Now that the first signs of fall have begun to envelop autumnal diehards like the comforting embrace of a wool pullover, an annual point of discussion has arisen for many: What are the best fall movies? For anyone who doesn’t know, a “fall movie” is generally a movie that either takes place in autumn and is thus filled with red-hued trees and warm fuzzies, or it just has a vibe. I like a good fall movie, but I prefer the fall game.
Unlike fall movies, fall games can immerse you for days and weeks, whetting your appetite for apple cider and scarves. Sometimes it’s just one stage, or a region in an open world game. Other times, the entire game might as well be dunked in a vat of pumpkin spice syrup. Either way, I always appreciate a game that makes the effort to serve up a big seasonal mood.
Green pastures are nice, but a bit boring, and winter stages in games are often stark and survivalist. But calm, golden, sun-dappled scenes, virtual forests on fire with the dramatic hues of chlorophyll breakdown, and a breeze that you can practically feel on your slightly-chilly cheek? Yeah, all of that is my shit.
This is all on my mind because I recently picked up Marvel’s Spider-Man, which is an instant and currently unsung classic in the genre of fall games. Central Park is a pastoral autumn scene, all reds and yellows, and as you swing through the city the warm light of sundown filters through the spindly branches of half-naked trees. The NPCs wear light coats and sweaters. In the game’s version of Twitter, New Yorkers post about their Halloween costume plans. It’s all enough to give me seasonal ASMR. It feels chilly, but not cold. Playing as Spidey, I often don his vintage wrestling outfit because it includes a rather comfy-looking sweater.
In honor of the immense mood in Marvel’s Spider-Man, here are some of the best games to cuddle up with when fall hits on September 22, and before.
Alan Wake (2010)
Remedy’s 2016 game-slash-TV-show Quantum Break may have been an ambitious mess, but the studio’s 2010 title Alan Wake remains a triumph of mood and storytelling. The player takes on the role of Alan Wake, a writer who seeks solace in the idyllic Washington town of Bright Falls, but finds horror. From the ferry ride into Bright Falls, all fog and yellowing leaves, to the end, the game is a Stephen King-inspired autumn classic.
Banjo Kazooie: Click Clock Wood Stage (1998)
Banjo Kazooie is not a fall game in its entirety but the “Click Clock Wood” level will always stick out in my mind as a seminal example of autumn vibes in the 64-bit era. Not only does it have the player traversing some dark and moody woods, but it’s one of the best stages in the entire game. Respect fall, please.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)
CD Projekt Red’s 2015 swords-and-magic RPG is, in my estimation, one of the finest fall-feeling (the wiki tells me the game’s events actually kick off in May) walking simulators out there. The game has the player walking or riding through autumn-esque landscapes that are enhanced by remarkable attention to environmental detail, down to the gentle sounds of the wind and swaying foliage. It’s still probably really hot under Geralt’s stinky armor, but the vibe is strong.
Sonic Adventure 2: Pumpkin Hill Stage (2001)
I’m not entirely sure if this game is supposed to be “good” or whatever, but I played the shit out of it as a kid and the level that I remember most vividly is “Pumpkin Hill.” It’s a Halloween-themed stage soundtracked by some record-scratching hip hop for some reason, and you play as Knuckles the Echidna. Sure!
Resident Evil 4 (2005)
Speaking of Halloween, what’s fall without a little horror? Dying leaves, chilly nights—it’s an inherently spooky season and it’s that subtle darkness that gives it its flavour. Enter Resident Evil 4, the opening moments of which have the player shooting their way through a zombie-infested town nestled in a forest that seems to be in the later, colder stages of autumn. The mood is appropriately bleak, but evocative.
Stardew Valley: Fall Season (2016)
Stardew Valley isn’t really a fall game since it rotates the player through all four seasons, each of which lasts 28 days, but man, the fall in this game is, like, extremely fall. Not only does the world shift into all the familiar, calming hues, but the music is great and there are two seasonal festivals, one of which is a spooky Halloween-like affair.
The Last of Us: Fall Chapter (2014)
Naughty Dog’s character-driven zombie game doesn’t solely take place in the fall, but when it does, oh man does it ever make you want to take a long sip of something piping hot. The zombie theme also makes it Halloween-friendly even if the game’s events take place across all four seasons.
Night In the Woods (2017)
In this game, the player assumes the role of a black cat that is also a 20-year-old college dropout who returns to her depressed hometown around Halloween. You explore the town, and the protagonist’s mental health, in an exquisitely-rendered fall season that sees you kicking up fallen leaves with every movement.
Life Is Strange (2015)
Life Is Strange puts the player in the shoes of a high school-aged girl who spontaneously develops the ability to rewind time in her sleepy Oregon town. Everything is bathed in golden sunlight, and there's a nip in the air—big feels and plot twists abound in equal measure.
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