Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
The Xbox One is in a strange state right now. Depending on how you look at it, you could field arguments for it being both the best and the worst console on the market. By traditional standards—like, I don’t know, the number and quality exclusive games coming out for it—things are unbelievably dire. But being in second place has its advantages. Microsoft has been trying out some wild, crowd-pleasing stuff that might not grab as many headlines as a great new blockbuster exclusive but is rethinking what is and isn’t possible on these consoles. The venture with the biggest implications is the Xbox Game Pass, a $10 per month subscription that gives you access to a slew of games and even includes every Microsoft-published release at launch. (And since all of Microsoft’s games are coming to both Xbox and Windows computers, you can use one subscription to play those games on both platforms.) The implications for how that could change they way people consume games are huge, but without any big-name new releases like a Halo to drum up attention (Sea Of Thieves was the first exclusive to launch on Game Pass), it’s remained a pretty low-key system feature.
The other thing Microsoft is experimenting with—and that Sony continues to brush aside—is making the Xbox One compatible with games from previous consoles and selling those old games on its digital store at reasonable prices. It started small with a selection of Xbox 360 games, but the company has started building support for a library of original Xbox games as well, making them look and run fantastically on these new systems (and even better if you’re playing on an Xbox One X). One more wave of games arrived this week, with another landing on Monday, and what I love about these is their mix of expected mainstream hits—like Morrowind, Ninja Gaiden, Jade Empire, and loads of Star Wars games—with the kind of B-tier major-label oddities that time has forgotten and the industry doesn’t produce anymore. The headliner has to be Sega’s Panzer Dragoon Orta, one of the last original on-rails shooters to see release (Child Of Eden and Rez’s various re-releases are the only successors that come to mind) and a pinnacle of the genre. Along with that there’s also Hunter: The Reckoning, a fun but slight console-style hack-and-slash in the vein of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance—yet another genre that’s mostly been abandoned.
And then there’s my personal highlight, and the Xbox game I’ll be playing most this weekend, Breakdown. Let’s get this out of the way: Breakdown is not a good game, but it is a bizarre and fascinating one. At a glance, it looks like another one of the dozens of bland first-person shooters that were getting released in this era, but it was developed at Namco in Japan, a country not exactly known for its experience making or even widely appreciating the genre.
This was clearly a team that had never made a first-person game before and was completely enamored with the concept. You don’t just shoot guns; you jump, climb, backfilp, and fistfight all in first person. Your character is constantly picking stuff up and holding it directly in front of his face until you press a button to move on, silently inspecting an ammo clip or a can of soda as if he’d never seen anything like it in his life. (Then again, he is an amnesiac, so maybe everything he sees really does warrant this kind of wonder.) And speaking of soda, the game relishes in first-person food consumption. Within the first half-hour, you’ve eaten a hamburger (in first person), vomited up the hamburger (in first person), chomped “RATIONS” you stole off dead army dudes, and slurped down as many sodas as you want. At one point, the fabric of reality starts breaking down (get it) and your arms turn into bones—with which you can drink more sodas, of course. It’s a clunky mess of a game that might give you severe motion sickness, but it’s an insane treat, and I’m so glad the expanding scope of Xbox One backward compatibility is keeping stuff like this alive. Now please, Microsoft, just give me FromSoftware’s Otogi already.