December tends to be the month when that final triple-A title lands on the shelves, and the rest of the gaming schedule makes way. People have already made their present decisions for the year, and backlogs are stacked nicely for the winter. It’s not a month that’s traditionally full of games – particularly headliners – so December 2020 is going to be no different, right? Right?
Wrong! A December in 2020 was never going to be typical. Covid continues to disrupt game development, and some have fallen down the year, only to find a handhold in the final month. Obviously, there’s the meme-fest that is Cyberpunk 2077 which is landing (or not landing) this month, while we also get Ubisoft’s curveball: Immortals Fenyx Rising. Chuck in Dontnod’s newest Twin Mirror, a Dragon Quest (on Xbox hardware!), and the glorious-looking Haven, from the developers of Furi, and you have far from a sleepy month.
All that remains to be said is Merry Christmas to you all! We’ll see you in the New Year, which promises to be a lot brighter than the last. We hope.
Empire of Sin
Should you still have the taste for Tommy guns and moonshine-smuggling after the rerelease of 2K’s Mafia trilogy, well – Paradox Interactive has your back. This one’s a turn-based tactical shooter, which makes sense: the year’s been fully loaded with them and they’re clearly having a resurgence. The setting also suits, as the streets are the battlefields of the period.
While it doesn’t quite have the spit and shine of Mafia: Definitive Edition, it still looks enough of a treat to immerse you. The combat looks slick, and Paradox Interactive have brought their brand-certified levels of depth and progression to the characters.
In fact, the characters in Empire of Sin on Xbox are probably what get us excited the most. This is a who’s who of Chicago’s most wanted from the era, with Al Capone, Goldie Garneau and Stephanie St. Clair available. Knowing our turn-based skills, we’ll be rewriting history by having Al Capone accidentally dropping a grenade at his feet.
Chronos: Before the Ashes
An action-adventure from Gunfire Games is always going to make one of these lists. Their Darksiders games have always delivered, and the underrated Remnant: From the Ashes was an unexpected treat from 2019. Clearly enough people have played the latter, as Chronos: Before the Ashes is a prequel (and you just thought Gunfire had a thing for ashes). It takes us far before Remnant, casting you as a hero who’s looking to stop a great evil. Clearly you won’t do a fantastic job, as Remnant: from the Ashes shows us.
The trailer grinds my gears, as it copy-pastes some 80’s theming onto a game that doesn’t warrant it (Stranger Things has ruined so much), but we’ll let it off. It does enough to showcase one of the big draws of Chronos: Before the Ashes – some cracking character design which wouldn’t be out of place in Ico.
A note to one of the back-of-box bulletpoints that gets our attention: instead of dying, you’ll come back to the game one-year older. You’ll be less nimble, but more attuned to magic. That’s a fascinating USP if we’ve ever heard it.
Call of the Sea
When the Xbox Showcase landed in the middle of the year, Call of the Sea stood out. Where the Cyberpunks, Twin Mirrors and Mediums were all dark, horrific and moody, Call of the Sea was an oasis in all of it – a colourful, vibrant puzzle-adventure, less interested in spooking you than massaging your grey matter. Of course, it didn’t have enough sniper scopes and Ultimate Teams in it to get the internet’s pulse racing, but we were taken with it.
On the 8th of December, Call of the Sea lands, and what makes it all the more tempting is that it’s free on Xbox Game Pass. For a narrative adventure with a finite story to play, that’s a godsend, as we can all fill our adventuring boots.
If you’ve encountered that vibrant trailer or heard much about Call of the Sea, then it’s the debut game from some gaming veterans called Out of the Blue Games, and it tells the story of Norah, a woman on the trail of her husband’s failed expedition. It’s set in the 1930s on a remote Pacific island, where magic and lost civilisations are waiting to be discovered. It all looks pretty as pie, so check it out when Call of the Sea launches on Xbox and Game Pass.
Dontnod Entertainment have had a busy 2020. While most of us have been sitting around in our pants, they’ve put out Tell Me Why, releasing episodically over the tail-end of the year, and now we’re getting Twin Mirror on Xbox One and Series X|S.
From what we’ve seen so far, this is an investigative-journalist take on their Life is Strange formula, researching a car crash which has more to it than it seems. Much like Life is Strange, you’re not the average civilian, as you have the ability to frame crime scenes as dioramas, turning victims and suspects into mirror-entities and watching how things unfold.
There’s a fair amount of deductive work to be done, as Dontnod are leaving it up to you to conclude what happened and how. You’ll enter your ‘Mind Palace’ (bleugh) and interact with your inner voice, ‘The Double’, who is just as likely to upend your investigation as help it. A lot of thought has gone into crime scene investigation and how to bring it to a game and feel satisfying.
