December’s Xbox Gold Titles Suggest the Fire’s Slowly Dying in Live Over Holidays
While things are looking good for the titles available through the Xbox Game Pass subscription platform right about now, times are getting tough for the old guard with standard Live memberships. As the high-value, game-focused service gets inclusions like Doom Eternal and Control, the standard “online-plus” level sees one of its most forgettable months in recent memory, sporting questionable choices even in which platform and what form an included title should show up in.
Microsoft absolutely wants folks to jump in on this next per-month option, and it has become increasingly more difficult to get enthusiastic about the video games being included as freebies at the lowest tier subscription plan. It’s unknown what this indicates, but I probably would invest in a Game Pass subscription card at Amazon (buy here) – which also includes the Games with Gold benefits covered below – instead of sticking with the same-old, same old. Let’s take a closer look.
The Raven: Remastered — December 1 – December 31
Fans of whodunit mysteries in the vein of Agatha Christie should find some enjoyment in The Raven, once subtitled Legacy of a Master Thief before dropping it in the move to current-gen consoles. The story centers on a Swiss police constable named Zellner, whose clumsy speech, squatty disposition, and distinct mustache pair with his love for detective novels to shape him into someone highly reminiscent of Mr. Poirot from Christie’s books.
Zellner gets embroiled with the case of the Eyes of the Sphinx, a set of rubies in which one becomes stolen by the masked figure on the box artwork, leading into an intriguing sleuthing case on a journey to Cairo, Egypt, the rubies’ intended destination. A casual point-and-click game with moderate usage of stealth mechanics, The Raven earned modest positive reviews for its characterization and setting, ultimately hampered by the mystery’s foreseeable trajectory.
Bleed 2 — December 16 – January 15
One of the downfalls of retro platform games — in the vein of Metroid, Mega Man, and Contra — becoming popular again is that certain “lesser” ones now run the risk of staying completely off the radar. The original Bleed is one of such titles, released in 2017 to very little fanfare and so-so reviews, praising the quickness and vintage vibes while also dinging it for the shortness and repetitive design. Bleed 2 aims to deliver more of the same, for better and for worse.
The lead character, Wryn, now a celebrated star for her blitzed heroics in the first game, must tackle yet another 7 levels of fast-paced gunfire and enemies as she aims to take down invading aliens (of course!). The second game pulls the trigger on delivering more of the first, tightening the shooting aspects and emphasizing the slow-motion moments, and despite once again slipping under the radar Bleed 2 has earned stronger critical and player praise for its refinements.
Saints Row IV: Gat Out of Hell — December 1-15
Look, I love me some Saints Row, particularly the third and fourth games. Some might not see eye-to-eye on this, but the shift in Saints Row: The Third from the series being an elevated GTA clone to being an outlandish, balls-out spoof is the best thing that could’ve happened to it. There’s the same sense of freedom to blitz through Steelport City any way you see fit, but the way those games encourage the player to try out its most outlandish tricks – from wielding big, floppy melee weapons and riding hoverbikes to strapping on hero costumes and unleashing superpowers – makes for unyieldingly fun and outrageous sandbox experiences.
Including one of these titles in the Games With Gold is great, as it has been when Microsoft has done so previously; however, the fact that it’s only Gat Out of Hell, Saints Row 4’s middling add-on, and only on the Xbox 360 is a big bummer. Just include the whole shebang for both consoles.
Stacking — December 16-31
The folks at Double Fine are known for making games with heaps of unique personality, starting with the infectiously unique action game Psychonauts and leading into the heavy-metal ballad Brutal Legend and the family-friendly gateway RPG Costume Quest. They really push the envelope with Stacking, though, and it’s still potentially their most ambitious, if flawed, creation.
The game focuses on partly “living” nesting dolls, and the premise hinges on a family forced into industrial labor, with the youngest child, Charlie, working to free them. With many obstacles ahead of him, Charlie must jump into the cores of other dolls that possess unique abilities that will help him solve puzzles, oftentimes stacking multiple dolls for various purposes in different parts of a puzzle. Between the smartly emotional narrative, the layered puzzle-solving, and the novel partially-alive presence of the dolls themselves, Stacking is just as idiosyncratic and, according to most critics and players, roughly as satisfying as Double Fine’s other works.