Forced inside by the danger of coronavirus, where do we turn to for a sense of escape?
The answer, for many, is video games. Gaming statistics have skyrocketed in recent weeks – in the US, Verizon reported an increase of 75 per cent since the quarantine began – with people increasingly relying on their consoles and computers for diversion.
Even though a lot of people will be content to stick with old favourites such as Fifa, Fortnite or Grand Theft Auto while waiting for the lockdown to end, others may want something a little more off the beaten track.
This is a list of games that are well worth checking out over the coming weeks, be they lesser-known independent gems such as Kentucky Route Zero or games with particular resonance during the time of self-isolation, like Death Stranding.
Here are 17 games to play while self-isolating…
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020) – Nintendo Switch
There are few games more antidotal to the stress of the current global crisis than Animal Crossing. Suffused with good cheer, New Horizons provides you with the perfect (admittedly kid-focused) sense of community while you’re stuck inside your house.
Cities: Skylines (2015) – all platforms
With everybody stuck inside, it can sometimes feel like society is on the brink of a breakdown. In Cities: Skylines, you can construct your own virus-free metropolitan utopia, with a terrific amount of customisation available.
Control (2019) – PC/PS4/Xbox One
There’s more than a whiff of The X Files to Remedy Entertainment’s acclaimed 2019 shooter Control. Playing as Jesse Faden, you must explore the “Federal Bureau of Control” and defeat a sinister force known as “The Hiss”. Remedy has always excelled at gunplay, and the action here is thrilling.
Disco Elysium (2019) – PC
This immersive RPG (role-playing game) tells the story of a shambling, drug-addled detective in a sci-fi dystopia who investigates a lynching near a dockworkers’ union. Inspired by TV series such as The Wire and The Shield, as well as artists such as Rembrandt, Disco Elysium is dense and compelling.
Death Stranding (2019) – PC/PS4
In Hideo Kojima’s ambitious, spiritual epic Death Stranding, you control a post-apocalyptic deliveryman transporting cargo across treacherous but beautiful landscape. Death Stranding is a game about connection; it speaks so specifically to this age of self-isolation that some players have even started calling it prophecy.
Dreams (2020) – PS4
Media Molecule’s Dreams is a brilliant-but-complicated game creation system; self-isolation might just give you the time you need to really get to grips with its impressively detailed workings – or to play through the ever-expanding database of content made by others.
Inside (2016) – all platforms
No doubt many of us are currently dreaming of escape and freedom; Inside is a game that holds this yearning to its core. Created by the team behind the indie hit Limbo, this puzzle-platform game is even weirder than its predecessor – but no less enjoyable.
Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition (2020) – all platforms
Spread across five acts, this contemplative, unendingly surprising point-and-click game is nothing short of a masterpiece. Developed and released over the span of a decade, Kentucky Route Zero explores weighty themes of addiction and wage slavery with the pithy postmodernism of a Don DeLillo novel.
The Last of Us: Remastered (2014) – PS4
OK, so nobody could argue that Naughty Dog’s hugely successful post-apocalyptic thriller qualifies as a “hidden gem”. But there’s never been a better time to revisit The Last of Us, with the sequel just months away and the world outside increasingly resembling Joel and Ellie’s desperate reality – it might even be cathartic.
Minecraft (2011) – all platforms
The classic block-building game has made its educational editions free to download while children worldwide are cooped up without school. But the original version of the game is still a great shout in times of trouble – it’s sublimely peaceful and you can pour countless hours of your time into it.
Nioh 2 (2020) – PS4
Nioh took the tricky combat design of the Dark Souls franchise and smoothly transposed it to 17th-century Japan. This year’s prequel, Nioh 2, is even better: a hard, rewarding action RPG with a great setting and plenty of depth.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps (2020) – PC/Xbox One
With a sweeping soundtrack and appealing characters, Ori and the Will of the Wisps sometimes feels like a Pixar film, in all the best ways. But this delightful platformer isn’t just for kids – as its formidable difficulty suggests.
Plague Inc. (2012) – all mobile devices
Strategy game Plague Inc. was removed from the Chinese app store recently, seemingly on grounds of taste, but this virus simulator actually offers a genuine education on the ways viruses are disseminated through society. After a coronavirus-related sales boom, the game’s creators donated more than £200,000 to help fight the pandemic.
Return of the Obra Dinn (2018) – all platforms
For those looking for something a bit different, Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn is a fantastic puzzle game like no other. You play an insurance salesman investigating a ghost ship; the aim of the game is to identify all the Obra Dinn’s passengers and crew – and determine how they died.
The Sims 4 (2014) – PC/PS4/Xbox One
If you feel like you don’t have much control over your own life at the moment, you can at least have total dominion over the lives of others, in this sensationally popular simulation game. And as anyone who’s played it can attest, the hours fly by at triple speed when The Sims manages to get its hooks into you.
Stellaris (2019) – PC/PS4/Xbox One
Stellaris puts you in command of a species who have just cracked the science of interstellar travel. If you’re looking for a way to kill some serious time, you can hardly do better than this sprawling strategy game, which forces you to juggle diplomacy, exploration and warfare to build the ultimate space empire.
Untitled Goose Game (2019) – all platforms
While a game like Animal Crossing is a great reminder of the pleasures society can bring you, Untitled Goose Game is all about shaking that society up. As a havoc-wreaking goose, you don’t know the meaning of the phrase “social distancing” – you honk, peck and flap your way around a small English village, leaving a trail of frustrated farm folk in your wake.