December’s Xbox Game Pass, Gold Titles: More Than Halo: Infinite is Among Us

By on December 16, 2021

There’s little use denying that the past year has been a challenge for the video game industry, notably for fans of Xbox systems who haven’t had much luck finding their Series console of choice since November of 2020. There aren’t many ways that Microsoft can really make up for it, either, because of factors beyond their control. However, one could consider their big Game Pass Ultimate addition at least a mild way of softening the blow for those who subscribe to their preferred monthly service regardless of console: the inclusion of the latest title in what’s arguably the most significant, important franchise in the history of Xbox.

Like most other things surrounding it, the rest of the titles are less memorable from both the other Game Pass offerings and the Games With Gold, but there are a few gems that aren’t so sus from among the rest.  Let’s take a closer look, but before we do, jump over and Grab a 3-Month Subscription to Game Pass Ultimate on Amazon to gain the benefits of both sides.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate – New and Upcoming

Halo: Infinite

For an entertaining deep-dive into the evolution of gaming and evidence of just how ingrained Halo is with the culture, head over and search through the images on Google for “Halo LAN party”. You’ll spot many things: big, outdated televisions and monitors; bottles of beer and Mountain Dew atop foldout tables; nearly as many smiles or intense faces as there are cables spread out everywhere. Most of these parties focused on the highly refined multiplayer of Halo 2, but all the early titles had their moments of fun like this before online multiplayer really took over … and even now, convenience be damned, people tap into nostalgia with classic LAN get-togethers. In essence, this is the spirit of Xbox as a gaming console, and while Halo has had its ups and down in quality in recent years, this’ll never change.

Halo: Infinite ends the franchise’s half-decade hiatus by way of 343 Industries, throwing Master Chief into battle against an alien coalition known as the Banished on the ringworld Zeta Halo. Tied to this is an extension of the saga between Master Chief and Cortana, now a rogue and rebelling AI who’s the target for removal, as well as a more open-world landscape for battle engagements. Players have been notoriously fickle about the recent lore and storytelling of Halo, but for the most part they’ve been satisfied thus far with the directions the plot has taken. Multiplayer is, of course, paramount for Halo: Infinite, and luckily it seems as if the community has remained satisfied with the quality since it entered beta testing in the middle of November. After two decades, Halo delivers once again.

Among Us

The pandemic succeeded in making a pair of games surprisingly popular, likely much more so than they would have under other circumstances, and they’re both for widely different reasons. Animal Crossing provided a creative, stable outlet for people to just … well, tend their garden and mind their business in a calming and cute slice-of-life management simulator.  The other does exactly the opposite. Among Us borrows the gameplay philosophy behind Werewolf, Mafia, and other identity deduction games, and during the pandemic’s peaks it provided ways for players to interact online and play a unique, layered game with one another.

The concept sounds like the classic sci-fi movie The Thing, in which a group of astronauts on an isolated station have been infiltrated by “impostors” whose objective is to sabotage and eliminate the crew. Players, who can range from 4 to now over a dozen, are randomly and discreetly selected to be either legitimate crewmates or impostors; impostors go about fake duties to try and convince others that they’re on the up and up, or they end up being labeled “sus”-picious.  Votes are held as to who gets to stay aboard when something suspicious happens, and the deduction skills – and deflection skills – of the players will determine who gets thrown out the airlock.  It’s a familiar party-game derivative a la Resistance and Secret Hitler, but the personality and online versatility of Among Us make it a quite enjoyable iteration in these trying times.

Mortal Kombat 11

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the release of the original Mortal Kombat, and it’s really tough to wrap one’s brain around that. It started as a taboo gaming experience – one that sparked Congressional hearings – and morphed into a console decision maker during the peak of the “wars”, dependent on whether someone wanted Nintendo’s edited version or SEGA’s unedited release. It all seems like old news now, but the topic of the realistic body models and the gruesome fatalities – end-of-battle finishing moves that involve heaps of blood and broken or impaled body parts – caused an immense stir. The folks at Midway, and now the folks at NetherRealm Studios, have embraced that unsavory reputation and continued to up the ante in the brutal, yet engaging and layered fighting game.  

With that reputation also comes a hefty fanbase that’s ready to scrutinize every title, and the latest installment, MK11, earned a mixture of polarized opinions from among its fanbase. For some, it’s the pinnacle of what Mortal Kombat can be in the current era and heavily satisfies those who “grew up” with the original iconic 3-4 games that started the franchise. For others, the game’s emphasis on flashier aspects over more hardcore fighting-game complexity comes across as trying to appeal to too-broad of an audience. Regardless of where one falls on that spectrum, Mortal Kombat 11 continues to offer narrative progression and bountiful item/cosmetic collection in single player and fluid combat in online and multiplayer formats, and it’s universally regarded as the best-looking MK to date.

It’s also worth noting that the version of Flight Simulator 2020 available through Game Pass has been upgraded to the Game of the Year edition, and that two exquisite narrative-based adventure games — Campo Santo’s Firewatch and Double Fine’s Broken Age — have also snuck in under the radar.

Xbox Games With Gold

Over on the legacy subscription wing at Xbox, they’ve served up yet another passable, unexciting foursome of free titles for the Xbox One and Xbox 360 that fail to prompt one to continue shelling out for the service if that’s their primary reason for doing so.  On current-gen consoles, they’ve made available The Escapists 2 (December 1-31), a prison break sim that taps into a similarly charming multiplayer energy to that of Among Us. Retro pixel graphics mesh with a top-down gaming perspective as the player crafts a strategy to flee, both figuratively and literally through the game’s item crafting system. Players seem to run out of fun with the single player experience after a while, but still enjoy the multiplayer escapes. There’s also Tropico 5 (December 16-January 15), the last installment in the longstanding island construction sim franchise developed by Haemimont Games, which was met with irritation from players and critics alike for spit-polishing the status quo and not improving the wobbly infrastructure of the previous games.

In terms of legacy titles, there’s Orcs Must Die! (December 1-15), a third-person fantasy action game that’s a mix of tower defense and horde mode. It has spawned a handful of sequels, notably one that came out last year on Stadia and ported over to consoles in July of this year, and they’ve all received moderately positive marks from critics and players for its quirky attitude and clever blending of genres. The other title is Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (December 16-31), a side-scrolling spacecraft shooting game that comes across as if a flying saucer with a little blaster has decided to explore the worlds of LIMBO and World of Goo.  

About Thomas Spurlin

Film, home-media, and videogame scribe who digs green tea and walking his dogs.

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