Xbox Games With Gold Round-Up
So, this month saw Microsoft’s free-games-for-Gold-subscribers initiative, Games With Gold, extend its reach to the Xbox One, with Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and Halo: Spartan Assault being served up as its first offerings. Now, if you’re an Xbox One owner and a Gold subscriber, you’re obviously going to download the games. That much is a given. After all, it’s free games. However, is it then worth setting aside the time to actually play them? Well, read on for my verdicts on that…
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood
In Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, you play the titular Max, who must travel to an alternate dimension to save your little brother, Felix, having inadvertently cast a spell to remove him from your life.
So far, so Pixar, and that feeling persists throughout the game. The Xbox One has already been blessed with a number of outstanding-looking platformers with the likes of Strider, Child of Light and Rayman Legends, and Max: The Curse of Brotherhood deserves to take its place amongst them. There’s a real polish to the thing that wouldn’t look out of place in a Pixar or DreamWorks animated picture. Some dynamic camera work and excellent animation is combined with some decent voice work to produce a game that kids will love watching and looking at, if nothing else.
As for the gameplay, it’s fairly standard puzzle-platform fare. The game’s core mechanic is a “magic marker” that you can initially use to construct and deploy platforms, with later levels seeing the abilities of the marker grow as required, allowing you to take advantage of the elements to traverse areas and solve physics-based puzzles.
The game’s main issue is that it never does terribly interesting things with most of those abilities. Puzzles tend to be of the “move this crate here and use your ability to move it there” variety. As a result, it maintains that overall feeling of being a game for kids, rather than something a seasoned gamer will feel like sinking their teeth into. Having said that, kids will absolutely adore it and, mechanically, the game is solid, meaning that you’ll never feel overly frustrated by it.
Overall then, it’s a reasonable title with no small amount of charm, an interesting premise and slick presentation. Definitely worth a go.
Halo: Spartan Assault
This game should have been a no-look, can’t-miss certainty. Take one of the biggest game franchises of the last 10 years, throw its most well-known assets into a top-down, twin-stick shooter, make it a co-op experience, and stand back to accept the plaudits.
Only it hasn’t worked out that way at all.
Let me start with the positives, as there are definitely some there. If you’re a Halo fan, then you’ll love the game’s graphical style. The animations of all the characters in the game have translated really well to the shift in perspective. Spartans, Grunts, Brutes, Elites…all of them are instantly recognisable, mimicking their characteristics from the full games perfectly. In a similar vein, the game also sounds unmistakably Halo. The game has excellent meaty sound effects and that trademark orchestral soundtrack.
It even makes a reasonable attempt at providing a decent story as a backdrop for the action, set between the events of Halo 3 and Halo 4 and directly following on from the first (and last, presumably) season of Spartan Ops, so it provides context for those who have an interest in the Halo lore.
Unfortunately, it is perhaps the biggest legacy from the Halo series – deliberate, planned combat – that provides Spartan Assault with its biggest issue – a lack of pace. The best top-down, twin-stick shooters – Renegade Ops, Geometry Wars etc – thrive on being fast-paced and frantic, almost becoming twitch shooters in some cases. Halo has never been, and is unlikely to ever be, that kind of game, and it just doesn’t translate effectively to this style of game. The game quickly becomes something of a slog, as you wade through wave after wave of slow-moving enemy, and you have to play parts of the game at a great distance, as you look to pick off Wraiths and the like.
The game also falls foul of something I’ve railed against before on the site – microtransactions. The game has practically all of the weapons that you’re used to wielding throughout the Halo series, and they’re all implemented well. But why do I have to pay actual real-world money to use them? And, having paid that real-world money, why are they only one-use items? As with most microtransactions, it feels incredibly exploitative, and is a fitting cap on a surprising disappointing game. It’s not without its charms, but all I can say is that it’s a good thing that it’s currently free…
So, overall, it’s a less-than-auspicious start from Games With Gold on Xbox One. It’s also difficult to see how it’ll get any better in the short term, such is the paucity of next-gen games actually available at the moment. However, they ARE free games, and it feels a little first-world-problem-y to complain about that, right? Especially as Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is actually a decent wee title. Let’s wait and see what the future holds. In the meantime, download them while they’re there. For the grand total of no pounds and no pence, there might be just enough there to fill a weekend.