a 3D interface and developer-authorized game modules for popular titles such as Wingspan and sprawling strategies games like Twilight Imperium. Finally, Roll20 has become the go-to choice for those trying to scratch their roleplaying itch, made popular through the service’s embrace of Dungeons and Dragons but also for providing infrastructure for everything from Pathfinder to (heaven forbid) GURPs. Although it is difficult to replace the community and camaraderie that comes with in-person tabletop games, these online alternatives have allowed TAGsters to keep their boardgame nights and RPG campaigns rolling during lockdown.
Classic Franchises (Final Fantasy VII, Pokemon Sword & Shield, Black Mesa)
Although the above options are all great choices, sometimes it is nice to embrace nostalgia and play something that is simultaneously new and familiar. The Final Fantasy VII remake has been an immensely popular choice for TAGsters hailing from the Playstation-era, allowing them to relive a moment from their childhood with upgraded graphics and gameplay. Of course, the remake is not without its controversies, but debating plot points in Final Fantasy titles is somewhat of a hallowed tradition at this point. Pokemon Sword and Shield is another popular choice, especially for those who have suspended their Pokemon Go activities during the pandemic. “Catchin’ them all” has been a comforting task for over two decades, and the only major point-of-conflict between players is what Pokemon were included in the game and which new starter is the best (spoiler: it’s Scorbunny). Finally, Black Mesa recently completed its long development cycle, and TAGsters have been enjoying the revamped version of the original Half-Life – featuring significantly less chunky polygons and much improved level layouts.
Other TAG Recommendations
- The Long Dark (exploration and survival in a frozen wasteland).
- Jackbox Games (competitive party games that can be played through phones and browsers)
- Apex Legends / Overwatch (team-based, multiplayer, first-person shooters)
- Rise of the Tomb Raider (critically acclaimed entry in the Tomb Raider series)
- Ghostbusters: The Video Game – Remastered (HD remake of the 2009 Ghostbusters game)
- The Outer Worlds (first-person science fiction RPG from Obsidian)