June’s Xbox Games With Gold Boast Major Franchises in Minor Packages
During the month of E3, it’s natural for Xbox and other companies to direct attention to two things going on: the information coming out of the convention, and the ensuing sales both in stores and through their online platform. Surrounded by all that, the free games offered by their subscription services can fall out of focus, so it’s not entirely surprising that the Games with Gold offerings for June would be lacking. One would think that they’d still want to bait new adopters with interesting freebies during that period, but Microsoft have chosen to go all-in with a big sale and feed of information … and offer a foursome of downloads for the month that can just about be forgotten without much hassle. When a Mario Kart clone on the previous generation’s system ends up being the most excitement-worthy title, you know it’s a weaker month than normal. Let’s take a closer look.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia (June 1-30)
The natural culmination of several months of Xbox Live offerings, Microsoft have now presented the entirety of Ubisoft’s Chronicles spinoff of the Assassin’s Creed juggernaut as free downloads. The Chronicles games take the stealth and parkour elements of the open-world franchise, then mixes it with more direct inspiration from the classic Prince of Persia games for a 2.5-dimensional gaming experience. Unfortunately, the quality has moved at a downward trajectory since the meager successes of its first installment, with Russia, the last game in the series, suffering the pitfalls of what happens when difficulty and glitchy execution collide. Marginal stealth intrigue and grim storytelling aren’t enough to salvage even a mediocre spinoff here, skewered by critics and players as the series wraps things up. As with all the titles in this Chronicles series, one wishes they had just given Russia the open-map treatment.
Smite (june 16-July 15)
Originally developed for PCs and ported to consoles roughly a year after its release, Smite boasts arena-based multiplayer combat in which the players select mythical beings to wage war against one another. PvP combat has become a staple over the past two generations of gaming, and Smite hopes to contend with the likes of League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) with its novel spins of mythology and quirkiness, galvanizing its fast-paced combat with an air of grandness that isn’t to be taken too seriously. Both critics and players have responded well to its visual presentation and the variety and intensity of the fantasy-based combat, offering an alternative to those of its subgenre that’s different enough to stand apart from its opponents. Smite is already a free-to-play title, so the version being offered by Xbox is the Gold Bundle, which includes roughly $100 in bonus content: character skins, announcers, etc.
Sonic & All Stars Racing: Transformed (June 1-15)
Look, we all know that any mildly lighthearted, combative racing game that hits the market will be inextricably compared to Mario Kart just as soon as it blasts off the starting line. Of course, that’s especially the case with something like Sonic and All-Stars Racing, since the blue hedgehog served as direct competition for Mario for such a long time. The tempo of this combat cart racer feels incredibly similar to Nintendo’s big moneymaker, complete with lively power-up sounds, colorful graphics, and a smorgasbord of characters from both within and outside the Sonic universe. The dimensionality of the design, emphasis on controlled handling around turns, and the relative restraint of the style of combat mechanics do tighten the experience, though, elevating it from being merely a clone and into a worthy, nostalgic competitor.
Lego Indiana Jones 2 (June 16-30)
Over time, the formula for all those Lego videogame “adaptations” has proven itself: they’re predictable, straightforward, and ultimately addictive for people of all ages due to their charm and collection tendencies. Perhaps the most damning criticisms one can levy upon one of those games is that the characters don’t hit that pop-culture sweet spot, that the levels have observable gaps in the storytelling of the source material and, well, that it feels bland and repetitive because of those aspects. LEGO Indiana Jones 2 stumbles into those pitfalls, though, with the bulk of frustrations being centered on the fact that the game puts its focus on the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – widely considered to not only be the worst Indiana Jones movie, but a terrible film in its own right – and spreads out the vastly more popular films in the franchise. A level creator isn’t enough to distract from something like that.