September’s Xbox Gold Titles Go Adventuring with The Division, Blobs, Unwritten Tales
Ever since The Great Virus has become a defining presence of this year, the game console subscription services have tried to find the right freebie titles to offer in each month cycle. It has been interesting to watch, especially when you combine it with the new consoles arriving later this year: managing expectations, avoiding touchy subject matter, yet maintaining some interest. The folks at Microsoft have decided to be a bit daring with their tentpole freebie in their September Games With Gold lineup, offering a game that’s both an early, delayed title for the Xbox One and one that centers on a dystopia created by a pandemic. The other titles are about what’s to be expected in terms of the previous months, ones with meagerly positive or middling receptions that mostly flew under the radar at release. Let’s take a closer look, but before doing so, make sure to Grab a Year Xbox Live Membership Card from Amazon to extend your access while those year-long options are still available.
The Division (September 16-October 15)
There were bigger, flashier titles revealed at E3 in 2014 that expectedly built up enthusiasm for the consoles to come later in the year, but one that snuck up on the gaming industry was The Division, Ubisoft’s new third-person shooter RPG set in a desolate post-event cityscape. From the icy visuals and reactive environments to the squad-based tactics and freedom, there’s a lot to be admired and appreciated in the demonstration, putting it on the map as one of the titles to get geared up for with the new systems.
Thing is, The Division ended up being quite some time away from being ready for a release, delayed multiple times until 2016 and eventually revealed to be an online-only multiplayer experience. Finally, it moved onto the scene and earned restrained praise from both critics and players, celebrated for its visual design and responsiveness to tactics while getting heat for its empty atmosphere and unexciting shooter gear. A promising title came up too late and too short, though that didn’t stop it from selling well.
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 (September 1-30)
Sequels are a tricky business on consoles, but they’re even trickier when the first installment exists solely on the PC. To make this happen, the designers typically need to tailor the game experience into something that’s accessible to either continuing players or new folks, and that’s often not too difficult due to the intro/tutorial stage that refreshes players of both the game’s strengths and of the story. Even point-and-click adventure games can get across this hurdle with enough front-loaded information and welcoming aspects to its style of play.
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 struggles with some of these challenges, unfortunately. Both players and critics were enamored with the love poured into the world continued on from the original title, hinged on a storyline where familiar adventurers must investigate why wild beasts and gothic structures are being transformed into cutesy, toyish versions of themselves. What doesn’t seem to work is its ability to stand alone from the first, while also weighed down by console controls.
Xbox / Xbox 360
de Blob 2 (September 1-15)
One of the games that really helped the Wii U stay afloat and generate interested players is Splatoon, in which players use paint guns to coat areas – and players — quickly and strategically with different shades of color. It’s a focused, refined execution of a concept that was earlier attempted by de Blob, originally a Nintendo Wii exclusive and later (a decade later) transported over to the current generation of consoles.
In the franchise, a blob of a character absorbs different color and spreads them across a grayed environment, utilizing controls similar to the Katamari franchise in how the characters rolls, bumps, and jumps to come in contact with whatever needs color. Since the original was successful and somewhat novel in execution, it isn’t surprising that de Blob 2 mostly sticks to the same formula without much innovation. However, the lack of novelty in this second installment didn’t sit well with either critics or players, who felt the easiness of the puzzles within didn’t do justice to the concept.
Armed and Dangerous (September 16-30)
By 2003, shooters have had their “combat evolved” and the likes of Max Payne and BloodRayne – and, of course, Grand Theft Auto — were taking over the third-person shooter genre. These games were offering experiences with compelling protagonists, gritty attitudes and versatile layout/design, which meant that for anything else to strike a chord with players out there, it’d need something special either in how it controls or the world in which it takes place.
Armed and Dangerous doesn’t really attempt anything novel in the third-person shooting aspects of the game, and repetition of the same-old stuff usually earns it some negative marks. However, Planet Moon Studios and LucasArts also inject wry humor and satirical personality into the events, and those sparks of individuality allow it to briefly stand apart from its contemporaries. Both critics and players mostly agree that the visuals and the gameplay aren’t substantial enough to justify its brief shots of levity, though.