July’s Xbox Game Pass and Gold Titles: Adventures by Land, Sea, Sky

By on July 16, 2021

As rumors once again emerge that there are plans in motion for Xbox Live to come to an end, eyes naturally turn to the Game Pass program and wonder if that’s now the correct direction to go in.  Obviously, until online games are all free-to-play on current Xbox consoles, subscribers will either need to keep up their Live service or go for Game Pass Ultimate to continue with that.

However, those who have subscribed to Live Gold for the free monthly games and the exclusive deals via Arcade have been largely unsatisfied for quite some time: the exclusive deals have remained about the same, but the quality of the free titles has continued to plummet.   As their attention seems to be pivoting, so too will ours. Let’s take a closer look at what Microsoft has to offer this month, but before doing so, be sure to Grab a 3-Month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Subscription Card from Amazon.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate – New and Upcoming

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance

The names “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Baldur’s Gate” obviously conjure different sorts of memories for different game players, but as soon as one hears “Dark Alliance” they’re usually transported to memories of isometric, Diablo-like dungeon crawling, often with a friend. D&D: Dark Alliance wants to tap into those same kinds of memories, but with a more modernized take as its focus. With the focus shifted to a third-person perspective, this version of the hack-‘n-slash RPG concept allows players to gain control of familiar characters from D&D lore as they venture through the Icewind Dale setting.

Multiplayer is available here, but with a catch, as right now players are only allowed to do online co-op with everyone taking on the gameplay from their perspective. This Dark Alliance neglects to include a couch co-op option, arguably the most significant aspect of anything with the “Dark Alliance” name branded on it … and the backlash over it was heard loud and clear, as it has become the developer’s top priority after release. For now, in its current condition, D&D: Dark Alliance has a middling critical reception that amounts to it being a decent fantasy-action experience for online adventuring.

Tropico 6

In a somewhat lowkey fashion, Kalypso has been keeping the Tropico series afloat for over a decade now, largely on the shoulders of development team Haemimont Games. While reviews have never been stellar, the exotic building and management sim has always hit just enough positive notes to justify future installments, allowing players to construct their own visions of developed islands and “rule” them essentially how they see fit through industry and political choices.

Tropico 6 marks the changing of the guard, though, as turn-based gamemakers Limbic Entertainment take over in the latest entry in the franchise. They’ve stuck to the formula that works, spanning several eras for development of the region, but they’ve also implemented a fresh perspective on what’s there to elevate the experience: updated graphics, active response citizens, and the ability to develop several islands connected by bridges instead of just one. While these tweaks don’t amount to a big shift in critical and player response, Tropico does maintain its reputation here by delivering on the same anticipated quality, which seems to be plenty for both old and new players.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

First-person shooters, side-scrolling platformers, fighting games … there are many constants in home gaming, but few are as enduring as the flight simulator.  Microsoft has been delivering a flight sim for nearly 4 decades now, starting in 1982, and the degree of realism in the cockpit mechanisms and the flowing progression of 3D flight was impressive even then.   We’ve come a long way since that point, though, and a simulation experience that’s designed to be as authentic and tactile as possible should be able to deliver in spades among the current climate of graphics and physics.

Asobo Studios have made their first attempt at the franchise with Microsoft Flight Simulator, which has been stripped of numerals and years to let it stand out as a fresh start at the new studio; folks will colloquially refer to it as 2020.  The impression it has left has been pretty remarkable, boasting what critics and players have seemed arguable the most immersive visuals, environmental awareness, and attention paid to detail in gaming to date, accessible to both die-hard simulation fans and casual folks who just want to hop on for a flight every once in a while. Whether any quality will be sacrificed in the transition to the Xbox Series X remains to be seen, but Microsoft seems confident in their new console’s abilities by making it immediately available through Game Pass on July 27.

July’s Xbox Games With Gold

Looped in with the Game Pass Ultimate version of the program, players also have access to the legacy Xbox Games With Gold slate of monthly freebies, which has continued on a steady downward slope over the past year or so. This month once again doesn’t feature any attention-grabbing AAA titles, focusing its attention to 2 indies for the Xbox One offerings.  Planet Alpha (July 1-31) features fluid platform puzzle-solving as a weary explorer sneaks through a vibrant alien landscape and evades hostile creatures,  amounting to a laid-back gaming experience that critics and players both claim is more about immersion than challenge. Rock of Ages III: Make a Break (July 16-Aug-15) combines the rolling puzzle-solving aspects of Katamari and Super Monkey Ball with the mechanics of a tower-defense game, with a historically minded sense of humor (Monty Python-esque?) that gives it even more varied personality.   

On the legacy side of things, there’s Conker: Live and Reloaded (July 1-15), a decently-reviewed upgraded remake of the raucous N64 title Bad Fur Day that’s probably more noteworthy for the edits put in place for the new version – a notable increase in bleeped language – than its improvements. It retains its sense of humor, though, and that’s what matters when anthropomorphic animals are running around engaged in warfare with one another. The other is an incredibly safe, but welcome inclusion: Midway Arcade Origins (July 16-31), a compilation of classic arcade titles that’ll put a smile on just about anyone’s face for a brief period. Classics like Defender, Joust, and Rampage will be at player’s fingertips whenever they like, while other fun vintage experience like the early dungeon crawler Gauntlet and the high-personality, top-down shooter Total Carnage.

About Thomas Spurlin

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

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