April’s Games with Gold Update

Microsoft announced April’s Games with Gold today, and it’s possibly the best set of games they’ve ever had. While they aren’t exactly free – you do need an active Xbox Live Gold subscription to get them, but they won’t cost you anything extra beyond that. So let’s go over the three games that I’ve actually played already.

Sunset Overdrive Cover

On the Xbox One front, the second half of April will bring with it Sunset Overdrive. It’s a Microsoft exclusive game, a third-person action adventure game with a pretty strong emphasis on irreverence and humor, without being juvenile. It’s a legitimately funny game, and has the gameplay to back it up. It’s a fun game at its core – the story is serviceable without being overbearing, and there’s enough side content to keep you playing. Collectibles, side-missions, item collection and upgrading all is there to keep you invested in seeing the game through to completion. It’s got a fun horde-mode style co-op mode as well. I loved playing it last winter – it was a great off-game from Destiny and Call of Duty and Dragon Age. It’s free for the second half of the month – it’s absolutely worth picking it up and playing it. It’s fun, bright, colorful and for a third-person shooter/action game has a fantastic switch up in movement away from cover based combat. Really glad that it’s going to be available for free for a wide audience.

 

Dead Space CoverOn the Xbox 360 front, the two games coming this month are both amazing choices. The first half of the month has Dead Space coming, and the second half brings Saints Row IVDead Space is one of those 360 games that I’ve talked about on here a couple times, since I consistently put it on my favorite games list from the console. It’s probably the best traditional style survival horror game to come out on the console, and I think still is arguably holding that title today. It takes the traditional setting, puts it into a Sci-Fi world, and inverts the main combat mechanic, putting players on their toes right away. Where it really excels is that the feeling of dread and tenseness doesn’t go away as you get more powerful – there really isn’t a point where you feel like you are golden against any enemy. You are always potentially near death, and that’s what I want out of a survival horror game.

 

Saints Row IVSaints Row IV is a little different story. It’s not the best game in that particular series, like I think Dead Space is. It’s not quite on the same level as its direct competitor – Grand Theft Auto – but it fills a spot in gaming that I think is super important. It, much like Sunset Overdrive, is one of those games that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It pokes fun at tropes across the gaming, and truly entertainment industry in general, spectrum. It’s a game that takes challenge out of the equation – you’ll be able to grab invincibility pretty early on in the game, and it changes the tone even further. It’s a game that you play because it is just inherently fun – you fly around, you jump like crazy, and the game just doesn’t give two shits about being serious about anything. It’s pure popcorn fun, and absolutely worth playing. With the 360 Games with Gold being available to play on Xbox One now, and starting the 28th of this month you’ll be able to pick up them on the Xbox One too, it’s even easier to get three games that are definitely worth playing.

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Xbox 360 Games That Need to be Backwards Compatible

Xbox 360 LogoMicrosoft announced this week that in the next update coming to the Xbox One, Xbox 360 titles that are part of the backwards compatibility feature will be able to be purchased from the Xbox Live Store right on the Xbox One. They’ve been good about making the Games with Gold games be backwards compatible, but there’s always been that one little barrier that might be keeping people from picking them up – you needed to either still log on the 360 to “buy” them, or go on to the Marketplace on Xbox.com to do the same. Hopefully bringing the 360’s marketplace to the Xbox One will open up a whole bunch of classics from the last generation to make the backwards compatible leap. So with that in mind, I thought I’d pick out a couple 360 games that really need to be brought into the backwards compatible program – if for no reason other than new gamers really should play them.

