We may be trapped in the depths of winter, but things are a-simmering on the Xbox front. Feast your eyes on the bountiful selection of free games spilling forth from the vaults of Microsoft in February’s Games with Gold.
If your pile of shame is a touch on the large side, don’t worry, you can still add these freebies to your library to play later but they will only be accessible with an active Gold or Gamepass Ultimate membership. If you’re new to the Xbox ecosystem, it’s also worth noting that free Games with Gold tend to swap in and out during the course of the month, so be sure to grab them all before they’re gone!
Standard operating procedure for Games with Gold is a larger, AAA-quality game offered for the full month, along with a selection of titles available for shorter periods, but this month Microsoft are being extra generous and running two games month-long concurrently.
First up is a remake of the survival-horror grand-daddy, Resident Evil, tying in nicely with the recent RE VIII demo. This HD remaster upgrades the visuals and control scheme of the game that launched a franchise back in 2002. After contact is lost with Special Tactics and Rescue Service (STARS) Bravo Team while investigating a series of bizarre murders on the outskirts of Racoon City, Alpha Team – Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Barry Burton and Albert Wesker – are dispatched to find their colleagues. Attacked by murderous dogs at the crash site of Bravo Team’s helicopter, Alpha are forced to take shelter in a nearby abandoned mansion. Splitting up to reconnoitre the old building, players take control of either Jill or Chris as they search the bizarre mansion for evidence of Bravo Team, encountering mutated creatures and reanimated corpses that hunger for human flesh.
Resident Evil set the gold standard for the horror genre using fixed camera angles, meagre supplies, taxing puzzles, dastardly traps and an increasingly unsettling story to ratchet up the tension and player immersion. For those that haven’t played it, RE is a masterclass in old-school thrills and for those who haven’t played it in a while, it’s nice to know that there life in the old (mutated) dog yet.
Available from February 1 to 28.
Gears 4 signalled a change in management from the franchise creators at Epic to The Coalition, a Microsoft-owned studio built for the express purpose of making Gears games. With that change came a leap forward in the timeline and change in focus, away from Delta Squad and the locust/lambent war to a new group of younger, more realistically proportioned warriors who were about to encounter their own crucible of conflict. Gears 5 picks up shortly after the events of 4’s series soft-reboot and is our second title available throughout February.
After decades of peace was shattered by the emergence of the swarm and the revelation of her heritage revealed at the end of the last game, life is less than idyllic for Kait Diaz. Insomnia punctuated by horrific nightmares when she can sleep and the knowledge that her past is tied deeply to the locust horde are hindering her attempts to function as a soldier of the Coalition, evacuating those colonies outlying New Ephyra behind the safety of its walls. Luckily, Kait can rely on JD Fenix and Del Walker to have her back while she struggles to come to terms with her burdens. After an evacuation ends in bloodshed, Kait is forced to reveal that she has been having horrific visions that seem to be tied to swarm attacks. JD’s father, veteran gear Marcus Fenix, reveals the location of facility called New Hope that might supply some answers to her condition.
Gears 5 expands on the back-to-basics approach of 4 with new mechanics, weapons, enemies and even open-world areas to explore non-linearly in a campaign that is drop dead gorgeous, from beautiful vistas to gruesome creature design. As with previous Gears games, finishing the campaign doesn’t mean you’re done with the addictive third-person cover-shooter: those who want to inflict signature bloody executions on their fellow humans have multiple PvP modes to perfect their wetwork techniques, while those who prefer PvE can continue the fight in the latest class-based iteration of Horde and go deep into the hive of the enemy in the new 3-player Escape mode.
Available from February 1 to 28.
INDIANA JONES AND THE EMPEROR’S TOMB
Wandering the dusty streets of memory lane are a monthly occurrence with Games with Gold and February’s first dalliance with rose-tinted nostalgia goggles is Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb on the original Xbox.
While Indy’s screen adventures outside of the original three films are best forgotten, the whip-cracking, globe-trotting, adventuring archaeologist has had significantly more success in the video game arena, Emperor’s Tomb being one of those successes. After a pre-credits encounter with a despicable Nazi ends in an albino alligator enjoying an early supper, Indy is approached by a Chinese official to recover the ‘Heart of the Dragon’, an ancient relic thought to be buried with the first emperor of China. To discover the emperor’s final resting place, Indy will have to assemble three parts of the ‘Mirror of Dreams’ thought to be hidden in various locations around the world, including Prague, Hong Kong, Istanbul and even the sunken city of a Byzantine military commander. Naturally, Jones is double-crossed along the way and learns that the Chinese official is actually an underworld crime lord in cahoots with the surprisingly still-alive Nazi from the start of the game. Looks like that revolver and whip will come in handy after all…
Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb is a third-person action adventure full of puzzles, fist-fights, exploration, gun-battles and THAT theme, successfully delivering the Indiana Jones we love while offering up some 30’s adventure hokum into the bargain.
Available from February 1 to 15.
DANDARA: TRIALS OF FEAR EDITION
Jumping back to the almost-present, our next offering is Dandara: a 2D platforming metroidvania based on a 17th century Brazilian historical figure who threw off the shackles of slavery to free her people. The game takes some artistic license with Dandara’s story, resetting the action to the otherworldly planet of Salt and giving Dandara herself the ability to defy gravity by jumping from white, salted surfaces in the environment to avoid enemies, progress and solve puzzles. Destroying foes will drop more salt that can be used to upgrade Dandara’s abilities which will, in turn, allow her access to the previously inaccessible areas of the map. The initial story is deliberately vague, prompting the player to interact with NPCs along the way who will relate the game back to the story of the original freedom fighter.
The Trials of Fear edition adds 3 new areas for player to explore, as well as new abilities for Dandara and a new big boss. The developers even added more lore for the characters and new, original soundtrack.
Available from February 16 to March 15.
LOST PLANET 2
As we come to our last free title of February, we delve once again into the past, this time back to the Xbox 360 era. Unsurprisingly, Lost Planet 2 is the sequel to third-person action-shooter Lost Planet: Extreme Condition. Set 10 years after the original on EDN III, a planet ravaged by extreme temperatures and enormous super-predators known as akrids, the human settlements there survive by mining precious thermal energy in mechanised Vital Suits.
As with a lot of Japanese titles, Lost Planet 2 is full to the brim with beautifully over-designed armaments, convoluted story elements and novel game mechanics. That said, if all of those are your bag, this is probably one of the better examples of the genre to be tooling around with. The complex, multi-threaded campaign is unusual because it tells the same story from several different character perspectives and also supports 4-player co-op, each player being able to customise their character, loadout and VS. There is also 16-player PvP modes to test your mettle against other VS jockeys once you’ve mastered the campaign.
Available from February 16 to February 28.
Another month, another veritable treasure trove of gaming delights for you to clutter up your storage device with. Give them a whirl to see what sticks and we’ll see you in a month when we can reveal what freebies will festoon your short-range future.