Xbox Game Pass, Gold Titles for February: Nobody’s Saving the World With This Middling Lineup
It’s February and love’s in the air, so that means the folks at Xbox will be extra generous with their Games With Gold and Game Pass offerings this month … right? Well, it was worth a try. In actuality, this month feels a bit different in the other direction since neither of Microsoft’s subscription services have been gifted much in the way of “WOW!” titles. From lower-tier shooters to under-the-radar RPGs and hidden gem action-platformers, it’s a moderate yet unshowy month in terms of new content that’ll draw in subscribers for Game Pass, and, well, the less said about what’s going on with Games With Gold, the better. Let’s take a closer look at the titles, but before doing so, be sure to head over and Grab a 3-Month Subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate at Amazon.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate – New and Upcoming
Someone who sticks to consoles for their gaming needs very likely hasn’t heard of Crossfire, though most PC gamers who enjoy the online shooter space know that it’s one of the most popular and widely played free-to-play shooting games in existence, remaining as such a decade-plus after release. For the most part, and understandably so due to the gap in time for in a western release and the culture surrounding several other online shooters, a huge part of this popularity rests in eastern countries. Despite the rampant regional enthusiasm, Smilegate hopes to further break into the global market, and they’re making an attempt with the Xbox exclusive semi-sequel CrossfireX.
Partnering with Max Payne and Control developers Remedy Entertainment to help craft the campaign side of the game, Smilegate essentially drops CrossfireX as the console representation of their already-popular online offering with a unique episodic campaign tacked on for good measure. Impressions from both players and critics haven’t been kind to CrossfireX thus far, though: the campaign additions have come across as atypically short and generic for a unique studio like Remedy, but it’s the general shooter gameplay that’s getting dragged for being uninteresting and lacking content. The multiplayer of CrossfireX is inherently free-to-play, whereas the campaign constitutes pay-to-play content, both of which seem to be included with the Game Pass listing for free download.
Edge of Eternity
Gaming culture has reached a point where turn-based RPGs really need something extra and noteworthy to be worth the time and energy investment required to pour into them. Whether it’s mixing modern gaming styles and techniques with the old, the novelty of turn-based combat in an unlikely genre (like martial arts in Yakuza), or the resurrection of a beloved franchise whose identity is tied to it, there needs to be a “reason” for players to engage in those legacy designs. More than that, it seems as if simply creating a new world and hoping that turn-based RPG elements will be serviceable enough to carry the player through it doesn’t work as well as it once did.
The aptly-titled Midgar Studio – named after the primary city in the classic turn-based JRPG Final Fantasy VII — have delivered Edge of Eternity on the hopes that its sci-fi/fantasy fusion of storytelling will still get the job done. As the story follows along weatherworn tropes of a corrosive “taint” spreading across the open-world realm due to an advanced race of alien invaders and the chosen pair of heroes hoping to cure it, the gameplay centers on both hex-based and semi-live combat scenarios that pay homage to many classic JRPGs. Both critics and players have pointed out that Edge of Eternity has significant roughness to its execution and drags in pacing throughout, though players have also commended it for the nostalgic spirit, flickers of ambitiousness, and eventual spikes of intensity in the story.
Nobody Saves the World
Guacamelee remains one of the more overlooked action games on consoles. The folks at Drinkbox Games telegraph heaps of Mexican lucha-libre bravado and beat-‘em-up Metroidvania gameplay in a setting that repeatedly shifts between the realms of the living and the dead — long before Pixar did similar things with Coco — all beautifully rendered in vibrant colors and charm. The developer’s success with Guacamelee and its sequel can’t help but make one enthusiastic about what they’d do with the fantasy dungeon-crawling subgenre, how they’ll possibly make it jut as vivid and humorous. The result is Nobody Saves the World, the tale of a stark white protagonist with no personality of their own who must adopt the “skins” of other fallen heroes to power through their dungeons.
With a magical wand in hand granting them the power to transform into an assortment of critters and characters – from rats and slugs to rogues and monks – Nobody delves into a world of procedurally-generated dungeons packed with quests and challenges, which naturally earns experience points. The signature personality of Drinkbox once again comes through in both the character animations and the ways in which the energized gameplay interacts with the characters. Perhaps the sweetest detail about Nobody Saves the World is that one Nobody doesn’t have to go at it alone: the game not only features multiplayer, but encourages it through how the magical forms can interact. Both players and critics have been enthusiastic about what Drinkbox has created, even if the general dungeon-crawling repetition still seems to set in after a while with the game despite the variety of forms.
Like many franchises moving from console generation to generation, the Hitman franchise of stealth-action games hit a lull near the end of the Xbox/PS2 era. Eventually, this led to a new release in the PS3/360 era, Hitman: Absolution, but it didn’t quite capture the same tight experience of the originals and, thus, didn’t have the kind of sales performance that’d reignite confidence in the franchise. Hitman was, once again, put on the shelf for a number of years to better figure out how to make it work in the current gaming era. Eventually, developers IO Interactive and Square Enix made what seems to have been the correct decision: it was time to “soft reboot” Agent 47 without fully starting from scratch, taking the lessons learned from Absolution and applying them to a version of Hitman that gets the series back to its open-ended, puzzle-solving roots.
Despite the minor snafu of initially releasing it in episodic segments, the full breadth of 2016’s Hitman reestablished the franchise as a contender in the increasingly crowded space of quality stealth games. This eventually led to a pair of sequels, the simply-titled Hitman 2 and Hitman 3, that understand their audience and what they want: while IO Interactive does experiment with the zaniness of the missions, landscapes, and skills, they never stray very far from the core enjoyment factors and mechanics that satisfy their player base and connect them into a cohesive trilogy. Thus, it’s no surprise to see them package in a Hitman Trilogy such as this, which utilizes the Access Pass system through Hitman 3 to access all three titles.
Xbox Games With Gold
Sure, the Games With Gold program has been going for quite a while now, and it might be slightly difficult to come up with feasible higher-profile free Xbox One and 360 titles to include with Xbox’s baseline subscription service … but other options are still there. Instead of pinpointing some of these exciting titles perhaps as a last hurrah for a fading subscription service, we’ve once again got a pair of low-attention indies for the Xbox One and less-than-stellar inclusions for the legacy consoles. Now, admittedly, it does make me smile to see something like Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse (February 1-28) available as a free download, since some of my fondest gaming memories come from similar point-and-click adventures (LucasArts, Sierra, etc) to that of the globetrotting adventure and murder mystery it provides. The stylish but repetitive indie puzzle runner Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield (February 16 – March 15) feels like an obligation filler instead of an excitement driver.
On the retro console side, there’s Hydrophobia (February 1-15), an action game that received middling reviews over a decade ago and only succeeded as, essentially, a tech demo for environmental water effects. Rounding out the offerings is Band of Bugs (February 16-28), a turn-based tactics RPG-ish game with a Hero’s Journey type of story, several multiplayer modes, and a level editor for continued enjoyment after finishing the game. Both have middling critical and audience scores, leaving one to wonder why they aren’t at least pairing iffy titles with at least one solidly good one.