February’s Xbox Gold Titles Wage War on Winter Doldrums
For many months now, it has appeared that Microsoft was sticking to a holding pattern when it comes to their Xbox Games With Gold subscription program. With no new Series X free downloads in sight and a steady number of less-than-stellar titles made available month by month – and with a consistent rush of high-quality ones dumped into Game Pass – the future looked dire for the original sub service. It’s like they’ve been stuck at a fork in the road for quite a while now and uncertain of where to go, until now.
With this month comes the first of their dedicated Xbox Series downloads, and it’s a bit of a doozie, though not a huge surprise by any stretch. What’s more, the other titles aren’t too shabby either, from a few solid blasts from the past from older Xbox consoles to a compelling One-era remaster of a true classic. This seems like it could be the start of a new download model, and I’m here for it. Let’s take a closer look, but before that, be sure to jump over and Grab a 3-Month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Subscription Card at Amazon.
Xbox Series X/S
Gears (of War) 5 — February 1-28
Longtime fans of the Xbox console brand typically have some experience with the Gears of War franchise, as it was one of the first must-have exclusives for the 360. It may not have invented the third-person cover shooter, but the grizzled atmosphere, the jacked-up characters, and the intense battles through crumbled post-apocalyptic maps certainly left an impression and changed traditional thinking about that style of game. Since, Gears of War has transformed into one of the most reliably attention-grabbing exclusives for the Xbox, even if the titles have endured highs and lows in quality in later years.
Gears 5 – yep, that’s the title, with the “of War” chopped off because folks know what it is – marks an opportunity for the series to remake itself after a few games of messy stories, placing a new protagonist, Kate Diaz, front and center as the world of Sera falls apart in the renewed presence of the Swarm. The arrival of Gears 5 on Xbox Series X/S also comes with another added treat: the ability to play through the campaign with series regular Marcus Fenix “recast”, both face and dialogue, by wrestler and actor Dave Batista.
Resident Evil HD Remaster — February 1-28
Believe it or not, the original Resident Evil made a scare on consoles a quarter-century ago this year. Like many other franchises, those who’ve played any installment in the survival horror series will likely compelled to go back and try out the original game; this is especially the case after the vast, successful remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3. Despite the popularity of these remakes, however, it appears as if Capcom will always have an eye for preserving the first game in its original form, more or less.
Awkward camera angles and challenging controls are just part of what makes the suspenseful atmosphere and horror shocks as effective as they are in Resident Evil, and they’ve been lovingly preserved – and modestly tweaked – in this 2015 remastering of the Gamecube remake. To bring it up to the modern era with as little change as possible, Capcom have altered the way the camera moves in the widescreen presentation (instead of just expanding the graphics to 16×9) and have, unbelievably, added the option for non-tank control where the character actually moves in the direction pointed by the thumbstick. Nothing at all has been sacrificed from the enduring atmosphere, though.
Dandara: Trials of Fear Edition — February 16 – March 15
There’s something really comforting and satisfying about the fact that even though the gaming industry swings so heavily on improving and modernizing graphics, it has also been allowed to nurture the most retro of throwback games. In the design space of 16-bit style graphics engines and sidescrolling platformers, developers have been able to thrive with the creativity that those “limitations” afford them … and gamers are eager to digest these creations, too. Sure, older game series like Sonic and Mega Man have also been able to make a comeback, but it’s in the new creations like Dandara where it all thrives.
Dandara has a simple, but ominous beginning: the intrusion of “golden” ideas has brought oppression and imbalance to the world of The Salt, a place of learning and growth. The player gains control of a heroine who holds the answer, and immediately they’re introduced to the novel gameplay style, where she can only move from white surfaces (and shoot ammo) by pointing a line at a destination and jumping along the projected trajectory. It’s like the gameplay of a Spider-Man title merged with those artillery angle/velocity games and a bit of Metroid, with beautiful lo-fi graphics boosting the symbolic high-fantasy setting.
Xbox / Xbox 360
Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb — February 1-15
From 1996 on, Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise remained a dominant force in the action-adventure genre, with many claiming that she was, essentially, the female Indiana Jones. Far be it for LucasArts and the whip-crackin’ hero of ‘80s lore to let such comparisons go without them also getting in on the action, starting with Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, which tried a little too hard to copy the strengths of the Tomb Raider gameplay style. Despite actually having the word “tomb” in it, Emperor’s Tomb takes another crack at the genre and doesn’t endure nearly as harsh of a comparison.
The game’s a prequel set before the prequel Temple of Doom that takes place throughout British-occupied regions of Asia in the mid-1930s, where a more youthful Indiana Jones hunts down the tomb of the First Emperor of Qin, founder of the Qin dynasty and once the owner of a mystical pearl. With cover artwork done by Drew Struzan himself, the game received praise for fitting together with the broader Indiana Jones universe and delivering a suitable action experience, though the graphics and voicework didn’t fare so well against critics. Perhaps the Xbox One X enhancements have cleaned up the visual issues.
Lost Planet 2 — February 16-28
While there isn’t a whole lot to the story aspects of Lost Planet, there’s something about strategically running and gunning through a snow-covered landscape populated with big, snarling insectoid beasts that’s just inherently appealing for a video game. Coming at the right time just after the popular snowpocalypse blockbuster film The Day After Tomorrow was released, it delivered impressive graphics and a novel shooting experience that flips between exploration and big-creature battles while players search for thermal resources.
With a sequel inevitable, and Lost Planet 2 aims to capture the same experience under new environmental circumstances. Whether it satisfies will largely depend on how much the snowy atmosphere matters to the gamer above the menacing bugs, because the sequel takes place a decade later on a planet that’s now full of lush, wild growth. Critics and players alike have mixed impressions on how successful the sequel turned out, landing on that it’s a fine enough monster shooter without much substance and lacking co-op features. There’s a reason Lost Planet 3 goes back to the snow.