April’s Xbox Game Pass, Gold Newcomers Not Putting On a Big Show
There’s a storm coming on the horizon for Xbox’s Game Pass and Games With Gold subscription service, in the form of relatively even competition in the monthly game subscription arena. By the time June rolls around, the comparisons will become much more evenly balanced. Who knows whether a new sub service arms race will kick into gear – here’s hoping both really push it to make their services extra appealing – but until then, it’s unsurprising to see the Xbox take a step back from huge titles at this point.
April is a relatively normal month for Game Pass and Gold, in which the biggest titles are an interactive adventure game and a repeat of a day-and-date sports title that came to the service last year to much more fanfare, and once again with very little attention paid to the waning Games With Gold section of the program. Let’s take a closer look at the games, but before doing so, head over and Grab a 3-Month Subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate at Amazon.
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Life is Strange: True Colors
The development teams at Dontnod Entertainment and Deck Nine Games have gradually crafted a franchise of meaningful interactive adventures with the Life is Strange series, which incorporate meaningful relationship, political, and sexual identity themes into alluring mysteries. Responsibility for the series moving forward seems to be in the hands of Deck Nine, though – Dontnod plunged deeper into challenging character mysteries with the middling-reviewed Tell Me Why – with Life is Strange: True Colors standing as Deck Nine’s first fresh creation independent from the established characters.
Players gain control of Alex Chen, a young woman with supernatural “empathy” powers whose traumatic family history looped her into the foster care system, but who later gets to reconnect with her brother in the town of Haven Springs, Colorado. When her brother ends up being murdered shortly after, Alex has to use her powers to help connect with those in connection with Gabe and bring her closer to answers to what happened. Both critics and players appreciate the substance of Alex’s character, the ways that graphics and facial animations enhanced small dramatic conversations, and the intimacy of the supernatural powers, though Life is Strange: True Colors does get dinged for being too effortlessly pleasant and for the branching paths all seeming like they arrive at the same destination.
MLB The Show 2022
Last year around this time, The Show made its debut onto Xbox consoles for the very first time, marking the end of a very long exclusivity deal that kept licensed MLB simulation games locked onto its competitor’s devices. Also at this time last year, the decision was made to also include The Show 2021 through the Game Pass program, a significant move from the growing premium subscription service. With those things together, expectations naturally grew with how San Diego Studio would elevate the quality for this new generation of video game consoles. Turns out? Not significantly enough to be celebrated by critics or players, who acknowledge its continuing high quality and lack of advancement.
Well, the folks at Xbox have once again made this year’s installment of The Show available through their subscription program, with the game arriving just in time in April for the MLB lockout to end. This iteration changes things up a bit more – a beefed-up stadium creation feature, new play-by-play announcers pulled from ESPN Radio, an expanded version of the shorter career mode – but for the most part critics and players acknowledge that the gameplay’s about the same as it was from the previous iteration. This isn’t a bad thing exactly, as it remains a deep, engaging and up-to-date sim that can scratch the itch either for a quick game or a lengthy customized career experience.
As players continue to get the itch to run through a new Fallout experience – one that isn’t online, mind you – they continue to pursue alternatives, whether it’s similar first-person survival exploration games or top-down, storytelling-rich dystopian RPGs in the vein of Wasteland 3 or Disco Elysium. Weird West, the debut title from WolfEye Studios made up of creative heads from Arkane Studios, aims to tap into the attitude of the latter with some of the vigorousness of the former. The key difference? If you screw up in this warped frontier, you might not be able to fix it.
Weird West allows the player to explore a dark western landscape and gives them the freedom to interact with the environment in a multitude of ways, though the gameplay itself hinges on twinstick shooting action that’s faster-paced and more reactive than similar isometric games. Certain aspects are randomized in the world, yet if something’s destroyed or killed, it stays that way in the game. That can also apply to the player character, as there’s also a permadeath mode available. As with many games from this subgenre, both critics and players heap praise upon the world-building, character interactions, and the ambitions of the gameplay systems in Weird World, but have taken issue with the execution of the gameplay and aesthetics, leading to imbalanced RPing and polarizing combat through tech issues.
The most recent season of F1 racing turned out to be one of the most high-stakes and controversial on the books, which was already made complicated by the cancellations of several races due to the pandemic. There’s obviously no way for the team at Codemasters to predict the future when developing their videogame adaptation of F1’s 2021 season, so this title ends up being unique in a bunch of ways, most prominently in the fact that players are still able to engage in the races that were cancelled in Australia, Canada, Japan and China.
On top of that, F1 2021 is also noteworthy for being the first title released after EA acquired Codemasters and took over publishing duties. The move didn’t seem to hamper the developer’s ambitions for this latest title, though, as the inclusion of new career storytelling, multiple player modes, playable professionals, and improved graphics bring the franchise into the new console generation with a fresh coat of paint and a few new parts under the hood. It’s what folks have come to expect from Codemasters, though, and hope to continue expecting it from them in the years to come.
Xbox Games With Gold
The Games With Gold aspect of the subscription service remains a footnote, unfortunately, sporting 2 Xbox One titles and 2 legacy Xbox titles that generate very little enthusiasm for a download … yet still hold some mild intrigue for the fastidious subscriber. Over on the Xbox One, there’s Another Sight (April 1-30), a puzzle-platformer about a blind girl and her cat as they use their strengths and weaknesses to get through challenging environments. While it earned praise for a unique concept, it doesn’t offer enough focused execution or challenge to be regarded as highly as others. Then there’s HUE (April 16 – May 15), another puzzle platformer that merges gameplay concepts from the likes of Outland and Braid, creating a silhouetted play experience based on how the player changes the background shade and interacts with it. Players and critics have been warmer to HUE, praising its aesthetic and polished execution.
On the legacy Xbox side of things, there’s Outpost: Kaloki X (April 1-15), in which the player gets to channel their inner Elon Musk and dream up new living space stations in a fashion similar to SimCity. The more revenue generated by the type of station created by the user, the more they can expand and improve, and the better they can balance their resources. The other title is MX vs ATV Alive (Apri; 16-30), a middling-reviewed dirt bike and 4-wheeler racing game that players and critics have dinged for being a superficial title that’s got extreme racing across a limited number of courses and little else.