Xbox Zooms Through August With Honorable, Not-Quite Epic Games With Gold
We’re nearing the end of the summer, having passed the attention sink of vacations, summer movie blockbusters, and the hoopla of San Diego Comic Con. All those things tend to be distracting enough for the subscription services to get away with shrug-worthy titles during their respective months, but once school starts back and the relaxation of fall settles in, they’ve got to kick into gear and satisfy gamers’ curiosities with unique, worthwhile titles. Xbox gets things off to a quick start with a robust assortment of titles for their August Games With Gold freebies, from a renowned racing title to a historical fighting game and a little magic from the House of Mouse. It’s perhaps not the most exciting of months, but it’s a decent way of getting the season off on a good note. Let’s take a closer look.
Forza Horizon 2
Playground Games’ second installment in their Horizon series of racing games was arguably the most anticipated launch title for the Xbox One, both because of the realistic graphical prowess and because of the franchise’s prestige stemming from their success on the 360. Predictably, Forza Horizon 2 ended up being a visual powerhouse, transporting the players into an open-world racing experience that exhibited exactly what was capable of next-gen hardware. But they also telegraphed exiting simulation aspects as well, working in dynamic daylight and weather mechanics alongside a broadly expanded area through which the players can drive, engage in challenges and interact with online functionality. Naturally, certain opinions about Horizon 2 were inflated around release due to it being among the system’s launch titles, but it’s maintained a fine reputation with critics and players since, even though its sequel has mostly lapped it in the standings.
People enjoy discussing what would happen if a battle so happen to occur between opponents X and Y, whether it’s superheroes, fantasy creatures, or even historical factions. For Honor taps into the interest generated by the last of those possibilities, matching up several iconic medieval factions — knights, the Iron Legion; vikings, the Warborn; and samurai, the Chosen — and having them duke it out through third-person warfare controlled by the player. Driven by authentic spoken language for their classifications and the selection of different warrior classes, For Honor explores its different historical options with a lot of gameplay versatility. That eventually funnels into a more tactical brawling paradigm, The Art of Battle, during key moments of battle that resembles more traditional fighting mechanics, opening up lots of opportunities for special abilities and maneuvers. There’s a learning curve, but both critics and players seem to agree that the versatility of combat and historical essence makes it worth the effort.
Dead Space 3
After a surprisingly tense debut with the original Dead Space and a sequel that somehow managed to improve on an already terrific formula, expectations were high for Visceral Games’ Dead Space 3. The pressure was on for the studio to deliver something even scarier in tone and more expansive in gameplay, continuing the psychologically rattled narrative of Isaac Clarke as he battles the Necromorphs. Attention may have been paid to tweaking the gameplay toward new and exciting directions — including the addition of online co-op — but it was at the expense of some of the series’ core strengths, lacking the execution of scares from the first two entries and delivering an underwhelming conclusion. Some critics and players were won over by Dead Space 3, and there’s certainly some strong sci-fi/horror shooting tenacity to relish here, but it’s hard not too look at the ineffective final entry in the series as a key reason for Visceral Games’ downfall.
Disney’s Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
A ton of buzz formed around the original Epic Mickey, a result of stealth-RPG mastermind Warren Spector — responsible for Thief: The Dark Project and Deus Ex, as well as several entries in the Ultima series — being at the helm for a dark Disney fantasy featuring the House of Mouse’s iconic mascot. Expectations might not have been met when it finally arrived on the Wii U, sporting less of a moody atmosphere and less gameplay versatility than expected, but it was enough to spawn a sequel, The Power of Two, in hopes of capitalizing on the potential. Unfortunately, even with the inclusion of another uniquely iconic Disney character, Oswald the rabbit, Epic Mickey 2 couldn’t make the magic happen. Despite adoration for the breadth of the Disney universe, gameplay and camera issues end up being too overpowering for this lackluster follow-up.