November’s Xbox Freebies: Game Pass Moving Up, Gold Moving Out

By on November 15, 2021

November has finally arrived, and with it comes some jockeying between the Xbox camp and other consoles for who’ll come out on top during the holiday shopping rush. Thing is, due to the rampant unavailability of consoles across the board because of supply-chain issues, it’s looking like a complicated month – more so than normal — where folks will be beyond lucky to buy a console of any kind throughout the holidays. There’s a lot of distractions going on right now, but at least Microsoft is stepping up with quality releases through their Game Pass program to help out.

While their Games With Gold titles remain lackluster, they’ve provided some real attention-grabbing titles to their other subscription program this month, from a huge new release and an game-of-the-year contended to a highly popular remastered classic … even though that one’s getting dragged through the mud right now.  Let’s take a closer look at the games, but before doing so, head over and Grab a 3-Month Subscription to Game Pass Ultimate on Amazon for access to these downloads and exclusive deals on their marketplace.

Playground Games

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate – New and Upcoming

Forza Horizon 5

Playground Games’ Forza series has become appointment-worthy over the past decade of its development, providing some of the clearest examples of how the Xbox console’s graphics and tech are progressively pushed beyond their limits. Starting with the original 360 title and moving to Forza 4 on the One, there’s a clear and observable succession of improvement across the life cycle Microsoft’s last-gen system. From game modes and familiar included cars to the general impressiveness of the graphics, the advancements aren’t of the same caliber as sports games that seem to reproduce largely the same experience year after year. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the company’s first installment designed with the Xbox Series X in mind would be hotly anticipated, and it arrives in style.

Forza 5 takes the action to Mexico, producing an open-world driving landscape that’s been crafted with research and reference from across the range of areas there, a purposeful design choice to amp up the variety in gameplay. That is, if the 500+ cars available in this installment can’t do that on their own, on top of the new dynamic weather system, the car and player-character customization, and the scattering of play modes across the otherwise sandbox environment. Both critics and players alike have had nothing but positive things to say about Forza Horizon 5 up to this point, celebrating both its aesthetic polish and its combo of gameplay variety and arcade excitement.

Grand Theft: Auto San Andreas — Definitive Edition

Enough has been said about the quality of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas over the years that it almost feels unnecessary to mention how thoroughly it impacted the PS2-era of gaming consoles, whose popularity could be attributed to reason we’ve got the juggernaut of GTAIV and GTAV today. Unfortunately, there’s another hot topic going around about Rockstar’s game, notably about the quality of the most recent remastering of San Andreas and its predecessors GTAIII and Vice City, being billed as the “definitive edition” of the trilogy. Most would assume that a company like Rockstar – again, the studio behind both these games and the stellar-reviewed Red Dead Redemption series — would effortlessly produce satisfying, crowd-pleasing remasters of these games, but that’s not quite the case.

Developed by Grove Street Games, formerly known as War Drum Studios and as the folks responsible for other Rockstar ports, these Definitive Editions of the GTA games have been labeled less than stellar for a number of reasons. From sound quality dips and text misspellings to rampant graphical issues related to both character models and the landscape, the grievances have been voiced quite clearly by early players. It’s for this reason that the addition of San Andreas to the Game Pass library should be celebrated, as players are able to try out this remastered iteration for themselves before jumping into a full trilogy purchase; for some, the issues could be overpowered by the improvements and nostalgia factor.

Hazelight Studios

It Takes Two

The title above is a literal expression of what’s required to play Hazelight’s most recent creation: It Takes Two needs a willing pair of gamers to get through it. This can be a hurdle for some players who like to plow through action-platform style games on their own speed, but when it’s from the mind of content director Josef Fares, there’s a sense of confidence in the requirement having enough purpose to justify it. Fares first made a name for himself in the game arena at Starbreeze Studios by developing the under-the-radar hit Brothers, which utilizes siblings with individual strengths to create innovative gameplay situations that are hinged on expressive storytelling. These are aspects he carries over to his own Hazelight Studios in development of the similarly dramatic co-op adventure A Way Out.

It Takes Two transforms those emotional concepts into actual gameplay designs, in which the young daughter of a soon-to-be divorced couple takes doll versions of her parents off to play, then tries to repair their relationship through thrilling adventures in fantasy landscapes. As these Coraline-esque doll versions of the parents – each controlled by a different player – complete tasks in the level design that echo a wide variety of gameplay styles, it brings aspects of their family relationship more into focus as the two characters gain control of new abilities and coordinate them with one another.  Both critics and players have adamantly sang praises for just about everything involved with It Takes Two, from the novel variety of fluctuating genre styles to the visuals and the cooperative synergies.

Xbox Games With Gold

While Game Pass continues to thrive by offering day-and-date megahits and game-of-the-year contenders, Microsoft’s legacy program Xbox Games With Gold maintains its slope in the opposite direction, showcasing little firepower in their monthly included freebies. Let’s start on the Xbox One with a moving simulator … yes, a moving simulator, as in a puzzle game designed around moving out of a house. In the same vein as Overcooked, Moving Out (November 1-31) takes a mundane activity with potential complications and transforms it into a fast-paced, outlandish cooperative experience that’s assuredly more fun than doing the real thing. Also on the current Xbox system is Kingdom: Two Crowns (November 16-December 15), a beautiful 8-bit inspired, side-scrolling fantasy game that combines settlement management with exploration and survival. Critics and players praise the aesthetic, but feel the slower pace and simplicity hold it back.

Over on the legacy Xbox systems, we’ve got a pair of recognizable faces within middle-of-the-road action games that clearly have younger audiences in mind with their inclusion. First, there’s Rocket Knight (November 1-15), an action-platform game featuring a classic Sega Genesis character revived for the current era. While the original Rocket Knight continues to be regarded as one of the better platform titles on the Genesis, this new iteration proves that modern examples of the genre need a little something extra and need more longevity than what it provides. There’s also LEGO Batman 2 (November 16-30), and let’s be real, the LEGO titles are effortlessly entertaining across the board regardless of peaks and valleys in quality, so the inclusion of the Dark Knight in his blocky form will always be welcome.

About Thomas Spurlin

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

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