Xbox continues to
power on with their greatest asset. The Xbox Game Pass already has a
load of great games to play. With this update, there are even more
great choices. What’s best about these is their value and length. A
lot of the games on offer are solid, well rounded experiences. They
aren’t just dropping a few niche and trashy disposable games. They
are getting you THE best games from yesteryear. The titles in this
pass of theirs are all of the games that if you missed, you need to
play. What are they?
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
The original Deus Ex game was an absolute paradigm changer for the PC gaming industry. N’stuff. I’ve never played the original. I started with Invisible War, a game everyone hated but that’s only because nothing could be as good as that first game (and it’s janky AF). But after that failure, the Deus Ex series found life in the prequel series starring Adam Jensen. A man who is basically the Major from Ghost in the Shell but is a gruff dude working big tech security, and later, Interpol. Mankind Divided is a direct sequel to Human Revolution, which came out last console generation. It wouldn’t hurt to play that title, but it’s not absolutely essential to MD, since a lot of the characters from the first game are mere afterthoughts. That and a handy-dandy 11 minute video comes with the game to recap it for you.
What happens next, is you find yourself in a world the producers called the “Mechanical Apartheid“. This is due to a mass hack that resulted in one of the world’s most bloody acts of terrorism, an event where all cybernetically enhanced individuals received some sort of hacking signal that reduced them to turning into a vicious mob, killing everyone (until Adam Jensen stopped). Understandably shook, the world of the enhanced, now known as the slur “klanks”, live under constant supervision by a humanity who doesn’t trust them. But Adam Jensen is special, and because of his skills, he lands a job at Interpol working a counter-terror task force. Over the course of the game, you will explore the streets of Prague while trying to stop an ‘illuminati’-tier conspiracy that if fulfilled, may destroy the freedom of all individuals as we know it. Yikes.
This game is play it your way, and is mainly a tactical stealth action game. You can stealth your way past everything, hack your way past everything, shoot your way pas everything, blow up your way past everything, or mix it up a little bit. Sadly, the project was suddenly forced out the door before it was completely finished. It now serves as what was supposed to be a new trilogy… only the other two aren’t currently getting made. If you go into this game aware that a few threads will be left dangling, you’ll still have a blast.
Prey is another game with a littered history. The original Prey came out in 2005 after being worked on for 15 YEARS. No joke, but it finally came out and it wasn’t half bad. Some people may accuse the game of being racist for having an Indigenous American protagonist who uses ancient Indian magic to protect himself, and to that i say get the fuck over yourself. It’s a game. And the sequel is even better.
See, Prey was originally supposed to come out as Prey 2, a pseudo-sequel at best where you play as a bounty hunter who rounded up criminals using gadgets and some parkour. The game disappeared. Then, at an E3, it re-emerged as Prey, which means I now have to distinguish them by release date. This time Arkane Studios made it, the brains behind Dishonored. Just like their other game, Prey became a game in same style as the “System Shock / Bioshock” games.
This one also features a wide variety of powers and play styles. You can shoot your way through, hack your.. YOU GET THE POINT. This one features a far more bizarre plot. You are on a space station (sorry for spoiling the first 20 minutes of the game), where some experiments on a shapeshifting aliens species has gone awry. They have done a LOT to ruin the station, and if you don’t solve all those problems and a single one of them makes it back to Earth, it will be DOOMED. Peep our review here.
Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter is a much beloved franchise known for its challenge and scope. You don’t simply fight monsters. You track them down, you beat them to a pulp, and then you wear their bones on your favorite armor. So does your cat. The cats are pretty rad in these games. However, for a very long time, MH was a very niche title for a specific audience, yet Capcom broadened that scope with Monster Hunter World.
This version of the game provided updated controls, a new story, and a huge focus on online multiplayer to get a lot of players. And it worked. During a very quiet January, this title popped up and became the surprise first-hit of the year. Actually, not only that, it set a new all-time record in sales for Capcom. It keeps people coming back with a steady slew of both free and paid updates. You’ll never run out of stuff to do.
This series is a tough and very involved game. Hunting monsters takes preparation. And preparation requires a full understanding of the ins and outs of the game. Preparation is key. Everything from crafting gadgets, potions, poisons, and other key items can make all the difference during your hunt. Of course, this game has a very, VERY extensive tutorial that makes sure you’re always on top of what you need to know. Sometimes it feels like the tutorial never ended. But 25 hours was enough for me. Also I cheated profusely and usually just “fired a flare” during the fights. That means 3 people will show up and kill the monster for you. You could possibly play the whole entire game this way if you wanted. And should. JK, but check out our review.
