We need to own up. In any other month, only a few of these wouldn’t have made it onto an Up Next. It’s the nature of December: a month that’s far too late to maximise those holiday profits. We only get to include Halo Infinite because, you suspect, Microsoft wanted to make sure it had just enough time in the oven to bake. Those grunts were looking particularly doughy.
But don’t reach for the remote: it means that we can give some air to fascinating indies. Some of them can barely be called indies anymore, as Xbox finally welcomes Among Us. There’s releases from some celebrated studios, like The Gunk (from Steamworld makers Image & Form Games) and Chorus (Deep Silver). Plus we have some fan favourite sequels that aren’t rolling in cash, but kind of kicking it about like leaves, like Gear.Club Unlimited 2.
There you go: almost worth reading, isn’t it?
If you like your games half-baked and buggy, 2021 has been a good year. But if you’re like the rest of us who want something a bit longer in the oven, then Halo Infinite might be your batch of mince pies. First indications look great: just check our piece on the Halo Infinite Multiplayer Beta, which has been on daily rotation of pretty much every TheXboxHub staffer.
Let’s roll with the hits. This is out day one on Game Pass, which is a bit of a Christmas-come-early for those of us who have pre-ordered Halo games in the past. The emphasis of the multiplayer is on nostalgic fun, trying to recapture some of the traditional thrills of Halo rather than your conventional FPS battle royales and zombie modes. It means that in comes Arena, with four-vs-four close quarters firefights, and also Big Team Battles (BTB), which brings in additional scope, larger teams and vehicles.
We’re reliably informed that the campaign is ‘the most expansive yet’, which is on our press material bingo card. But we’re partial to believing it, as 343 Industries are keen to erase memories of the lukewarm Halo Guardians, and we are – for the first time – exploring the entirety of a halo ring. You’d think Ol’ Chief would know them like the back of his gauntlet by now.
That lockdown mainstay, Among Us, is finally making its way to Xbox this month. If you’ve had a long distance get-together or done some team-building at work (or more specifically, some team undermining) in 2020/2021, then you will have played this little beauty.
It’s all rather simple. You choose your little coloured stress toy, wait for everyone else to choose theirs, and then you’re chucked into a map. But one of you will have a notification pop up that they are the Imposter. If that’s you, it’s time to have fun: run around, pretending to do the various tasks that you are prompted to do, and then kill people one by one. Just do it slyly. If someone believes that you are the Imposter, you can be called out in a vote, jettisoned into the aether.
Among Us is arriving on the Xbox with 4-15 player online co-op (or local wi-fi, if you want to get a LAN going) and voice chat enabled. You will need that voice chat to get the most from the backstabbing, lying and whining.
Deep Silver FISHLABS, makers of the Galaxy on Fire series, have clearly decided to make their opus. Chorus looks as AAA and ambitious as they come, which is quite the jump from their previous output.
We don’t get too many story-focused space shooters, particularly of the arcade variety. Chorus feels like the meeting point between Starfox and STAR WARS: Squadrons, but with the tone and darkness of a Mass Effect. In short, it has the ingredients to be something special.
We like it most because it sounds like an intergalactic version of Knight Rider. You play Nara, who partners up with a sentient spaceship. You’ve got history, as you’re an ex-cultist who is looking to bring down the cult you escaped from. Gathering together some resistance fighters, you’re gunning for The Circle and their leader, The Great Prophet.
We love a bit of the SteamWorld series, and have a soft spot for their developer Image & Form Games. December sees their first real departure from the SteamWorld titles, and it’s a departure from the traditional pixel art too. This one looks entirely gorgeous, as they have embraced three-dimensions for an intergalactic space opera.
It follows the story of Rani who, along with her partner, Becks, arrive on a planet which has been completely overwhelmed by a new material called ‘Gunk’. As it turns out, it’s got remarkable properties, which – as a pair of space haulers – could mean a mega payout. So, you’re on the away team to the planet, hoovering it up and trying to stay alive as you do so. But will your relationship with your partner survive the trip?
