Xbox Live August Games with Gold

Sunset Overdrive Xbox BundleAugust is just a few days away, and that means a new set of “free” games coming to Xbox Live. This month’s set has a few really solid games available, especially on the 360 front. It’s also the last month before the big new games start coming out – which is the perfect time to pick up a couple of these games and go through them.

On the Xbox One, the two games are Warriors Orochi 3 and WWE 2K16. I think the WWE one might be the more fun pick, but that’s maybe because I like the WWE games. Since 2K has taken over the series, the mechanics have gotten a bit more stable and while the source material is still as goofy as ever, the games are pretty fun. The character creator suite is actually pretty solid – you can make some close recreations of older wrestlers, or just total abominations. The achievements aren’t particularly crazy, and there’s still people playing online to get those ones taken care of.

What I’m really excited by are the Xbox 360 options – Spelunky and Beyond Good and Evil HD. Spelunky is one of the earlier examples of  modern rouge-like dungeon crawlers. It’s one of those games that I remember seeing explode over the internet, but for whatever reason I just never picked up. Now that it’s free, it’s definitely on my radar again. The same applies to Beyond Good and Evil – I very clearly remember when it came out back in the day, but it just never appealed to me. However, I totally understand the reverence that the game has garnered over the years. There’s a reason that the sequel, which has been seemingly in development for ages, is so highly anticipated. Since we’re still waiting, now might be the best time to pick up the re-released HD version.

Xbox Games With Gold – Goat Simulator/Super Meat Boy Thoughts

A new month brings new “free” games with the Xbox Live Games with Gold program. I grabbed the two new ones available for the first half of June: Goat Simulator and Super Meat Boy, and thought we’d talk a little about them.

Super Meat Boy

Let’s start with the Xbox One title, Goat Simulator. If you aren’t familiar with the premise, you are a goat, placed in a world that is nothing really more than a physics playground. There’s no plot, there’s no real objective outside of maybe getting a good score. It’s just a pure silly, fun time killer. The achievements are quick and easy, outside of the time on the collectibles and the nightmare that is flappy goat. The humor in there is definitely not going to be for everyone. But since it’s a free game, and outside of the flurry of FPS launches last month, we’re in the slow period of summer. There really isn’t any reason to not grab it, mess around for a few hours, and then clear it out. That’s what I’ve done at least.

On the other hand, the Xbox 360 game available right now is a longer burning game. Super Meat Boy is one of the best examples of why the Xbox Live Arcade was such a big part of the 360. It’s a throwback to when games were hard – really hard. It’s a platformer, with some light puzzle elements, and demands your precision to beat it. I played through the Light World levels over the weekend, along with a couple Dark World levels and Warp Zones. If you don’t have much in the way of patience with games, skip this one. Super Meat Boy is hard – and while the downtime between failures is small, the frustration can ratchet up really quick, especially when you know exactly what to do and just can’t quite nail it. It’s a leaderboard chaser’s dream game too though, as you keep shaving milliseconds off your time on each level. I think this one is a pretty tough sell across the board – if you don’t have the patience, or the thumbskill to beat the levels, all that Super Meat Boy is going to do is frustrate the hell out of you. It is a phenomenal game though, bringing the retro feel and also pulling in some dark humor as well.

Ultimately, both games offer up very, very different experiences. One is possibly the most casual game I’ve played outside of Minecraft, while the other is one of the most intense games out there. They’re both great at what they do, and since we’re in a bit of a slow period right now, very much worth picking up to play for a week or two. With E3 right around the corner, it also might not be a bad idea to play them as a bit of a palette cleanser before the summer cleanup season that always rolls around.

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.

Games With Gold: March 2016 – Borderlands

BorderlandsNext month’s Games with Gold were announced a couple days ago, and I was really excited to see the second 360 title: Borderlands. It’s heading to the marketplace in the second half of the month. With that in mind I thought I’d write up a quick refresher/prep guide for one of the best games of the last generation.

Borderlands is a FPS/RPG that’s built around four-player co-op. There are four different playable characters, each with a different unique ability. It’s got a real strong emphasis on random loot – enemies drop random guns, shields, grenade and class mods, as well as rewards from quests and chests. Gearbox and 2K like to say that there are “bazillions of guns” in Borderlands, and I believe them. If you’ve come into hybrid shooter/RPGs recently, say with Destiny, you have a good base to get into Borderlands, just expect more RPG than shooter. Also, expect a hell of a lot more variety in weapons and loot. When they say random loot, they really mean random loot.

The big selling point for me with Borderlands is that it has a simple, but effective story that is full of actual humor. A lot of games try to be funny, but most fall a little short or feel forced. Borderlands actually is funny – the writing is great, it’s got some heady humor mixed in with silly sophomoric stuff too. I’ve played through the full game twice already – once solo and once with a buddy. It’s a game that is definitely more fun played with a group though – we actually had started a four-man run right at the end of the 360’s run – now we’ll be able to finish it.

