Xbox Games With Gold for April Are Way Off Track

By on April 15, 2021

For a number of months now, the games being offered as free downloads through Microsoft’s Xbox Games With Gold program have been notably lacking in strength and any sort of excitement factor. It’s been stated and restated before: there are no plans to phase out the standard Xbox Live program. However, the disparity between the quality of games offered under Xbox’s longstanding subscription program and their other program – Game Pass and Game Pass Ultimate – has grown wider and mote prominent.

It’s at the point now where the rallying outcry from subscribers (mostly through social media) against the monthly offerings has been covered by online publications, with this month reaching a particularly loud point over the lackluster slate, which contains no next-gen title, a few poorly-reviewed ones, and nothing high profile. As Game Pass remains a highly-recommended program with a fantastic revolving door of playable games – Click Here to grab a Three-Month Subscription of Game Pass Ultimate from Amazon – it becomes harder and harder to recommend being solely a Xbox Live subscriber, and certainly not just for the free games and deals.

vikings xbox

Xbox One

Vikings: Wolves of Midgard (April 1-30)

While Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla has received heat for a slightly rough launch and questionable design decisions – seriously, no one-handed viking swords? – the game has still come out on top as one of the most reliably enjoyable things to play on the next generation of consoles. While players were awaiting the arrival of a “viking simulator”, Games Farm quietly released Vikings: Wolves of Midgard several years back, a beat-‘em-up action game that aims to tap into similar aesthetics and attitude.

From the isometric gameplay to the skill trees and control objectives, this one can essentially be summed up as “Diablo, but with Vikings” as players can explore open landscapes and grind their way through battles and player levels. Being frank, it’s really not that tough to satisfy fans of the dungeon crawler subgenre so long as it offers a taste of what they love from the experience, and this one manages to do that.  However, players and critics alike have been less than thrilled with how Vikings: Wolves of Midgard doesn’t do enough to break apart from the pack.

Truck Racing Championship (April 16 – May 15)

Believe it or not, the sport of semi-truck racing has existed since the mid-‘80s, and it’s about as nuts as it sounds with how the action puts heavy pressure on the trucks not to tip or burn out their brakes. Controlling a vehicle like that in a high-speed racing environment comes with its own challenges, something that also translates to the video game arena, such as piloting the bulkier, slower, yet forceful Darkside in the Twisted Metal vehicle combat franchise.  It’s a different control experience, but fun.

While there are other devoted semi-truck games out there, few others take the concept as seriously as the simulator Truck Racing Championship; after all, there’s no competing with American Truck Simulator. ETRC racing has its own set of regulations and distinctive attributes, and the folks at N-Racing aim to bring the uniqueness to the video game realm with a standard realistic simulator design. Generally, the consensus is that the game brings the unique heft of the racing experience to consoles, but it takes a little long to get through the (necessary) tutorial and it lacks both visual and AI polish once it’s actually embroiled in the action.

dark void xbox

Xbox 360

Dark Void (April 1-15)

Somewhere between the whimsy of The Rocketeer and the contemporary appeal of Iron Man lies the desire for some people to strap on jet engines, fly through the air and save the day. There are a lot of aspects to this concept that would be difficult for any developer, such as getting velocity and a sense of gravity right in the control, something that might be extra difficult for a studio on its first venture into the gaming realm.  That did not dissuade Airtight Games from making Dark Void, though.

Taking place before World War II for a little of that retro Rocketeer feel, the plot centers on tossing a cargo pilot onto another world – by way of the Bermuda Triangle — and into the fray of battle between humans and aliens for the ability to return home. Critics and players seem to think they’ve applied functional controls to Dark Void in guiding the character through the high-flying, guns-blazing setup, but it doesn’t deliver enough in the gameplay to offset a lackluster story, lack of depth, or short play time. At least Airtight Games stuck with it and eventually got around to Quantum Conundrum and the underrated Murdered: Soul Suspect.

Hard Corps: Uprising (April 16-30)

There’s always a niche market for retro-style video games, but we’re in the middle of a period right now where developers are creating devotedly nostalgic titles that truly celebrate what they’re “copying” instead of trying to conceal it.  This goes doubly for those developers and/or franchises who decide to revive or spin off from a longstanding series with those vintage gaming roots. How much updating should be done and how much old-school attitude should be preserved is a quandary that has stumped many popular franchises from previous gaming system eras.

Hard Corps: Uprising stealthy conceals its roots, as it’s actually a spinoff from the Contra series, specifically from a Sega Genesis title – Contra: Hard Corps – from over a decade and a half before its release.  While it doesn’t sport the yellow-and-red C, it still captures the familiar side-scrolling intensity through its updated levels, gameplay, and character selection. And both critics and players are quick to emphasize the fact that it is, indeed, hard, so it also has that carried on through its lineage.

About Thomas Spurlin

Film, home-media, and videogame scribe who digs green tea and walking his dogs.

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