There’s a little of It Takes Two to the chunky, tactile art, the relationship gone wrong, and the emphasis on platforming, goo guns and puzzles. But this is a one-player affair, where character comes to the fore. And did we say it looks gorgeous? We’ll be towards the front of the queue once this one lands.
Happy’s Humble Burger Farm
Our first reaction to Happy’s Humble Burger Farm was two surprised eyebrows and an “aw, come on!”. Just look at it: it’s Five Nights at Freddy’s, right? It’s not even trying.
And yet. Over the past couple of months, this has become something of a livestreaming staple, with pretty much every internet personality worth their salt giving it a wild-eyed scream.
We were also a little hasty to pigeonhole it. Because Happy’s Humble Burger Farm is more like a brutal, giblet-soaked version of Cooking Mama. You’re given an increasing number of orders and a fully working kitchen to process them all, but you have to contend with more than the odd rat. In fact, any rat is likely to be six-foot tall, animatronic and wielding a chainsaw. This is at the meeting point of Overcooked! and FNAF, which is a mash-up that we never imagined.
Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space Remastered
Heard of Skunkape? They’re a new outfit, born out of the ashes of Telltale Games, and they’re determined to remaster some of the studio’s lesser known output. They’ve already successfully re-released the first of the Telltale Sam & Max games in the form of Sam & Max Save the World Remastered, and now it’s the turn of its sequel, Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space.
The dysfunctional detective duo and their DeSoto are at the centre of five cases, and this time it’s interplanetary. They’ve always been surreal, and the five cases don’t let you down: they’re taking on Santa Claus, robots, eurotrash vampires and a giant volcano.
As with Sam & Max Save the World, this has been lovingly restored with a new soundtrack, a new voice track, some spangly visuals that give the odd couple a more tactile, playdough-y look. Being part of the original team that made it, they also have love and care for what made the original so beloved.
Gear.Club Unlimited 2 Unlimited Edition
What do you mean, you’re still playing Forza Horizon 5? You should have criss-crossed Mexico by now! We all know you want some more arcade racing thrills in your life, so clear the pits for a bit of Gear.Club 2 Unlimited Edition.
If you’re not aware of the franchise, you’re forgiven: Gear.Club is better known for ripping it up on Nintendo consoles, particularly the Nintendo Switch. But the time has come to bring them to Xbox and other consoles.
It’s a transition that’s been three years in the making, with Gear.Club Unlimited 2 releasing on Switch in 2018. But that wait does mean that we get a stuffed package with all of the additions and DLC. That’s the Unlimited Edition of the title, you see.
That means a mammoth 250 races, 50 licensed vehicles, and the ‘club’ of the title, where you gather together a stable of the best racers and challenge other clubs for fame and fortune. There’s also a Porsche Series Mode, lovingly licensed, where you can rank up and earn the chance to handle the fabled 911 930 Turbo.
The Honourable Mentions…
While we’re not exactly overburdened with riches this December, there are still a few that might have appeal.
If you’ve ever wandered into a sweaty Games Workshop store to hand over a small fortune for a box of plastic, you will go misty-eyed at Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sector. If your board game tastes are on the simpler and cheaper side, then Monopoly Madness has your back (just watch out for knives from other players).
In the ‘attractive indie’ category, we’re liking the look of White Shadows, a monochrome adventure from HeadUp Games, the makers of Pumpkin Jack, while Aeterna Noctis is similarly stylish, bringing its 2D art to the Metroidvania. And fans of the dungeon crawler Vaporum will be plum-jolly that it’s getting a sequel in the form of Vaporum Lockdown. We wonder where they got the name from?
We know what you’re thinking. We should just rename it Halo Infinite month and be done with it. If we could, we would. But check out the other Xbox releases in December 2021. You never know when something will come out of nowhere and surprise you.
Will January 2022 bring us better fortunes? Don’t bank on it. Traditionally a sparse month, there is at least a new Rainbow Six game in the form of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Extraction. It might not be as desolate as you think.