BioShock CoverWe’ll start with the BioShock series. I’ve seen a couple rumors floating around that there are plans to bring them forward in an HD/Definitive Edition Collection, similar to what 2K did with Borderlands. Assuming that doesn’t come to fruition, the three games should at least come forward as backwards compatibility titles. The first game is arguably one of the best story driven shooters of all time, and is in my personal top five for the entire 360’s library. There’s a lot of depth in the combat with the Plasmid system, bringing in a little RPG flavor to a shooter with a ton of character, and one of the most intriguing settings in modern gaming with Rapture. The sequel was a little bit of a stumble – I wouldn’t call it a step back, but it wasn’t the step forward that maybe it should have been. There are some really cool innovations – playing as a prototype Big Daddy was awesome, and being able to wield a Plasmid and weapon at the same time made combat a little more fluid. Where I think the biggest misstep was with BioShock 2 was the addition of multiplayer, which felt a little forced to me. Luckily, BioShock Infinite brought the series back to really solid ground, even when the game wasn’t set on particularly solid ground. It took the ideas that the first game presented, married it with the updated action from the second, and then ran with them. I’d love to see that HD collection happen, but if not, these games really need to be available through backwards compatibility.

Another game on my personal top 1o list is Dead Space – the first game is still one of the best examples of survival horror, using a pretty standard sci-fi setting and cranking the terror up through immersive storytelling and unique enemy interaction. When we think survival horror, we think zombies – that’s just the nature of the beast thanks mainly to Resident Evil. With Dead Space, the tried and true zombie killing approach was turned on its head – the game punishes you for shooting the Necromorphs in the head. The most base instinct of any gun-based combat actually is the wrong answer – beheading them makes them much more dangerous; instead the game, using in-world assets (messages sprawled on the walls in blood) to tell you to shoot their limbs. The sequels got a little away from the real sensation of claustrophobia that the Ishimora had in the first game, opting for an increasing focus on combat. As much as I prefer to see full series available on backwards compatibility, the first Dead Space really needs to come forward.

Dragon Age OriginsI have three more groups of games that I want to talk about today. Each is relevant to the current gaming market in different ways, and each is cemented in that conversation of “best of the generation.” We’ll start with the Dragon Age games. I actually just reinstalled Dragon Age: Inquisition to my Xbox One, since it was cleared when my box died back in October. BioWare is one of my favorite developers – their characters and stories are consistently some of the best in gaming across the board. They’ve proven that they can craft engaging stories, with characters that feel real, in worlds that feel lived in; and still have the gameplay to keep players invested in RPGs that can easily creep up into that 60 hour range. Dragon Age takes that idea and brings in the classic Dungeons and Dragons mechanics to the combat. BioWare used that same d20 system in their first third-person RPG, Knights of the Old Republic. Dragon Age just brought that d20 system back to high fantasy, and makes sure to have a story in place that makes sense and is engaging. Since the third game did so well on the current-gen consoles, it really just makes sense to bring the first two games to backward compatibility. There’s not a huge amount of connection, outside of certain characters and story/world elements linking the third game to the first two, so new players might not have the same background with the Lore.

Sticking with BioWare, their other main franchise is another that’s in my top five: Mass Effect. I’ve talked in the past about how much I want an HD collection of the Shepard trilogy on the current-gen consoles, if for no reason other than to tide me over until Mass Effect Andromeda. Baring that, those three games really should be available to play through the backwards compatibility on Xbox One. They’re a more balanced blend of RPG and shooter mechanics, mainly because of the realtime combat, and use of a third-person cover system. With these kind of genre blended games becoming much more common, I think bringing an example of not only one of the earliest blended shooter/RPGs, but still one of the best of those games. Shepard’s story is both grand and intimate, the themes that lie underneath this huge space sci-fi epic are decidedly human. It is one of the first modern games I can remember to put a big emphasis on player choices and decisions. The idea of Paragon and Renegade playthroughs, character interactions that put actual value on your responses, and an ending that, in theory, is driven by player choice all were super innovative nine years ago. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who either missed the series because they were too young, or because they weren’t into RPGs or whatever other reasons you can think of – bringing them to backwards compatibility means that a new generation of players could sit down and play through one of the best trilogies of games ever. Since the first game is on the list, I don’t know why the other two haven’t been added yet.

