March’s Xbox Games With Gold Unleash Lots of Shooting, Little Firepower

By on March 13, 2021

Several months back, Microsoft assured current Games With Gold subscribers that the baseline Xbox Live subscription service wasn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future, despite some changes in marketing and a notable downward slope in the profile of the included monthly free games. Since then, the quality of the titles has undergone big shifts: one month might not feature any desirable or AAA games, another might have older or remastered favorites yet nothing big, and then the next month may have a Series X/S gen title added with a few other suitable offerings.  

The pattern leaves one with hope that they’re going to figure out a sustainable middle ground between offering considerable titles without “giving away” any of the big moneymakers … but March isn’t going to help that with its forgettable, iffy-reviewed slate of freebies. Let’s take a closer look, but before you do, be sure to jump over and Grab a 3-Month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Sub from Amazon to get these titles and the others available through Game Pass.

Xbox One

Warface: Breakout — March 1-31

As soon as someone hears the name Crytek, most gamers usually conjure memories of the graphically stunning yet technologically complicated sci-fi shooter Crysis, as well as the sequels.  Crytek’s network of studios engaged in other projects, though, and one of them was the tactical shooter Warface from Crytek Kiev — who later formed into Blackwood Games — and published by My.Games. Breakout is a spinoff game from the original, and has been developed by Allods Team under the My.Games label. It’s a bit of a confusing development history for the series, but that also reflects the meandering popularity of the franchise.

A tactical player-versus-player shooter that has essentially mimicked other series since its conception, Warface: Breakout arrived in 2020’s climate of online battle royale games like PUBG and Fortnite, not to mention the ebb and flow interest in Call of Duty and Counter-Strike. It’s tough to claim a stake in that arena, and Warface: Breakout doesn’t seem to do enough for either players or critics to think it stands out from the rest of the troop, with most comments led by mentions of other popular franchises and/or a lack of other options.

VALA: Vicious Attack Llama Apocalypse — March 16 – April 15

You’ve likely killed hordes of many different types of baddies in your gaming life, from zombies to aliens to insects, but the folks behind VALA are banking on the fact that you’ve never thought about having to do this to … llamas. That’s right, the furry, adorable creatures of pop-culture and baby-room lore have turned into the frenzied tools of the Llamanati, and it’s up to the player to pilot mechs from a distance away to mow all the incensed creatures down in the wake of the “apocalypse”.

Intentionally ridiculous, VALA (Vicious Attack Llama Apocalypse) operates on twin-stick shooter controls to manage the overwhelming isometric fast-paced action, in which the mechs patrol neon-bathed city streets and take out as many llamas as needed. As one might expect, there’s a longevity issue with the humor, with critics quick to point out that the game’s variety dries up pretty quick after players are used to the joke. They also praise the pacing and intensity of the shooting, though, which gives VALA a raw excuse for players to suit up and engage the Llamanati for at least a few waves here and there.

Xbox 360

Metal Slug 3 (March 1-15)

Let’s jump back a few decades, though, to the point where these endless shooting experiences originate. In the mid-‘90s, run-and-gun side-scrolling military games continued a rise in popularity largely created by Contra. Metal Slug may imitate the formula, but its specific brand of personality and the vigorousness of the action earned a place for itself, both at the arcades and at home as one of the heavy hitters on Neo-Geo consoles. It’s a franchise with over a half-dozen primary entries and a bunch of spinoffs, and has been ported onto numerous consoles over the years.

Metal Slug 3 marks an overhaul point for the franchise, arguably the pinnacle of what it’s capable of, taking its core gameplay style and juicing it up with new options.  It also marks the point when it started becoming available on a broader selection of consoles, notably its eventual debut on the first Xbox. The 360 port dedicates itself to being true to the original retro experience, both in controls and in graphical presentation, but the addition of online co-op on the console gives it an extra kick.

Port Royale 3 (March 16-31)

Pirate simulator games have existed in some form or fashion since the late-‘80s, but they always struggled to harness a lot of mainstream popularity until recently.  The combination of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and the TV show Black Sails holds most of the responsibility for changing that, which eventually funneled into the development of the more whimsical, yet still very much simulation-based Sea of Thieves, a flawed but popular title on the Xbox.

Just before all this happened, in 2012, Port Royale 3 embarked onto PCs and consoles from Kalypso Media.  It’s the third installment in the “merchant simulator” line of games, in which players can choose how to conduct their business – either as a legit businessperson, an allied buccaneer, or an outright pirate – and travel across the seas doing so. While there’s plenty of freedom in how to handle the resources at the player’s disposal, critics and players agree that it moves at a leisurely pace and has a lot going on with its simulation aspects, which can weigh down one’s investment in the experience. Port Royale 4, released last year, seems to have received slightly stronger marks.

About Thomas Spurlin

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

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