Xbox Gold Freebies for October Scare Up Interest Without Slaying
Well, we have finally arrived at the last full month of freebies from Xbox Live before the Series X consoles come into the picture, and it’s unclear exactly what the year ahead has in store. On the surface, the assumption that players will be focusing on the newest, flashiest games above older titles will naturally still be the reality. However, it’s clear by the tech being implemented in both the big new consoles that companies have taken the desirability of backwards compatibility seriously, boasting that their library of older games will run and look even better than before. The future of Xbox Live sub service also remains in limbo due to how Microsoft has been halting year subscription buys and their pivot to Game Pass, but that’s just another element.
What we have here is the final month of free Gold games without the Series X in the stratosphere, and while the offerings aren’t high tier – no Resident Evil, Outlast, Layers of Fear, or Evil Within? — they are at least appropriately Halloween-themed enough. Let’s take a closer look, but before you do, hop over and Grab a Year Xbox Live Card at Amazon while you still can.
Slayaway Camp: Butcher’s Cut (October 1-31)
Have you ever been bothered by the ridiculous movements of a horror-movie killer, where it seems like they make weird decisions or go in awkward directions for the sake of the story continuing? Slayaway Camp playfully uses this idea in a mashup of gaming genres: it’s an isometric block slide puzzle game, but it’s set in the universe of an ‘80s-style horror movie.
Moving the focal block puts players in control of the killer, an overt duplication of Jason Voorhees named Skullface, and when they’ve solved the puzzle correctly … ? Skullface gets to relish the death of another victim, rendered in blocky, yet still oddly gruesome kills. Those who’ve been hooked by slide puzzle mobile games know how the addiction starts, feeling like the early ones are easy and then getting lost in endless shifts with later, more difficult layouts, and that’s an experience confirmed to stick around with Slayaway Camp by critics and players.
Maid of Sker (October 16 – November 15)
If you’re looking for a more traditional survival horror style of game, however, Microsoft’s got you covered there too with Maid of Sker. Granted, those looking for the action-packed segments of those genre staples might be disappointed, as this title from Wales Interactive steeps itself in the atmospheric mystery of R.D. Blackmore’s late-1800s novel about the Sker House, a historical building on the southern side of Wales.
Weapon usage is minimal since the game hinges more on stealth and evasion from the “Quiet Ones”, as the protagonist reaches environmental puzzles and further unearths the haunted mystery of the locale. “Restrained” games like this can work with the right kind of atmosphere and tension behind them, but they can also stumble without more fleshed-out game mechanics to make the player feel like they’re involved in the experience. Maid of Sker falls somewhere in the middle: the eerie British ghost/Lovecraftian atmosphere deserve praise, but critics feel it’d be better with stronger mechanics getting the player between key spots.
Xbox / Xbox 360
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (October 1-15)
Man, it’s weird to think about some of these vintage games in terms of them being decades ago, and perhaps Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is one of the more unique representations of that. Upon release, the third-person action and platforming game was heralded for the vivacity of its graphics and the expansiveness of its explorable world, combined with tricky environment puzzles.
That was in 2003, though, and between the advances in graphics and the continued development of the scale of worlds being built for players to explore, it doesn’t hold up to the same accolades. The absence of voice acting in its trove of cinematic cutscenes doesn’t help, either. Some will enjoy the nostalgia of revisiting Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy and how it looks being processed by modern game consoles like the Xbox One X, but it doesn’t have the same fidelity and longevity as others cut from the same cloth as it, such as Prince of Persia: Sands of Time or Beyond Good and Evil (both also released in 2003).
Costume Quest (October 16-31)
Believe it or not, no, the folks at Xbox haven’t made the original Costume Quest available as a free download at any point during the program, only the sequel in 2016. Somehow, over the course of nearly a decade of Halloweens come and gone, they never thought to make this charming, family-friendly RPG from the creators of Psychonauts and Brutal Legend available to enjoy over the season.
That’s a shame, because it proves to be a great introduction to the moving parts of the role-playing genre, set against the backdrop of Halloween night as one costumed twin – chosen at the beginning between the boy or the girl of the pair – sets out to rescue the other from being kidnapped by a monster. The game possesses light party recruitment mechanics and upgrade systems that prove to be appealing to players both younger and older, heightened by the vibrant art style and the dramatics of the transformative turn-based combat style (even if it does feel dated by today’s standards).