Open Worlds and Foot Chases Hallmark June’s Xbox Games With Gold
The freedom of roaming around vast spaces earned popularity a few console generations ago with fine-tuned releases of the Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Auto videogames, but that desire to explore and simply wander has grown in popularity as the years have gone by, almost becoming an expectation of larger budget games. The June offerings for the Xbox Games With Gold program celebrate several representations of where that freedom has arrived in last-gen and current gen consoles, both in the sprawl of their design and how the availability to explore can unearth new, hidden storytelling avenues. And if you’re not in the mood for those, hit up the fourth one for some fast-paced competitive chases. Let’s take a look at the games.
Speedrunners (June 1-30)
Most co-op gamers have been there at some point: where one player progresses too far ahead in a level and loses sight of the other player’s character at the screen’s edge, causing the straggler to either hold up progress, die at one of the level’s deadly obstacles, or be forced to respawn close to their location. That sort of tension and frustration has been transformed into a game mechanic with Speedrunners, a four-player competitive game from Double Dutch Games. Colorful animated characters engage in foot races that takes places obstacle-covered side-scrolling tracks, and the players can use grappling hooks to either move quickly across wide spaces or grab their opponents. It’s a simple pick-up-and-play concept, but Double Dutch executed it with fluidity and briskness, best enjoyed amongst friends over multiplayer. Originally a PC title, the Xbox One port debuted for free during its Games With Gold window.
Watch Dogs (June 16-July 15)
The saga behind the release and reception of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs is almost as interesting as the game itself. Development behind the game boasted unparalleled freedom and innovation in its concept, where a hacker wanders the streets of Chicago with the ability to access electronic devices to complete primary and secondary quests, or just to mess with their surroundings and elevate their prestige. This would couple with third-person combat and mild environmental climbing to create something truly innovative, bolstered by state-of-the-art graphics that produced stunning trailers. What ultimately manifested upon release wasn’t the pioneering gaming experience many envisioned, instead emerging as a modern-day Assassin’s Creed copycat with moderately successful hacking mechanics and visuals that weren’t nearly as impressive as anticipated. Yet, after the hype settled down, Watch Dogs still satisfies as an urban sandbox experience with versatile tech weapons to utilize in a variety of activities.
Assassin’s Creed III (June 1-15)
Ensuring that there’s no shortage of open-world games for Gold subscribers this month, Microsoft have also offered up Assassin’s Creed III. This entry into Ubisoft’s storied franchise marked a significant journey into uncharted waters, shifting toward a new protagonist, the half-English and half-Native American assassin Connor, and focusing on the American frontier during the mid-1700s, occurring in a two-decade span that hits right in the heart of the American Revolution. The game itself has its drawbacks: a dryly stoic protagonist, halfhearted attempts at innovation involving naval battles (greatly improved in Black Flag), and an iffy final stretch featuring an infuriating chase sequence and an ending that’s maddeningly bizarre even by Assassin’s Creed measures. That said, Assassin’s Creed III is also a gorgeous, sprawling representation of the franchise’s sandbox concept, expanded to include frontier hunting and a greater sense of scale with the ship travels, along with the series’ signature plethora of main quests and diversions that send Connor gallivanting across the astonishing early-American setting.
Dragon Age: Origins (June 16-30)
Electronic Arts’ name stands out on the cover for Dragon Age: Origins, but their acquisition of BioWare happened somewhere in the middle of the game’s development, thus making it the last one in which the storied RPG maker created an experience without the powerhouse publisher’s complete oversight. And it shows, as Origins still feels like a natural, updated extension of gameplay and role-playing concepts from their legendary Baldur’s Gate series. With the availability to choose several different “origins” for your character, someone who becomes a member of the Gray Warden sentinel order, the game charts a course through the arrival of the Darkspawn to the realm of Thedas, in which the evil forces wish to wage war and purge the land of its occupants. A standard overarching save-the-day story proves to be a vehicle for compelling subplots, rich relationships, and moral dilemmas that impact both of said subplots and relationships, guided by tolerable combat and exceptional conversation dialogue.