Swords, Rhythm, Flux Capacitors in Xbox’s December Games With Gold
Last month saw the release of the new iteration of the Xbox One console, the X, as well as an indifferent foursome of Games With Gold free offerings to accompany it, flexing little of the new console’s muscle. December shares a few similarities to the previous month: another Telltale experience, another blast of nostalgia with upgraded graphics, and another ho-hum action game that resembles others without enough uniqueness to set it apart. This month, however, the folks at Microsoft have included one brisk fantasy-themed game that taps into the console’s graphical prowess, though the multiplayer focus of that one might be a restraint. It’s a tame conclusion to a suitable year, especially considering the backwards compatibility of all the 360 included titles for the second year in a row. Let’s take a look at the games.
Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide (December 1-31)
For over three decades, many different forms of media have taken place in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, from tabletop and pen-and-paper RPGs to computer games. This shows the versatility of the setting, a gritty fantasy realm that’s a few shades darker than Lord of the Rings-style fare, to adapt to many different modes of interactive storytelling. Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide takes that another step further, borrowing the four-player co-op formula from Left 4 Dead and dropping it into the fray of hack-‘n-slash warfare. Five classes can be chosen depending on the desire to play ranged, magic, and melee-based characters, guiding the combatants through grim medieval levels and against hordes of ratty-looking Skaven enemies. Single-player folks need not apply, but those in search of an appealing and themed cooperative experience will find a straightforward, yet lively one here. Moreover, it’s one that runs at 4K on the Xbox One X!
Back to the Future: The Game (December 16 – January 15th)
Telltale Games has built a reputable catalog of interactive adventures over the past decade, enough so that the three titles they featured in this year’s Games With Gold – The Walking Dead, Tales From the Borderlands, and now Back to the Future – share very little in common in terms of setting and tone. It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of this month’s addition: based off the beloved film franchise from Robert Zemeckis, Back to the Future: The Game branches off the events of the third film in its telling of a new adventure featuring Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and other familiar characters. Telltale was still figuring out their dialogue selection and interactivity at this stage, as well as how to tie new stories into preexisting franchises, but most consider the storytelling and voice-acting to be a fitting, nostalgic success that’s only pulled down by the lack of depth and difficulty in the game itself.
Child of Eden (December 1-15)
The emergence of Dance Dance Revolution in the late-‘90s gave rise to the popularity of rhythm-based musical games, testing players’ concentration and reflex responses. Spawning a subgenre, the concept helped to produce the innovative gameplay found in Rez and Lumines, in which designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi infused abstract, geometric visuals with fast-paced music responses. Child of Eden marks an impressive, yet familiar next step for the developer, in which the flow through geometric spaces and the method of interacting with targets looks and sounds similar to the rudiments of Rez. The vividness and scope of the upgraded visuals make it a different experience, in which players navigate a pathway through the collected framework of human memories that become mesmerizing with the depth and color of the level design and the fluidity of the electronic music.
Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death (December 16-31)
All it takes is a brief glimpse at footage of the combat in Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death to absorb its influences. Set in a semi-modern environment at a Mayan exploratory dig site, the story revolves around vacationing wildfire fighter Marlow Briggs who, due to circumstances involving his girlfriend, gets murdered while at the site. His demise wasn’t permanent, though, as he’s resurrected with the spirit of a Mayan ruler embedded inside him, instructing him on his heroic journey as he wields a pair of ceremonial blades. The briskness of combat and environmental interaction instantly remind one of action-RPG experiences like God of War and Dante’s Inferno, while also sporting progressive upgrades to his weaponry and capabilities. Despite gritty graphics and apparent personality, critics and players weren’t convinced that there was enough differentiation between Marlow Briggs and his influences to justify the jump into the game.