While current circumstances have put many activities on hold (including New Year’s celebrations), some things just keep rolling regardless and who are we to deny Microsoft the chance to furnish us with their monthly freebies? The first Games with Gold of 2021 is upon us and titles are available from January 1st.
If (like me) you’re swimming in games to play, you can still add titles to your library to to discover 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 Gold freebies tend to swap in and out during the course of the month, so be sure to grab them all before they’re gone!
As with each Games with Gold offering, one game is available to download all through the month and for January that title is the delightfully sinister puzzle-platformer, Little Nightmares. From Swedish developer Tarsier Studios, the game is a dark, atmospheric thriller in the vein of Limbo and Inside that stars Six, a little girl who players must guide through the bowels of a disturbing vessel known as the The Maw. The vessel is built for creatures much larger than Six, forcing players to use their wits and stealth to outmanoeuvre the horrors roaming its ironclad corridors to freedom.
Available from January 1 to 31.
THE KING OF FIGHTERS XIII
While it has never been able to fully step out of the shadows of mainstay beat ’em up legends Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, the King of Fighters franchise has nonetheless carved itself an audience of loyal fans and is worthy of your time if side-scrolling brawling is your thing.
Long-running beat ’em up franchises usually have a long, complicated history and KoF is no exception. The Xbox 360 port of the arcade hit concludes the Ash story arc that began way back in King of Fighters 2003 (in case you were in any doubt of the game’s credentials). Having absorbed the power of those who sealed the demon Orochi in an unbreakable prison (more annoying and awkward to re-open than unbreakable, really) in two previous games, Ash must battle his way through a new tournament to confront the mysterious ‘Those From the Past’ who would use him to free the demon. It’s probably a safe bet that Orochi isn’t desperate to get out so it can shower the world with sweetness and light.
The console version features modes and arenas not available in the original arcade release, as well as a full roster of new fighters to master and returning favourites with improved move sets. If absurd supernatural drama and the hot spray of pixelated blood is your bag, than look no further!
Available from January 1 to 15.
Dusting itself off from the vaults of yesteryear, Breakdown is this month’s OG Xbox offering – another GwG staple. An ambitious title even by today’s standards, Breakdown combines first-person shooting with hand-to-hand combat, driving and a mystery that’s sure to pique your interest!
Everyday average super-soldier Derrick Cole awakes trapped inside a mysterious laboratory and unable to remember his past. As he navigates through a labyrinthine conspiracy plot so complex it makes Metal Gear Solid seem like a daytime soap opera, Derrick discovers extraordinary new powers and uses them to wage war against a mysterious military faction and a legion of similarly enhanced warriors.
Available from January 16 to 31.
Bouncing back from the original Xbox to its successor, the last game for this month is a classic Capcom outing that takes the premise of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and adds a little video game twist. Dead Rising was a must-have title on the 360, in many ways announcing the step-up in then next-gen gaming capabilities with an open-world of sorts populated with literal swarms of enemies and littered with 250 unique objects that could be wielded as weapons.
It’s not an easy life being a fictional journalist in a video game and Frank West is having about as bad a time as it gets. Trapped in a Colorado mall during a zombie outbreak, Frank must scavenge for supplies, source weapons from found materials, save fellow survivors, dodge psychopaths AND get to the bottom of this whole people-rising-from-the-dead issue. Y’know, for truth.
Players only have 72 in-game hours to survive until a rescue helicopter arrives at the mall to retrieve survivors. While ‘only’ waiting for 3 days during a zombie apocalypse doesn’t sound like too much of a hardship, it does limit how long Frank has to complete story-specific case files that, if not completed, can affect the ending of the game, offering multiple endings and replayability.
If all else fails though, you can allegedly lock yourself in a cupboard for 3 days until the helicopter arrives. I can’t imagine that ending being too rosy though…
Available from January 16 to February 15.
Another month, another collection of absurd scenarios, overwrought drama, violence, creepy institutions and problem-solving. I thought gaming was supposed to be an escapist hobby?!