Throughout, the tone seems to be close to Alan Wake – darker and edgier than what we’ve seen from Dontnod’s other work.
We love you, Coatsink Games. We’re not afraid to say it: you’ve lightened up our evenings in the office with Cake Bash, and Gang Beasts was a blast. December was at risk of being a big old frown-fest, with most of the games taking winter very seriously indeed. Not you, Phogs! – you’re just what we needed.
We’re not sure where to start. You play as a two-headed sausage dog; as-in, a sausage with a dog-head at either end. Think Catdog, but Dogdog. These heads have independent control, so you’re using two-sticks (or a co-op partner) to maneuver yourself around to get dog stuff done. There’s a touch of Octodad in the ridiculousness of the controls, a pinch of Biped in the coordination needed to get anywhere, and a handful of Katamari in the humour and game world.
We can’t wait to get our hands on these double-ended doggos. 2020 needs a laugh, and Coatsink have been absolutely bringing it lately. If this physics-based puzzler works doesn’t end up too frustrating, this could be the dog’s nethers when Phogs! launches on 3rd of December.
We love a game that defies classification, and it looks like Haven is heading that way. The newest from Furi developers The Game Bakers, this is a co-op adventure on a remote planet, where you play as one or both of a pair of lovers, looking to make the planet habitable for themselves while events and enemies pull you apart.
Movement is on jet-boot-things (we will freely admit to having a juvenile thought from the trailer, that the jets were coming from their backsides), and you’ll be scooting around the environment like you’re on a Moonrider in Destiny. Enemies will pop up in JRPG-lite battles, while pollution can be scooped up to find materials for crafting and making the planet your own.
It looks beautiful – somewhere between Furi and Gravity Rush – and its wistful tone reminds a little of some ‘80s favourites like Ulysses 31 and Mysterious Cities of Gold. The pace looks sedate, with the planet open for your exploration from the get-go, making it more Journey than Horizon Zero Dawn. The focus on a relationship, and covering adult topics within that relationship, is a far cry from a lot of games on this list too.
Immortals Fenyx Rising
The other triple-A title coming in December, Immortals Fenyx Rising, is going to have a job on its hands to keep people in its world when Cyberpunk happens.
It’s an Ubisoft open-worlder, but influences may be away from Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed and the rest. Looking at gameplay, there’s more than a little of Breath of the Wild in Immortals Fenyx Rising, from the colourful world to the steeds, to the focus on hack-and-slash action.
And it looks blooming lovely. The Series X|S will be pushed to the limits with this one, as the world is bustling, detailed and huge in scope. The colour range alone on this looks spectacular.
You’re playing a mortal looking to bring down Typhon – the killer of gods. He’s managed to sever the link between the gods and their spirits, and it’s up to you to bring them back together. You’ll team up with Hermes to save Zeus, Hera, Poseidon and the rest. It’s not the most original of set-ups, but the world has a welcoming and vibrant feel that reminds a little of 2020’s Journey to the Savage Planet. Let’s see if Ubisoft can find success in a new IP.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition
It must be Christmas! Not only are we getting the first spotting of a Dragon Quest on Xbox hardware, but it’s arriving, on launch, on Game Pass Ultimate! By Jove, we thought we’d never see the day.
Japan’s best-loved RPG franchise arrives in the form of Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age, which debuted on the 3DS and then got revamped for the PS4. We’re getting the ‘Definitive Edition’, which is more than most re-packagings: this has some character-specific sub-quests, which gives you more room to get to know your party, Mass Effect 2-style, and a fancy switch that allows you to play sections of the game in 2D.
Aside from that, you get a huge, 100-hour, critically acclaimed RPG that has already done the business on other hardware. It looks great, spruced for Xbox Series X|S, and it’s got the Dragon Quest seal of approval on its deep combat mechanics and story. Sounds like just the ticket for a Christmas holiday period where you might actually get time on your hands.
John Wick Hex
We have a bit of a game-crush on Mike Bithell, designer of John Wick Hex. An ex-journalist who made the step up to game design, he’s given us the superlative Thomas Was Alone, the immersive Subsurface and Quarantine Circulars, and the pumping Volume. His work never fails to test the edges of storytelling, sound design, and how the player engages with a game.
When it was announced that he was designing a John Wick game, the overriding reaction was “eh?”. Mike Bithell has always brought a singular voice to his own creations, so to see him adopt an IP was surprising. Plus, every time I read John Wick Hex, I remember back to nightmare movie Jonah Hex.
It’s only when you get into the workings of John Wick Hex that you understand why. For one, John Wick has always been steeped in story and mythology, so there’s plenty to get hold of there. But, more importantly, Mike Bithell has treated the balletic action of John Wick like an editing suite, and allowed you to move backwards and forwards through the action to manipulate it and get the results you want. It’s an original take on strategic action, and the Bithell connection makes so much more sense now.
