Xbox Game Pass TA Team Picks (April 2021)May 1, 2021
Luke — Genesis Noir
We’ve seen some strange games come through Game Pass over the last few years, but they don’t come much stranger than Genesis Noir — a black-and-white noir detective game about the creation of the universe, told via the language of jazz. The premise is absolutely wild, the unique minimalist art style sublime, interactions playful and creative, and the swinging soundtrack is just wonderful… no matter how many games you’ve played in your time, you’ve never played anything quite like this.
Gameplay-wise, the closest touchstones are probably Amanita Design’s games. Like Machinarium, much of the action uses visual storytelling instead of words — don’t worry, though, as there are plenty of those in the complex and colourful prose of the intermission sequences between stages — while actual play is more like the Samorost games, where puzzles dance between abstract interactions, trial-and-error sequences, and generally just progressing by fiddling with everything in your way until something happens. A few such sections outstay their welcome a little and others can be a bit obtuse, but Genesis Noir generally darts between different activities so quickly that it’s hard to stay mad at it. There aren’t many games where you can be building a city by playing freeform jazz with a street musician one moment and calibrating high-tech machinery on Mars the next, and there are some genuinely remarkable moments in the long string of one-offs that make up the relatively short adventure. It truly is jazz in playable form, hitting strange notes and beats that will disgust some and delight others, and it’s rare to see a game so utterly congruent in everything from tone and style to mechanics and progression. It breaks all the rules, yet still works. Jazz. Nice.
If you’re not in the market for a pretentious art game, maybe you’re instead up for a quick completion? Good news, then, because Genesis Noir is both. There’s nothing missable here, and all bar a pair of achievements are guaranteed unlocks. The last two are for seeing both endings, and you can just use the chapter select option to redo the final stage after beating the game to make the other choice and bag the completion. For all the game’s foibles, I absolutely loved it, and while it breaks my heart to see that 2.8/5 TA community rating, I get it. Genesis Noir is certainly not a game for everyone, but I will say that everyone stands to take something away from the experience of playing it, whether that be fond memories of a unique, stylish, and thought-provoking game, or just a free 1,000G for playing a few hours of something weird.
Heidi — Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
Given how popular Gwent is, not to mention the world of The Witcher itself, we probably could have been given just about anything featuring Geralt and/or Gwent and we would have been happy. But Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales goes far beyond any idea of a low-level spin-off, with hours of content, a beautifully detailed world, fully realised characters, and the sort of gripping story and ambiguous choices that we’ve come to expect from The Witcher 3 — all wrapped up with a brilliantly reimagined version of Gwent.
Thronebreaker is gorgeous, whether you’re looking down at Queen Meve from the game’s isometric perspective, watching dialogue play out against a windswept, painterly backdrop, or watching one of the game’s stunning cutscenes. Everything is clean and simple, but also extensively detailed. Trees sway in the wind, dust rises beneath Meve’s feet, smoke wafts up from houses, water splashes as the army stomps by, and every now and again, Meve stops to take in a breathtaking panoramic view of the world. And then there’s the card game itself. Each card has beautiful images — along with awesome animations for a few of the special ones — and the animations for status effects show your card battlefield scorched with a line of fire or drenched with rain, while on each side, your leader reacts to your victories and losses.
Thronebreaker also boasts some brilliant dialogue — engaging, funny, and well-matched to the extensive and complex game world. Thronebreaker is a mix of exploration, deck-building, resource management, upgrading your camp, choice and consequences, and much more, but it balances each part perfectly. The reimagined Gwent is split up into all-out battles, story battles with custom decks, and puzzle battles with special rules, which can be surprisingly challenging to complete. Even if you ended up feeling like a break from card battles — which seems impossible — Thronebreaker is ready with a huge new area to explore, more dialogue, more decisions to make as ruler, and a fascinating story will keep you hooked for hours. It’s intricate, it’s gritty, and it’s completely unexpected. As for the achievements, almost half are secret, but the rest will require some extensive exploration and lots and lots of Gwent. Which, let’s face it, is never a bad thing.
Sean — Yakuza 0
In what world can you go from unwrapping a complex crime drama that involves gangsters, corruption, and murder to befriending a man named Walking Erection, who wears nothing but underpants and gyrates in the pedestrian-filled streets? It’s the bonkers world of Yakuza 0, of course! Yakuza 0 is my first foray into the Yakuza series, and I’ve been playing it on and off over the past couple of months. Each time I jump into the bustling locations of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, I am blown away by the sheer amount of things to do and experience. Both areas are relatively small as far as open world maps go, but they are so wonderfully detailed and full of character that they are, in fact, almost characters themselves.
When you’re not taking part in one of the many, many mini-games Yakuza 0 has to offer or conversing with Walking Erection, you’ll be following the stories of Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima who have found themselves stuck in the middle of a power struggle between various Yakuza organisations across Japan. The plot is complex and offers you a serious crime drama to get your teeth stuck into. Combine this dramatic story with over-the-top hand-to-hand combat (that’s a little janky, but it still works), and you’re on to a real winner. I would like to say that I’ve been holding off from completing the main storyline because I don’t want it to end, but the truth is that I keep tumbling down various side quest rabbit holes. The only thing better than the crime drama Yakuza 0 presents are the wacky substories available — a staple in the Yakuza franchise. There are 100 of these various side missions to complete, and each one is its own self-contained mini-drama. You’ll help a Japanese politician decide on tax policy, stop a gang of high school girls from selling their worn underwear, rescue a young woman from an insane and predatory cult, and everything between. On top of those, you have the long side quests of Real Estate Royale and Cabaret Club Czar, which take hours upon hours to complete.
In terms of achievements, Yakuza 0 is not for the faint of heart. It will take you between 150 and 200 hours to complete and requires multiple playthroughs. Stuff of Legend requires you to beat the game on Legend difficulty, which is a tough ask, but you only unlock Legend difficulty after you’ve played through the game once. Perfectionist and Just Beat It are also incredibly tough achievements to unlock.
Yakuza 0 serves as a prequel to the Yakuza franchise, and it’s a great introduction to the series. Even more so, considering nearly all mainline Yakuza games are now available with Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Game Pass for PC. I’m annoyed with myself for sleeping on these games for so long and can’t wait to see how Kiryu’s story unfolds.
Tom — Titanfall 2
With the EA Play library now available through Xbox Game Pass, I thought I would give some love to an incredible FPS as my choice this month. Titanfall 2 is a blast, with fluid controls and quick-fire gameplay like its predecessor, and it comes in as one of my favourite shooters to date. If you try anything in Titanfall 2, make it the campaign. It’s a thrilling journey from start to finish and captures the connection between man and machine in a performance that you’ll become emotionally attached to. You play as Militia Pilot Jack Cooper, and with the help of your Vanguard class Titan, BT-7274, you’ll take the fight to the IMC in an attempt to bring freedom to the citizens of the Frontier. Titanfall 2 didn’t get the attention it deserved when it released in October 2016, mainly down to the fact that it launched right in the middle of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Battlefield 1 — but as they say, better late than never.
Now also happens to be the best time to experience Titanfall 2 as it can now run at 120fps on Xbox Series X|S, thanks to the FPS Boost feature. Honestly, I can’t recommend the game enough, and you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by not experiencing this fantastic story. Link up to your Titan and head to the Frontier… you won’t regret it.
Anything here pique your interest, or perhaps you’ve got a few recommendations of your own? As always, sound off in the comments below with your thoughts!