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.

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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.

Xbox Games with Gold – June 2016

Sunset Overdrive Xbox BundleLike they do every month, Microsoft announced the upcoming “free” games available to Xbox Live Gold subscribers. I say “free” because you do need to be paying for the Gold subscription, but the games themselves don’t cost anything extra. The Games with Gold program has been really hit and miss over the last few years that it’s been around. Some months, it’s got a couple really incredible games – in the past Dark Souls, Sunset Overdrive, and Halo 3 have all appeared as “free” titles. Sometimes though the games are maybe a little lower on the totem pole. What I have always really enjoyed about the program is that it has always put a lot of Arcade/Indie titles in the spotlight. I picked up Guacamelee along with a few other titles in the same kinda vein. And that’s certainly the style game I’m looking for with the June games.

The two Xbox One titles are on total opposite sides of the tone spectrum. On one hand, we’ve got Goat Simulator, a game that just has humor and character for days. It’s got no direct plot, just go be a goat and do all kinds of crazy stuff. I’m honestly really looking forward to playing it next month – as interesting a game as I think it is, I was more interested in spending my money on other games. The other side of the spectrum though we have The Crew, a much more serious racing game. This is one of those games that I was pretty excited about pre-launch, but after launch, the impressions I kept seeing seemed that it fell a bit short. I like the concept of being able to race all the way across the U.S. I like the idea of building up a car club – that’s something that we haven’t really seen in a racing game in a few years. Since it’s going to be free, there’s really no downside to picking it up and trying it out.

On the Xbox 360 front we have the usual set-up; a full game and an Arcade title. The full game, X-Com is one that has received tons critical acclaim since it, and recently the sequel, launched. It’s a pretty intense RPG/RTS, featuring permadeath for characters, meaning each mission has some pretty high stakes. I totally see the value in a game like that, but the RTS genre has never been a style game that I’ve liked, and X-Com, for all it’s strengths was never really a game that I was interested in. The Arcade title on the other hand is one that I’m kinda disappointed in myself for never actually picking up. It was a game that I wanted to get, ever since launch, and just never pulled the trigger. Now that Super Meat Boy is going to be free though, I can finally play one of the best pure platformers in recent memory. It’s as old-school as they come – demanding extreme precision and control to navigate the levels. At this point, you probably have at least heard of the game, and now it’s free to pick up.

The Games with Gold program is a really cool thing that Microsoft does – and I know Sony does the same thing. It ensures that no matter what, as long as you have a Gold subscription, you have access to at least four new games, every month. With games being as expensive as they are, having free games each month is a really nice thing. I do wish that maybe they could pick some newer titles sometimes, but that feels a little entitled to me.

Goodnight Sweet Prince – The Xbox 360 Bows Out

Xbox 360 LogoToday marks a pretty significant milestone for console gaming. Earlier today, Microsoft boss Phil Specter announced that Xbox will stop manufacturing new Xbox 360 consoles. The console marked its ten year anniversary in the fall of last year, which is an insane lifespan for technology. It’s a little sad to see it enter the final chapter, but it’s a good excuse to talk about some of the consoles highlights.

Before we talk games, there’s the console itself. Microsoft was in an interesting spot going into the console generation – despite being a company since the late 70’s, it was the new kid on the block with consoles. The original Xbox had shown that they could create a console that could appeal to the adult gaming audience as well as the overall crossover audience. But compared with the huge success of the PlayStation 2, it was definitely the little brother of the group. The 360 showed a tremendous amount of growth, even with a somewhat rocky launch. It showed that Microsoft was dedicated to creating a home console that belonged, not just a quick grab for money. From relatively consistent system upgrades – some that completely overhauled the dashboard we saw every day – to providing the best online service for consoles, the Xbox 360 gave the Xbox brand the identity it needed. Plus Achievements and Gamerscore started on the 360, and I’m a pretty damn big fan of them.

Skyrim

One of the complaints I really remember from the early days is one that would end up being the total opposite of how the 360 was. It’s one that I myself made in the early days – the launch window games were somewhat crap. A Call of Duty – the last Infinity Ward World War Two game in fact – and Kameo are really the only two that I can even remember. Which is a far cry from the last five or so years – Halo, Call of Duty, Fallout/Elder Scrolls, BioShock, Gears of War, Minecraft, the list just goes on and on. The Xbox One may be struggling to grab those third party exclusives – I’m looking at you Destiny and Call of Duty – but on the 360, it was the exact opposite case. DLC came out first for those big third party games on the 360, pretty much across the board. Combine that with the Xbox Live upgrades that really solidified it as an integral part of the Xbox brand, and it was pretty easy to see why that was the case. It’s hard to imagine, not just Xbox gaming, but console gaming in general without the rise of Xbox Live and Halo and Call of Duty during the 360.

Now that the console is entering the final phase of its life, it’s the perfect time to go back and revisit some truly classic games. With backwards compatible games coming to the Xbox One more and more frequently, there are plenty of ways to play them too. If you got rid of your console, but still have the discs, that’s totally fine. If you have a full collection of digital games, the Xbox One has you covered there too. While we’re starting to see a few games coming out now – Dark Souls, Battleborn, Overwatch, DOOM – it’s not quite as crazy as the fall, so while it’s a little slow maybe go back and play a favorite. It’s always a good idea.

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.

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.

Xbox One Backwards Compatibility Thoughts

Xbox OneWith the new Xbox One Experience that launched last month, Microsoft has brought to the console a feature that we have been asking for since the original launch of the console. We can now play, in a limited capacity, Xbox 360 titles on the Xbox One. The really nice thing is that that isn’t limited to physical copies of games – Games on Demand titles can be brought forward as well.

While it’s not an exhaustive list – and really we shouldn’t expect to be at all, there were easily thousands of games on the 360 – Microsoft was smart with this first 100 or so titles. They feature a lot of the biggest games from the last console generation. From Microsoft exclusives like the Rare games and Gears of War; to big third party titles like Rainbow Six Vegas and Fallout 3 there’s a really good mix of games out there. One other nice thing here is that you don’t actually need to currently still own your 360 to get the digital games – you can purchase them right on Xbox.com. For people who maybe sold their Xbox 360 to make room for the Xbox One, this is a really nice addition.

The actual execution of the backwards compatibility play is also pretty damn smart. Instead of having it behave vastly different, it works just like it already does on both consoles. The Xbox One requires games to be installed to the hard drive – including the 360 titles – so that’s the first step. And it’s a step that anyone with an Xbox One already takes with games. That keeps people from having to learn another way to move about their console. When you actually load up the 360 game, your Xbox One transforms right in front of you. It runs the 360 start-up noises, and acts just like an emulator. As someone who played the 360 for almost ten years, it’s a pretty welcoming feeling to see it come up. You still have access to the Xbox 360 Guide even – that’s fantastic.

It might be a little later than we would have liked, but now that it’s here, I think it’s a really good addition to the console. Sure the Xbox One has a couple quirks to it that I would like to see tweaked. Sometimes it’s in specific games – I’m looking at you Destiny and not having private in-game fireteams. But Microsoft has done a really good job, this year in particular, of looking at the console and the wants of the fanbase, and then applying what they can to the console. We’re still very early in this console generation, and while I do think that the PlayStation 4 got off to a much strong start, I think the Xbox One is starting to finally come into its own.