[I was lucky enough to correspond with the folks at Official Xbox Magazine about a year ago. I applied for a staff writer position, but I didn’t make the cut seeing as how I didn’t have a UK work visa. Womp womp (hey, I got to write a piece for the print magazine, which was a life goal). They did ask for a summary of what I’d been playing, and I really liked the end result. So here it is.]
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
The poster child for internet outrage, Watch_Dogs served as a warning about big promises for little packages. I picked it up from Games With Gold with expectations lowered after three years of reading threads featuring the internet’s anger. Several hours and one spider tank later, Watch_Dogs is arguably my second favorite freebie in the program’s four year history, passing up hits like #IDARB and Sunset Overdrive (and falling behind Dark Souls).
Rightfully criticized for its misguided promises and bland plot, the game’s problems are easy to spot. The charm of the game, though, is in its stereotypically gritty protagonist. Sure, he’s your classic too tough tough guy, but his interactions with his sister offer a bit more than flaccid badassery. Her criticisms aren’t about his vigilantism or certain set of skills or whatever—instead, she begs him to snap out of his delusions and actually change for the better. Aiden Pearce isn’t a hero. He’s a man too stubborn to change, despite proof that his misguided coping mechanism (beating petty criminals with a baton) is only harming his remaining family and himself. Pearce is relatable in the most painful ways, making him one of the most human protagonists I’ve gotten to play.
A Dark Room
Developer: Doublespeak Games
A text-based idle game, A Dark Room pits the player and their growing band of apocalypse survivors against the ever hostile wilderness. The player, along with a mysterious stranger that offers prophecies and settlement expansions, must find a way to survive by exploring the wild remains of the world. The mystique is quickly outweighed by the tedium though. Resource management is more waiting than balancing, meaning the mysteries of the ruined world are locked behind hours of leaving the game actively running.
Fortunately, or unfortunately for the survivors, there’s no shortage of grues.
Mortal Kombat XL
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Whereas Mortal Kombat (2009) was a breath of fresh air in the long-running series, Mortal Kombat X is a whole lungful. Of course, that lung is quickly ripped out in one of the many fantastic fatalities and brutal, er, brutalities. The new characters are all solid, making even well-explored playstyles, like Ferra/Torr’s slow but strong bashing or Erron Black’s gunkata, just as fun as series’ staples like Johnny Cage and Scorpion. Unfortunately, NetherRealm’s post-launch content continues to be sketchy. Just like Injustice 2, it feels like the complete version is only available about a year after initial launch.
Developer: id Software
When you’re in the mood for Doom, it’s hard to argue with the fwoom of a grenade firing out of a shotgun tube. Doom’s always embraced its absurdities, but Doom 3 was more slow tension than speedy slaughter. This version shoots beyond breakneck to crown the player champion of carnage; Mick Gordon’s brutal metal soundtrack is the perfect fuel on the hellfire. With the effective death of rhythm genre, Doom’s the closest thing to a music game we’ll see this generation. Every riff is an invitation to massacre demon and monster alike on Mars, come Hell or…well, Hell.
Madden NFL 15
Developer: EA Tiburon
Madden is a lot of things now. All of them are pretty much the same game, but that’s beside the point(s). Everything else I’m playing offers fresh experiences, new worlds that make me want to talk about them the second I turn off the console. Madden, on the other hand, is the gaming equivalent of my worn out, threadbare pajamas. It’s the easy comfort I can turn to when I need a no thought distraction. The mechanics are shoddy, the graphics and animations are more terrifying than not, and it’ll never be patched. But damn is it comfy.