Xbox Pulls Ahead With Twists on Racers, Stealth in Feb’s Gold Games
While many other facets go into the creative process of developing games, a big chunk of making successful ones comes in how a specific title reacts to, improves upon, or straight-up deviates from prior versions of the same concept. All the games offered on the Xbox through their Games With Gold program for the month of February represent some pretty deliberate departures from what was currently expected of their genres or franchises at a given time, from an open-world franchise condensing its scale to a platformer to a pair of wild racing games that aren’t interested whatsoever in achieving realism. Most have their quirks that keep ‘em from being greats of their genre, emphasizing form above function, but they’re all distinctive enough to earn credit for making Microsoft’s free offering this time around something to be fond of. Let’s jump into the games.
Over the years, a degree of obligation to practicality has gradually taken hold of the first-person shooter genre, which once began as a medium for the outlandish, humorous mowing-down of demons and Nazis. Some entries have worked comical violence into their games — both Doom and Wolfenstein have been revived in the modern gaming climate, too — yet the truly chaotic sorts of FPS games are in shorter supply nowadays. Armed with a katana, fictionalized artillery, and a cutthroat attitude, Shadow Warrior attempts to recapture that brazen attitude in its Japanese setting, pitting a stealthy ninja mercenary against its own hordes of demons. It does so with gusto, given some versatility with an upgrade system for lead character Wang’s weapons and abilities, though Shadow Warrior hopes to win over its audience with the outlandishness of the action than any imperceptible advances it might make in the gameplay department.
Assassin’s Creed India
With the release of Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Ubisoft embarked on an adventure into a location frequently requested by its loyal fanbase: Egypt. It’s but one of many suggestions they’ve received, though, since the open-world concept could apply to many different fascinating time periods and places. While the developer couldn’t make a full-fledged game for each of those possibilities, they found a way to bring a pseudo-Assassin’s Creed experience to these places with platformer controls and game design, under the Chronicles brand. The second of these experiences takes place in 1800s India, where the man in the Assassin’s Creed garb must discover what item a mysterious member of the Templar order holds in his possession when he arrives to an area. None of the Chronicles line of games received terribly good marks from either critics or players, though, and India seems to fall in the middle both in chronology and quality.
So many racing games get lost in the pack because they don’t have a particularly interesting hook about their concept, and there’s only so much exclusivity of vehicles and locations to be spread around. Split/Second takes a different approach by altering the setting of the racing going on, putting the competition under the microscope of reality TV and a series of tracks designed for chaos. Players rev up a “power play” meter through successes on the tracks, from crazy tricks to drift racing, and that meter can activate events that complicate the pathways of other drivers on the course; it’s kind of like a semi-realistic spin on Mario Kart. The execution of the concept earned Split/Second a reputable fanbase and a positive critical reception, but it wasn’t enough to keep a planned sequel from being cancelled. That fans still champion the game and petition for a follow-up is a good indicator that Split/Second remains a well-oiled machine.
Crazy Taxi has been rattling around consoles since the Dreamcast, a port of sorts from the arcade version of the game. Sporting a vivacious soundtrack that included The Offspring and Bad Religion, the game’s concept is about as straightforward as they come: get the customer from one location to the next as quickly as possible. That makes it a racing game … sort of. A trick mechanic earns the driver extra cash throughout the fare, and the methodology involved with making the drive as crazy as possible adds a layer of mechanical depth to the experience. Unfortunately, the Xbox Arcade port features the newly-created soundtrack from the PC version, which removes the groovy sonic allure of the experience, and the port hasn’t received the warmest response due to its graphical presentation and how the controls have aged over the years. What’s left is the blitzed arcade driving experience, which can be addictive or fleetingly engaging, depending on who’s asked.