Developer DONTNOD is a game producer that makes the best 7/10 games you will ever play. They are notorious for their storylines, which aren’t simply engaging. No, these devs would prefer to bludgeon you over the head with hard-to-discuss topics like memory erasure, suicide, assisted suicide, drug abuse, unfiltered teenage angst, and high school drama classes. Then, in comes Vampyr, a narrative heavy action melee game with a slower and focused pace. If you wanted to play the “easy version” of Dark Souls this is the one. Not only that but they recently patched in a story mode and a hard mode so you can either play it as super easy Dark Souls or actual Dark Souls.
Maximizing the potential for irony, the story stars a recently vampire’d Doctor, Jonathan Reed. He’s world renowned for his research in… wait for it… blood. Yep, the blood doctor turns into a blood sucker. Vampyr gets about as bleak as it can possibly get. You are in an old london riddled with Spanish Flu. The citizens of London aren’t a particularly happy or nice bunch either. Between researching links between the flu and a vampire epidemic, you also deal with the citizens.
Many of them need your help in more ways than one. Not only do you do random quests for them, as per most games, there’s an additional angle. You also have to diagnose them and craft the cures for their ailments. Also, you get teased by the level up system. Level up from fighting enemies, but you get a huge XP bonus if you kill an innocent. Yeah, that’s this game. Those aren’t even the truly tough decisions either. You’ll encounter those at the end of each act and marvel at how all options seem wrong. We reviewed it here.
This overview of Life is Strange 2 Episode 1 took place during a podcast. But it went on for so long we had to remove it from the podcast. We put it here instead. I mean, you could listen to use talk about the game. Or you can just sit there and be mesmerized in this latest rendition of DANKVISION.
Vampyr is an action-adventure game featuring melee combat and advanced character interaction. It was published by Focus Home Interactive and developed by DONTNOD Entertainment, makers of Life is Strange and Remember Me. You play as Jonathan Reid, a very successful doctor who specializes in blood transfusions. In an ironic twist of fate, he becomes a vampire (called Ekons in the game, and no, the spelling “vampyr” was never used in the entire game) and becomes entangled in a mystery. The city of London has been struck with overwhelming cases of Spanish Flu. Your overall quest is to simply cure this disease plaguing London, but that’s not all. While beating crazed vampires with a large stick can be fun sometimes, you also have to help the citizens of the city. You do so by traveling to safe spots, talking to people, learning about them, and treating them for a variety of medical issues. The other twist? You get EXP from doing quests, but if you find yourself having a hard time, you can choose to feast on anyone from the populous. It’s not that simple though, killing the wrong person could result in destabilizing an entire town if you’re not careful.
DONTNOD have never really done great in the graphics dept. Their best work comes from Life is Strange, but that’s only because the art style masks the lower texture details. This game has functional graphics at best. The city streets are full of nothing but brown, grey, and dark red as if the game took a page out of the last console generation’s “realistic” trend. Reid himself is very well detailed in the amount of care that has been put into his appearance, but he is the only exception. Everyone else either looks passable at best, but more often than not they look bad. Imagine facial textures that are worse than Mass Effect Andromeda. Actually, that goes double for character animations too, as characters will sort of sway back and forth unnaturally while you speak to them, and lip sync could do with some improvements. The lighting effects seemed to just consist of very flat looks, and the shadows are very poor if they even bother to show up. I tolerated these dull graphics for the entire game but there wasn’t a single moment where I was impressed with anything.
I’m having a hard time with how I should score this section. The main plot is interesting enough, and if you’re a big fan of vampire stuff and in-game lore, there’s plenty to dig into. The real talent on display is the NPC interactions. In your travels you will meet people who are out at night going about their business. You can approach any of them and talk to them about how they feel, what they do, and if there’s anything you can do for them. And yet it gets deeper still, as there are special dialog options for every character that you can only learn either from gaining their trust, talking to others, or eavesdropping. Once you’ve unlocked these secrets, you can compel a character to answer questions about the information you learned. You’ll find yourself going back and forth between NPCs talking to them as you learn more and more and complete tasks for them.
