Whether you’re trying to cope with the stresses of lockdown or simply want to relax after a long day at work, games can be a great way of finding a much-needed escape. However, if you find yourself dying for the 100th time to a boss in Dark Souls or struggling to compete in Call of Duty, chances are you’ll more than likely be left frustrated by the experience. Likewise, being hunted by Mr. X through the corridors of the Raccoon City Police Department in Resident Evil 2 or dealing with the emotionally devastating post-apocalyptic story of The Last of Us aren’t going to be conducive to relaxing.
Here are 8 gentler experiences that will have you chilled out in no time.
1. ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW HORIZONS
PLATFORMS: NINTENDO SWITCH
If you weren’t one of the millions of players who escaped to their own island getaway in Animal Crossing: New Horizons last year, it’s never too late to get started with Nintendo’s paradise sim. After purchasing a package from adorable tanuki Tom Nook, you’ll be whisked away to your very own desert island, which you can shape and customise to your heart’s content. Much of your time will be spent performing leisurely activities such as picking fruit, chopping wood, collecting fossils, fishing and bug catching.
The game plays out in real time and you can work on your island entirely at your own pace, so it’s perfect even if you only have a bit of time each day to devote to playing. It doesn’t require an enormous amount of concentration either, so it’s ideal for being played handheld while watching TV. Letting a fish get away or disturbing the occasional wasp’s nest is about as stressful as Animal Crossing: New Horizons gets.
Check out our guide to February’s bugs and fish!
2. TETRIS EFFECT
PLATFORMS: PS4, PC, XBOX ONE, XBOX SERIES X/S, OCULUS QUEST
If you’ve ever played a video game on any platform, chances are you’ve played a round of tile-matching classic Tetris. 2018’s Tetris Effect – named after the phenomena of seeing Tetris shapes after a prolonged session of playing the game – revived Alexey Pajitnov’s seminal work and transformed it into one of the most relaxing gaming experiences in recent memory.
While slotting Tetrominoes together to clear lines can be calming, Tetris Effect takes it to a whole new level of relaxation. Serene visuals and ambient music combine to make the game a truly tranquil experience, doubly so if you’re playing it in VR. The game even features a specially designed “Relax” category of modes including the “Chill Marathon,” in which there is no “game over” screen – if your Tetrominoes reach the top of the board they will automatically be wiped, allowing you to continue back at the beginning.
3. EVERYBODY’S GONE TO THE RAPTURE
The prospect of exploring an abandoned village hit with a mysterious affliction might hit too close to home given we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic. However, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is definitely worth your time.
The game adopts a gentle pace – even for a walking sim – as you slowly discover what happened to the missing inhabitants of the fictional village of Yaughton in Shropshire, England. That central mystery will keep you hooked as you progress through the story, while the writing brilliantly captures life in a rural British village. All the while you’ll be treated to Jessica Curry’s beautiful orchestral soundtrack, and the music alone makes Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture worth checking out.
4. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD
PLATFORMS: NINTENDO SWITCH, WII U
Relaxation might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to open-world action-adventure games, but Nintendo broke the mould in 2017 with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Sure, there are monsters to be slain, a princess to be rescued and a great evil to be vanquished, but the beauty of Breath of the Wild is the virtually unparalleled freedom given to the player at the start of the game.
If you want to, you can march straight into Hyrule Castle to face Ganon and – if you’re good enough – complete the main story in under an hour, or you can spend dozens of hours ignoring all that and just picking mushrooms and cooking meals instead. Breath of the Wild is a stunning sandbox to explore, filled with breath-taking environments and countless puzzles, in which often your only limit is your imagination.
If you’re looking for a game you can sink into for hours on end, Journey isn’t that game. You can finish Journey in one sitting – it only takes around two hours to complete. However, if you’re looking to settle down for a relaxing evening, there are few games that better fit the bill.
Relying entirely on visual storytelling, Journey takes the player on a, well, journey from desert dunes to the snowy peak of a distant mountain, exploring the ruins of a long-lost civilisation as you go. Along the way you can encounter other players, but unlike many other online gaming experiences, Journey’s is entirely cooperative – players can’t hinder one another, and communication is limited to characters “singing” to each other, so it’s a serene experience throughout.
Journey is underpinned by a dynamic, uplifting score by Austin Wintory, which makes the game even more impactful.
6. HITMAN SERIES
7. PLATFORMS: PS4, PS5, XBOX ONE, XBOX SERIES X/S, PC, MAC, STADIA
IO Interactive’s superb 2016 reboot of the Hitman series and its sequels might stick out in a list of relaxing games, but there’s undoubtedly a therapeutic quality to stepping into the shoes of everyone’s favourite bald assassin, Agent 47. The large, open levels are designed to be replayed multiple times and can be tackled in any number of ways, and the game rewards taking a slow, methodical approach to taking out each of your targets.
Despite its subject matter, the game is filled with dark humour and doesn’t take itself too seriously. You might eliminate one target by dropping an enormous chandelier on their head. Another, you might blow up by remote-detonating an explosive rubber duck, all while dressed as a clown or a flamingo mascot.
Hitman 3 was released in January, so now is the perfect time to catch up if you’ve not played its predecessors.
7. POKEMON: LET’S GO, PIKACHU/EEVEE
PLATFORMS: NINTENDO SWITCH
While many players found Pokémon Sword and Shield to be somewhat disappointing as Game Freak’s first core entries into the series on home consoles, Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu and Eevee are delightful nostalgia trips for those who played the first generation of Pokémon games in their youth, bringing Red, Blue and Yellow up to date in spectacular fashion. No longer limited by the processing power of the Game Boy, Let’s Go presents a vibrant, colourful Kanto brought to life by the creatures appearing in the overworld for the first time, a la Pokémon Go.
Whether it’s your first Pokémon game or you’re a lapsed player from the Game Boy era, Let’s Go is the perfect introduction (or reintroduction) to the series. Game Freak wisely opted to omit many of the more complicated additions they’ve made to the core entries over the years, so it’s easy to pick up and play. What’s more, with only the original 151 Pokémon available, catching them all is a much more achievable proposition. Let’s Go also has local coop, so you can play alongside a partner or roommate.
PLATFORMS: PS4, XBOX ONE, PC, NINTENDO SWITCH
With many of us around the world still stuck in lockdown and confined to our homes, the idea of getting out into nature has never been more appealing. Most of us will have to settle for a virtual setting for the time being, and Firewatch gives you the chance to do just that. You’ll play as Henry, a new fire lookout in Wyoming. It’s a largely stress-free experience, with much of the gameplay centring on Henry’s walkie-talkie conversations with another lookout, Delilah, and investigating happenings in the forest around his tower.
With an intriguing story, engaging characters and a gorgeous art style, Firewatch is both a relaxing and memorable way to escape the world for a few hours.