The best Christmas-themed mods and addons

Make the season merry with these great festive overhauls of your favorite games.

For many, Christmas is a sacred time. That’s why -- I assume based on an overwhelming Illuminati under-the-table handshake system -- most games avoid Christmas as a setting. But over the course of capital-G Games History, there have been a few notable exceptions. A Nightmare Before Christmas PS2 sequel allowed you to whip monsters as Jack Skellington. And last year, Dead Rising 4 set its zombie mall-pocalype against a holiday backdrop. The pause menu Christmas Jazz remains my favorite thing to loop behind a party.

But what about the games that were fine as they were, and then opted to throw a little Christmas cheer atop their content tree? That’s why I’m rounding up some of the best Christmas mods, DLC, and otherwise bonus holiday spirits.

Minecraft

Sure, this is exactly the kind of game that lets you build anything you can dream of, but does it let you build a stocking to hang by the chimney with care? Yeah, I guess. But it’s in hope that some creepers soon will be there.

The 2012 version added in candy towers and candy trees that could be harvested for candy which could be exchanged for candy and this sounds as meaningless to me as a game of Settlers of Catan, but at least in Minecraft I can see all the holiday cheer. An entire list of mods is available at 9minecraft.net, where you can change everything from the attack power of snowmen monsters to the frequency at which twinkly lights twinkle. I have yet to find anything that allows me to insert Notch as the Grinch, however.

Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star

This companion game to Hatoful Boyfriend: A School of Hope and White Wings re-immerses you in the world of a dating sim set in an avian universe; i.e. bird smooches. You’d be hard pressed to explain the original game to someone outside of the dating sim slash Twitter boyfriend world, so explaining what comes with a holiday expansion creates a black hole from which my brain cannot escape. This episodic adventure has is broken into distinct storylines. Here is the summary of just one:

"A brutal team of thieves, here to steal the city's beloved Christmas trees. We thought they were just an urban legend—until now! They're after the tree, and that rhymes with T, which stands for Trouble, right here in Littledove Hachiman City. Christmas trees, disappearing. A dark shadow, wriggling just out of sight. Can our faithful heroes from Saint Pigeonation's put an end to this mystery before it puts an end to them!?"

Coo’. I mean, I think that has everything you need from Christmas, right? Run and tell your pastor about the good news. Or… keep your love of this series a dirty little secret, like I do.

Doom II: X-Mas Nightmare Mod

Perhaps the most chuckle-inducing inclusion on this list is the complete revamp given to Doom II for a Christmas mod that features presents, Christmas trees, Mario-style Boos, and even little silly hats on top of demons.

With New Year just around the corner, sometimes looking back on where games have come from can fill you with a bizarre sense of joy that is completely separate from nostalgia. Firing up this elaborate mod is a reminder that a game I’ve bought on a dozen different platforms in my lifetime also begat a modding community where no one’s work was any lesser or distinguishable from the original creators’ -- at least when you’re dealing with the folks willing to put in the work. The fact a couple of WADs and some great level design can still fill me with Pure Game Joy while playing a title nearly as old as I amis a real testament to the power of games.

Throwing in some Christmas trees never hurts either.

Cossacks 3: Christmas Gift

I’ll be real: this one made the list because I had no idea the main game even existed, so now it is absolutely on my Christmas list for myself.

This free download is an expansion upon a mixed-reviewed RTS game that also combines elements of economy management and army building in a throwback to PC strategy games of old. This remake of the title from 2000 features graphical upgrades, more intricate game systems, and now: reindeer defense missions.

There’s a real delight in seeing war sims apply the exact same level of serious, grimdark tonal flourish to the silliest possible concept, but going all in is what Christmas is all about. Watching waves of soldiers impale each other is just a nice bonus. I’m also now deeply resentful that Command & Conquer never did a Christmas tie-in to allow Mr. Tim Curry to “ho, ho, ho” at us in his most resentful, only-here-for-the-paycheck laugh.

Fallout 4 Mods

There’s no winter more festive than the permanent winter of nuclear fallout. That’s why all good Vault Boys and Vault Girls want to decorate their bunk beds for the season of climate corruption that never ends. The main Fallout 4 game includes Christmas trees, but the world of F4 modders began their run by fixing what direction toilet paper unrolls in the in-game bathrooms, so of course they Improved Christmas Trees with a download.

The Christmas Mod is the best place to start though, as this intense addition puts new outfits, items, and even festive hats around the Wasteland and within crafting distance. There’s even a secret loot item that only appears on Christmas Day, which is a delightful touch.