Borderlands Handsome Collection

What I would recommend if you’re interested in Borderlands, since it’s going to be free, is also looking in the DLC for it. There are four packs to get – each one is a little different. One is horror themed, one is based around arena battles, one is built around the main “bad-guy” faction from the main story and the final one is all about Claptrap (the best character). Now I don’t know for sure what’s going to happen when the game goes up with Games with Gold, but I would bet that the DLC will be marked down at least a little bit. The other option could be if they make the Game of the Year edition – that includes all the DLC. Regardless I do really recommend grabbing the DLC – it’s all really good. The new levels make it easier to go about building your character, each DLC added in new unique and legendary items that are really cool, and honestly they all help tie together the story of the first game.

One last point I want to make is that since it’s now going to be backwards compatible, you’ll be able to play all three Borderlands games with the Handsome Collection as well. If you picked up that set on XBox One, now is the time to fill out the collection with the original. It’s a fantastic example of co-op gameplay that also works as a solo game. It’s got great humor, pretty perfect action, and a really good loot system that keeps grinding from being boring. If you missed it when it came out in 2008, this is absolutely a perfect time to pick it up. The series is still going strong with the Tales From the Borderlands games, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a full third game coming our way soonish.

Xbox One Games with Gold – Thief

ThiefA new month brings new free games to Xbox Live. This month, I’ve actually played through one of the available games – it was actually one of the first Xbox One games I bought: Thief. I wrote about it way back when it came out, but now that it will be free for a month, I thought it might be nice to revisit my thoughts on it.

Ultimately it’s an alright game – since it’s free, there really isn’t a major reason now to not pick it up.  I do think it’s worth playing, if for no reason other than there really is only one other game like it out – Dishonored. Both games are very similar, probably because Dishonored drew pretty heavily on Thief‘s classic games as inspiration. When the series returned, it had to be a no brainer to look at Dishonored and pull from that game’s successes. There’s enough differences between the two where they definitely feel different – Thief takes place in a more open world setting than Dishonored, but there are pretty clear parallels than can be drawn.

Of course, just because it looks and plays similarly to a great game like Dishonored, that doesn’t mean that the return of Garet went flawlessly. Being truthful, Thief has some pretty noticeable shortcomings. The story is pretty flat – I don’t really remember the point looking back at it now. The gameplay itself tries to push you towards the non-violent options, which is good because combat was pretty poor. I remember having some sizable gripes with the controls too – the felt rather clunky. I also think it had a wonky difficulty curve to it – some parts I remember being very challenging, and others were breezes.

At the end of the day what I think Thief is is a good example of where “next-gen” games were back early last year. It was still trying to balance both being on Xbox One and on Xbox 360, and it shows. But it’s free. It’s worth at least running through once, getting some easy gamerscore and then clearing it off your hard drive. If it were merely on sale, I’d say pass, but $0.00 is zero pressure to be good.

Volgarr The Viking – Old School Design Done Right

Volgarr the VikingTaking a quick break from talking Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, I want to talk today about the November Game With Gold for the Xbox One – Volgarr The Viking. I hadn’t heard much, if anything, prior to the announcement that it was the game of the month. Which is really a great analogy for the game – it’s a game that is really barebones. No major press on the blogs, no huge banner ads on the Xbox dashboard. The game itself is just the same – no flashy menus, no complicated systems to learn, hell there really isn’t any intro beyond a quick load and then you’re off. There’s no tutorials to wade through, learning mechanics you already have known for years. Instead, Volgarr throws you right into the deep end, and you better swim.

That mentality of sink or swim is pretty refreshing these days. I’ve written before about how I think the loss of manuals in games has totally impacted the overall nature of game design. Developers have to put more tutorial content into the games since those manuals don’t exist anymore. Volgarr is an example of a game that would have had a pretty damn good manual back in the day – explaining the story, characters and powerups – none of which is in the game. And it fits and works totally perfectly. If you didn’t know better, you could totally think Volgarr was some deep cut on the SNES, being reissued 20 years later. It’s extremely reminiscent of Ghosts N’ Goblins – demanding players have pinpoint platforming control, and doesn’t give them a ton of health to mess around with. It’s a game that requires you to learn the patterns of the levels, repetition is part of the experience. Which might sound like a bad thing, but anyone who’s played lots of old school games, this just feels like it always did back in the day. Learn the patterns, know where enemies spawn, get your execution up to snuff and you’ll be able to run through levels with ease. That learning portion though isn’t going to be easy, and you might be frustrated a bit, but that’s part of these old school games.

Bottom line is really that this is absolutely a game worth picking up. Not only is it free, so that’s not an excuse, but it’s a great illustration that game design doesn’t need to be overbearing. It can be subtle level design to introduce mechanics. It’s learning through repetition. It’s a great old school game that feels like it belongs on an SNES.