John Wick Hex takes place on a hex grid (duh), and you move and anticipate attacks like you were in a beat-’em-up, but in a tactical-strategy game. It’ll be fun to see if it all meshes together, and whether the fun of the movies shines through.
Sike! It’s not really out on the 10th of December. You never believed that, right?
Alright, now we’ve got the inevitable jokes about delays out the way, we can get on with the hype. Cyberpunk 2077 is here, and hopefully you still have enough goodwill and anticipation to be excited about that fact.
500 devs, 4 years of development, and the experience of GOAT game The Witcher 3 behind them: this could well be CD Projekt Red’s magnum opus. It’s certainly got the pedigree. From the multitude of trailers, previews, leaked footage and extended universe gubbins, it looks exemplary too. There have been cracks about the size of the game map, particularly when you put it next to San Andreas and others, but previews have revealed that the game is as dense as dark matter, so none of it may matter. Strap in, this is going to be breathtaking.
What can be written that hasn’t already been written about the game? It’s got Keanu in it. It’s based on Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk universe. It’s bolting FPS bits onto an RPG structure. It’s cost bajillions to make. All that’s left is to plug yourself into the universe and experience it for yourself.
Cyberpunk 2077 is out (yes, really) on 10th of December.
Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition
We’ll never get back the days we spent on Premier, LMA and Championship Manager. Who knows what we might have achieved, the person we might have been, if those hours weren’t spent bidding on Hector Sam, and getting Doncaster Rovers to the Champions’ League final?
It warms the cockles to see another prospective generation’s lives in tatters with the release of Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition. Book the week off, and settle in for a twenty-season run with Borussia Dortmund, to see if Jude Bellingham has a future filled with goals.
Aside from mastering the console controls, Sports Interactive and Sega are focusing on how you motivate your players, with emphasis on words and what you say being more important than before. Presumably inviting a Netflix film crew into your dressing room for a warts-and-all documentary is off the cards. There’s also greater versatility in the youth academy, where you’ll get to mould the next generation of players into next season’s Jesse Lingard.
There’s the usual licensing and a solid bedrock of a management sim here, so it should offer you everything you need. Nerd out on heading stats when Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition comes out of the tunnel on the 1st December.
We love writing these Up Next pieces. I think we’ve said that before, but it’s for reasons like Morkredd. We’ve never heard of it, if we’re being honest, even though it’s been a bit of a darling of the convention circuit, picking up awards for Best in Show at Konsole Konnect, and Most Original Game at Game Connection. It’s stealthed into our December, and it could well be a sleeper classic.
In what is turning out to be a bit of a December theme, Morkredd is designed to be played in co-op. You and a partner will play two shadowy figures, looking to make their way to a mystical orb that holds their fate. It’s a 3D puzzle platformer, reminding a little of Lara Croft: Temple of Osiris, but with the combat stripped out. Except there’s a fantastic twist, and it could be the make-or-break for the game.
Through all the box-pushing and switch-flipping, you must avoid the other player’s shadow. Positioning yourself in relation to the light-source is paramount, then, and it’s bound to lead to braintwisters as you attempt to get to your goal without causing your mate to slip into the shadows.
Admittedly, it also leads to prime trolling as you let your mate slip away. I can think of plenty of people I am not planning to play Morkredd with.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition
What will gaming hipsters complain about now that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is getting a re-release? Absent from game stores since its delisting in December 2014 (ooh, nice anniversary there, Ubisoft), it has since gained infamy as being the Great Lost Game.
Petitions, death threats (?!) and Patreons have since followed, but Ubisoft never seemed to budge. Creator Bryan Lee O’Malley taunted and hinted over the years, but it seemed like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game would just slip into obscurity. Then, in September of this year, Bryan told the world that Ubisoft had reached out to him, and the game was launching in December of this year.
Is it worth the fuss? No, not really, but the story has been fun to watch. It’s a good, above-average belt-action beat-‘em-up, matching the beats of the comic more than the movie, as you fight the Evil Exes in overblown boss battles. If we’re honest, the music from Anamanaguchi and the nods to other games were the highlights.
Should Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition be on the Up Next list then? Yes, if only for the ridiculousness of the game’s name. Plus, this is a tale of a community getting what they wanted, and what they wanted was a six-year old beat-’em-up back from the dead. It’s a Christmas tale for the ages.
So we say goodbye, 2020: you’ve been arse. But though it hasn’t delivered in terms of world highlights, the games have still delivered. Expect our favourites of 2020 to be rounded up in the annual listicle, so that you can all bellow “you got it wrong, TheXboxHub!” at the top of your voices.
But for now, have a wonderful New Year, enjoy yourself in Night City, Ancient Greece and the Nou Camp, and we’ll check back soon to see what January holds for us in 2021.