This is one of the few games where helping out characters who can’t help themselves has a legitimate reason. The city streets are very treacherous and filled with all sorts of fiends, so most of the people are justified in asking you if you can help out. But all that said, there’s a bigger problem at large, as the quality of writing varies greatly from person to person. You’ll find characters with astoundingly hidden depths, and then you’ll talk to people how are cardboard cutouts. The other problem is the flow of logic when you talk to people. Also, the majority of the plot in this game is delivered by having stiff one-on-one conversations. You run into the same problem you had with games like Mass Effect 1 where the dialog options you have usually fall to “TELL ME MORE ABOUT X.” You can also have a character say something very very distressing in one interaction, and then immediately go back to their default mood if you ask them basic questions. Overall, the case here seems to be a solid example of quantity over quality, and your mileage may vary on this fact.
But, here lies the other problem with the plot. The quality of voice acting also leaves room for a lot of improvement. While core characters are relatively good with their delivery, the same cannot be said of all the NPCs. A lot of the characters have very wooden dialog and can sometimes sound like they were simply rehearsing the lines and but accidentally made that the final cut. A lot of the accents don’t sound genuine, and there were even a couple of times where their accents slipped into something else. But that’s enough about the characters. The game is redeemed with a really rich, soulful soundtrack that matches the aesthetic of 1918 London, while also not being afraid to add in some more modern touches. The combat also has some satisfying sounds, with blood splat, thwacks, flamethrowers, and gas guns all sound exactly as they should.
As said before, the game revolves around talking to people, healing, and completing investigations. At first, the doctor treatments were interesting but it soon became tiresome due to an interesting but very stressful game mechanic. Before that, let’s talk about the combat. It’s a bland, slow and deliberate system with some sluggish reaction times to button presses and seemingly unfair fights that are based solely on numbers. If you’re level 15 and you face someone at level 18 or so, you’ll find that no matter how hard you hit them, nothing tends to hurt them until your level matches theirs. This is especially true of bosses, who have a mountain of health and are relentless. I haven’t had boss fights this bad since Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The melee itself is a generic take on the Souls style, but it simply lacks the depth and response that makes those games so great. What’s worse is if you are under-leveled, you have to do a load of backtracking to find a place to level up and then make your way back. You also do not get your health syringes or bullets back when you die from a boss battle. If you used all of your health packs you are shit out of luck.
And here comes the interesting part. Leveling up. In order to use your XP to upgrade abilities, you need to sleep. Find a bed at a hideout or return to your room at the hospital and go to bed. But when you sleep, the next day arrives. Anyone who was sick and untreated will get sicker, people you healed will get better, people who were previously unhealed become sick, and any action you took in the district that deeply affects that location will take place. That’s right, you basically have to bank all your experience points and make sure everyone in the four boroughs of London are nice and healthy before you take that nap.
Sitting back and diving deep into the character interaction is fun and all, but this game is not without a plethora of killjoys. Loading times are really long, where launching the game will send you to a black screen for 20 seconds. You have to wait for certain interiors to load and that takes a long time, sometimes nearly a minute of waiting. Dying also drops a really long wait time on you. Oh, and if you run too fast across town, you’ll get a freezeframe loading screen for about 5-10 seconds. That, combined with the crapton of backtracking you will be doing doesn’t help. Especially because there’s NO fast travel. Granted, the map isn’t too large and once you’ve run around the whole world enough (and you will), you get to learn the routes without having to consult the map. You’ll need to know the map and the community screen as you’ll also be running all over the place to make sure everyone has been healed before you rest. Again, the tedium of facing down boss fights will bear down on you, often leading to frustration as you must make your way out and then come back just to fight an enemy that has a higher number than you. But, the interactions are still fascinating in their own right.
Vampyr is a deeply flawed game, yet somehow I could not take my hands off it. Up until the day I decided I wanted to beat the game as fast as possible, I was pretty engrossed in the world this game offered. Something, I’m not sure what, just kept me coming back again and again, playing it for long stretches as I did everything in my power to help everyone. Or at least I did until I needed to beat the game quickly and just decided to kill everyone. But fancy that, interact with an NPC you don’t like? Get the instant gratification of killing them. There are a lot of personalities here, and you will definitely find some people kill-worthy. This is a low scoring game but it’s one of the best low scoring games I’ve played in quite a while.
People frequently complain when the ending of a game ruins a series. Especially if said series is a ‘choose your own adventure’ type of experience. Why should I bother at all if the ending is the same? Sure. Why bother eating an apple, it eventually will become a core. Don’t eat that ice cream, it ends up being an empty bowl. What happens throughout the course of a game is far more likely affect than that silly little ending you encounter. [Minor spoilers for Mass Effect and Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2]