October’s Xbox Game Pass, Gold Titles: Back 4 Halloween Action
The tides seem to be turning once again for the monthly console subscription services, as one slips into the shadows with a trio of ill-fitting freebies and the other makes its presence well known with timely, substantive new entries into their included catalogue. Xbox Game Pass demonstrates how to please a crowd this month by landing arguably the most popular title to come out this month – perfectly timed in coordination with Halloween spooky season – and still work in a few other noteworthy goodies alongside it, from a unique action-RPG to another horror-tilted title for those who aren’t into shooters or coop titles. While the Games With Gold inclusions remain lackluster, the whole package available here has way more treats than tricks for October. Let’s take a closer look, but before doing so, be sure Grab a 3-Month Game Pass Ultimate Subscription at Amazon to take advantage of both the Game Pass and Games With Gold offerings discussed below.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate – New and Upcoming
Back 4 Blood
It’s been over a decade since the release of Left 4 Dead 2, and while the landscape of shooters and cooperative gaming experiences has changed quite a bit during that time, the positive energy and memories generated by that franchise remain quite strong among its fanbase. The original creators of Left 4 Dead, Turtle Rock Studios, still see this as an opportunity despite the amount of time that has passed and how gaming has changed, and they’ve decided to stick to the formula in creating Back 4 Blood. Between the title and the source of the game, the associations and intentions of this squad-based shooter are simple: this is essentially the Left 4 Dead 3 that people have wanted for so long,
This isn’t literally a sequel though, obviously. Instead of borrowing generously from and leaning so heavily on The Walking Dead, Back 4 Blood features a more progressed post-apocalyptic scenario where a much larger portion of the global human population has already been infected with a foreign parasite, likely extraterrestrial, that turns them into pseudo-zombies. As these “Ridden” populate the landscape, a group of experienced survivors known as “Cleaners” battle against them and help purge them from vulnerable zones. Gameplay follows suit, allowing for 4 co-op players through the harrowing campaign or 8 during PvP multiplayer sessions. During a spooky season near the end of a pandemic where everyone’s still getting their bearings straight with meeting up in person, Back 4 Blood showed up at the perfect time.
Marvel’s The Avengers
The hype train moved at full throttle for this videogame adaptation of The Avengers, largely on the steam of it being an entirely original story with semi-fresh faces for all the heroes – not just duplications of their movie counterparts – and an all-star cast of game voice talents bringing them to life. On a fundamental level, Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal get a lot right with their take on monumental property, in which they’ve crafted an intriguing campaign around a finely-tuned narrative and do just about everything they can to make the player feel as if they’ve gained control of one of the Avengers. While the central new-ish character Kamala Khan takes on the bulk of the gameplay, that doesn’t mean it will shy away from the others, including, yes, giving players control over Thor’s flying and hammer-hurling self.
At its core, Marvel’s Avengers is a fine game … but it’s also surrounded by a lot of widely-reported issues, notably with play longevity and repetitiveness, bugs, and an unrewarding loot system. It’s a game that the developers planned on expanding upon and supporting with new content – specifically, new Avengers as controllable characters — for roughly a year after release, yet players had essentially already played and moved on from it not too long after it hit shelves. This has left the game in something of an awkward state because for it being a dozen hours of Avengers power fantasy, most critics and players would say it’s perfectly enjoyable with those expectations in mind, especially for it being a Game Pass inclusion. It just isn’t the living, evolving superhero experience many expected it to be.
Transcending the line that separates mainstream content and anime-styled content isn’t easy to accomplish, even if the likes of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest make it look easier. Scarlet Nexus takes the visual language of modern anime and brings it down a few notches to a more accessible 3D landscape, telling a story about futurist technology involving the physiological makeup of the brain, how society has tapped into it to unlock human potential, and how the gifted ones can have powers unlocked so they can be protectors of this society. From there, players gain control of their choice of two protagonists, male or female, who are equipped with exceptional sensory and psychokinetic abilities, making them perfect warriors against alien invading forces.
Both in concept and gameplay, Scarlet Nexus shares some similarities with recent surprise hit Control, wherein the player has the ability to levitate objects with the characters’ mental powers and utilize them in combat and around the level designs. The differences give this game from Bandai Namco their distinctive edge, as the protagonists wield katanas and chain combos with bladework and energy utilization, against a beautiful semi-open urban Japanese landscape. The storytelling in Scarlet Nexus has been infused with stylish, but not overly amped-up anime conversation panels that’ll teeter on the line of accessibility for players out there, concisely getting storytelling beats in there amid what’s otherwise a consistent rush of action-RPG energy.
It’s been seven years since Hideo Kojima and filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro released what’s best known as PT, or “Playable Teaser”. Essentially a proof-of-concept exercise for what Kojima could do with the medium in the current gaming landscape, inherently making one excited for a new iteration of Silent Hill, the brief experience left a mark on gaming culture that hasn’t eased up. It’s frequently cited as one of the scariest videogames ever created … and then was then removed from download platforms following the cancellation of Silent Hills, the project for which it was developed, causing a panic among gamers who didn’t have the file downloaded. Consoles were sold online at a premium because they had PT installed on them, and remakes of the whole experience have since been built in other platforms.
The above paragraph focuses so much on Playable Teaser because SadSquare Studio uses its design and unresolved legacy as a direct springboard for Visage, their own indie survival horror experience. In a house with a complex layout, the game takes place shortly after the main character has committed a murder-suicide upon his family, causing him to awaken in a roomw while covered in blood and seemingly locked within the house. While he searches for clues on how to get out, Visage separates into focused chapters based on the objects he interacts with inside the house, taking him on a journey through the paranormal and the morbid as he learns more about the house’s history. Visage may not be the next Silent Hill everyone wanted, but its head is in the same space as a spiritual successor to what could’ve been.
Xbox Games With Gold
Xbox’s Games With Gold unfortunately continues a downward slope in substance and quality by making four underwhelming titles available for longstanding subscribers to their legacy program. Starting things off on the Xbox One is Aaero (October 1-31), a music coordination on-the-rails racing game with a retro-futuristic aesthetic that reminds one of Guitar Hero, Wipeout, and Tempest all thrown in a blender, with electronic dance music propelling it forward. Both critics and players found enjoyment in getting into the groove with Aaero, though the game mechanics seem to run out of interest after getting through a few hours of it. The other current-gen title is Hover (October 16-November 15), which also hits is own rhythmic kinetic stride as the player gains control of a parkour running trickster in a bright neon environment. Critics have been kind to the general free-roaming experience, but finding the mission and interface aspects holding it all together to have missed their mark.
On the Xbox 360 are a pair of nostalgic horror-themed titles with highly mixed reputations. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (October 1-15) is noteworthy for bringing protagonists from previous installments of the franchise together into a co-op environment, where they work to eliminate Dracula or compete against one another in Survival Mode to see who’s the better hunter. Both critics and players find something appealing in the game design, but also feel there isn’t enough variety or substance to keep going with it. The other is Resident Evil Code: Veronica X HD (October 16-31), an installment in the legendary series that was once revered two decades ago on the Dreamcast, but already stated to feel dated several years later with its Gamecube port and continued to feel even more so with this poorly-received HD upgrade from a decade back.