SkyrimFinally, one last set of games – Bethesda’s RPGs. Fallout 3 is already available – it came with Fallout 4 – but their other three RPGs: Fallout New VegasElder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim all haven’t made the leap yet. With Fallout 4 starting its DLC season shortly, the time might be a little crunched, but I definitely think that they really belong on the list. New Vegas added in a lot more RPG depth to the characters, and Hardcore mode is a totally unique way of playing Bethesda RPGs. The Elder Scrolls games were the RPGs, especially Oblivion that started me getting into more traditional and deeper RPGs as opposed to Pokemon and Final Fantasy. With Elder Scrolls Online on the current-gen consoles, I think it makes sense to try and put at least Skyrim on that backwards list, if it isn’t already. I know that studios are starting to really pull away from the last generation – and that’s been something I’ve wanted to see from developers for about a year now – but there are still games from last-gen that I think can exist with the backwards compatibility. I don’t know how much effort it takes to put them on that list of games that is backwards compatible, but if I were Microsoft, I know that I would really be trying to get Skyrim on there.

A Question to Ponder: Part Two – Bad Games to Live In

Call of Duty: Modern WarfareYesterday I brought up a hypothetical question that I’ve been thinking on this week. If you had the ability, what game universes would be the best ones to hop into and live in for a while. We set a couple ground rules – you would be the main character, the game rules all still apply, and should you game over, you are banned from that world for some period of time. Yesterday I picked out a couple universes that I thought would be good ones to live in. Today, let’s hit the other side of the spectrum – the bad games to hop into.

CALL OF DUTY
Really this could just say any FPS game here, but I singled out Call of Duty mainly because of one reason. Any Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare has featured massive set pieces. Buildings exploding, tumbling down on top of you; helicopters crashing down right in front of you; or massive oil rigs on fire. Add in the end-game moments, pulling a knife from your chest comes to mind; and I think you have a formula for a world that would be pretty rough to experience. And really you could say the same about Halo, Battlefield or even Medal of Honor.

Grand Theft Auto V

GRAND THEFT AUTO
I mentioned it a little yesterday that I didn’t pick Grand Theft Auto, instead going with Saints Row. My reasoning for going this way was that in GTA, the odds are you will be in constant danger of dieing. Whether it’s from the jobs you’re doing, the diversions you undertake, or just driving throughout the city, with no regard for rules at all. It really doesn’t matter which game you pick either – each one has the same basic problem. The freedom that the games provide all result in all kinds of dangerous situations. Add in the different gangs and mobs and other nefarious folk that want you dead and you have a recipe for a very dangerous time.

Dead Space Cover

DEAD SPACE
I think that this is one of those games that speaks for itself. If you’ve played Dead Space I think it’s pretty evident why it would be a horrifying experience. For those that haven’t played the game, the short version is that it’s basically Resident Evil in space. Now, there’s a lot more going on than that – but the basics are there. Evil group bent on controlling the primary enemy type for their own end? Check. Unbelievably tense environments that hid enemies around every corner? Check. Massive boss enemies that put the normal baddies to shame? Check. Add in the somewhat more visceral nature of the Necromorphs and I don’t think it’s too far of a leap to say Dead Space would be horrible to be in. Great games, terrible life.

BioShock Cover

BIOSHOCK AND POKEMON
This is where I make my picks that aren’t actually bad picks. In fact, both series could actually be kinda fun to be in. Exploring Rapture would be both unnerving, but also really pretty cool. Living in a world with Pokemon would also have some super awesome possibilities, especially since with our rules saying you’re the main character. But those same Pokemon could very well create all kinds of havoc. If we’re looking exclusively at the plots of the games, I could maybe put them in the good list. But since this is all about experiencing the worlds beyond the framework of the games, I can very easily see them both being dangerous.

Now, just because I don’t think these particular games would be bad to actually be a part of, doesn’t mean I think they’re bad games. In fact I really love each game on this list. I’ve said BioShock is one of the best games ever, let alone the last ten years. And putting them on this list doesn’t make them any less immersive either. Again, BioShock has one of the most engaging settings ever – Rapture truly feels alive, which is a hell of an accomplishment for an FPS. This whole question was more about physically entering the worlds, and being a part of them – this particular list is more about the worlds that just might be more trouble than they’re worth. I’m not by any means saying I’m right or wrong with either set of games – far from it. I just think it’s a fun little thing to think about, especially with so many great games out there these days.