For the more festive among you, there’s a replacement for the radio stations with a new Christmas-y touch. For the more brutal among you: Santa Power Armor.

Jack In The Dark

In 1993, the world was still shaking from the release of Alone in the Dark. The game essentially created the survival horror genre, between its bizarre tank controls, forced perspective camera angles, and a big mansion that -- look, what I’m saying is, Alone in the Dark did everything Resident Evil did but first and also more Adventure Game-y. It’s a nightmare to revisit now, but also everything you ever loved in the 90s ripped it off. It’s the Spinal Tap of games.

Jack in the Dark was a ten-minute interim adventure to bridge the story of the first and second game, by completely ignoring everything you might be looking for. Instead, we have a new character, Grace. Trapped in an evil toy shop, Grace must defeat all the haunted toys in an effort to… uh, oh god, who knows? I’m stuck on how horrifying the character model is. But, to wit, not only did Alone in the Dark invent survival horror as we know it, it invented the tie-in as well. Applause where applause is due for transitioning assets to make a demon possessed jack-in-the-box come to life on no budget.

Also, what a goddamned comedic gift of a name.

Saints Row IV: How the Saints Saved Christmas

If you haven’t taken the dive on Saints Row IV, let’s just start with the assumed yet unmentioned truth: You are a war criminal. You haven’t just let your friends down, you have done atrocities against mankind and a court of your peers will find you wanting. That said, grab IV at your earliest convenience to see the concept of Sequel performed as Art. Shlock and Structural Tropes transcend to become something so much more, so finding the Christmas DLC missions on-par with this genius should come as no surprise. The How the Saints Saved Christmas DLC continues the series tradition of putting the primary Saints characters at the forefront of a new batch of lore, but this time they supplant Santa himself for the story of peace on Earth (? possibly?) and good-ish will towards…. well, any gender.

This DLC takes you to a Christmas Town where you must disrupt both Christmas film screenings and Gingerbread-Man attacks, mostly by way of BB guns, with which you can put out MANY EYES. From here you invade the North Pole and eventually bring down a murderous Santa surrogate over Stillwater itself. Post-story, you can now call forth an evil flying Santa sled for bombing your enemies along with holiday themed Dubstep gun upgrades, bringing joy to the children of the simulation year-round.

Batman: Arkham Origins - Cold, Cold Heart DLC

The only Arkham game to not come from Rocksteady, this is one of those titles that got skipped over, not only due to content, but by releasing right between console generations. (It still isn’t backward compatible on the Xbox One.) There was something mesmerizing about the work done here, though, as an open world Gotham got the snow and blinky lights treatment which evokes Batman Returns at its best and Batman Returns at its worst. Throwing some snow on everything isn’t a new idea (looking at you, Dead Space 3) but it is less the Christmas Eve setting that we need to focus on here than the Cold, Cold Heart DLC.

Penguin gets some attention here, as he should, but focusing on Mister Freeze and his tragic backstory gives the bitter aftertaste to a holiday story gone wrong that makes this just the right level of Frank Kapra Christmas bleakness. The main game may flesh out your relationship with Joker in spotty ways, but Cold, Cold Heart defines what makes Batman such a Scrooge.

Killing Floor

While this game has never been my jam, diving into YouTube videos of teens losing their mind while playing it fills me with a weird desire to jump in right now anyway. “Twisted Christmas” is a yearly in-game event where the blood’n’guts of zombie hoards meet face-to-gun with the love and belief of the human spirit. Tripwire Entertainment doles out holiday-themed features in the form of evil snowmen and gingerdead zombies, contained within story-based adventures. Getting as many friends as possible together during the holidays is as much a delight as it is a chance to guarantee all of your teammates are getting yelled at by family members for not participating in family holiday events YES MOM I KNOW.

The grindhouse visual filters are always a nice touch.

Duke Nukem - Nuclear Winter

An official Duke expansion pack, this hits upon some of the same joy in revisiting Doom’s XMas Nightmare. Retro titles still had so much they were capable of that it can still feel surprising, discovering a new map, even after all these years. Unfortunately, there’s some odd twists on this one.

There’s a lot of backstory involving Santa and a telegram, which is somehow more than the original title included. Yet, this winds up being most of the same levels, with a few items pallet-swapped and some dinky Christmas-bit music added over the top. The idea that the aliens from the original title were “evil feminists” who are brainwashing Santa is also one of those Huge 1996 Mis-Steps that is more groan-inducing than funny today -- and probably was back then too.

Duke heads to the North Pole and winds up…. Look, we’ll just end on this:

Again, this was an official release. MERRY CHRISTMAS!