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What Microsoft Is Giving Away For Free
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on January 25, 2008   |   Episode 78 (Show Archive)  


Sorry, but this Xbox Live Arcade article will not come with a free month of Xbox Live service!
Microsoft has a good thing going. Since its release, the Xbox Live Marketplace has convinced gamers across the world to buy new levels, extra music, classic arcade games, TV shows, movies, music videos, horse armor and even cheat codes. Every day it seems like there's something new in the Microsoft Marketplace to spend your hard earned money on. But sometimes Microsoft decides to be generous. From time to time the Redmond, Washington-based software company surprises us by offering some free content or a game at no charge.

This week Microsoft has decided to allow both Gold and Silver Xbox Live subscribers a chance to download Undertow for free. This marks the seventh Xbox Live Arcade game that has been offered for free, putting it in the company of games like Hexic HD, Carcassonne, and Texas Hold'em. We all love getting games for free, but at the end of the day there's just one thing everybody wants to know: Are these games actually worth downloading? And if so, then why would Microsoft decide to lose money by making these titles free? Those are great questions, and we've decided that it might be worth taking a look to find out What Microsoft Is Giving Away For Free! Join us as we review each and every one of the seven Xbox Live Arcade games Microsoft has made available for free in the last two years. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you What Microsoft Is Giving Away For Free!

Hexic HD
[ Nov. 22, 2005 - Microsoft Game Studio - Carbonated Games ]

Alexey Pajitnov is known for being good at a lot of things, but picking out his own clothing is not one of those things!
What Is It? It's the "brand new" puzzle game from Alexey Pajitnov, the father of Tetris. The objective of Hexic is to rotate hexagonal pieces of various colors and clear them from the playfield by forming clusters. Clusters are formed when three pieces of the same color touch each other. Pieces above the cleared pieces fall, potentially forming more clusters and causing chain reactions, and new pieces appear at the top of the playfield. Hexic was originally released on the MSN Games site, but has since found its way to the Xbox 360. Hexix HD's main difference is the high definition TV support, which ultimately doesn't change the game all that much. Since its release Hexic HD has spawned a sequel, Hexic 2. Unfortunately Microsoft decided to charge $10 for that game instead of giving it away for free.

When Was It Free? It's been free since the day Microsoft launched the Xbox 360. You see, Hexic HD is a pack-in game that came with the standard Xbox 360 package. It wasn't advertised as being there and nobody made a big deal about it, but when gamers went to the Xbox Live Arcade blade they were introduced to this slow-paced puzzler. But whatever you do make sure that you don't accidentally erase Hexic HD off your hard drive, because

I'm not entirely sure Hexic needed to go "HD", but at least it's not Wordtris HD!
there's no way to actually download the game off of the Xbox Marketplace. Worse yet, if you erase the game you will have to buy the overpriced sequel to get your Hexic fix.

Why Was It Free? So far the only way to get the original Hexic HD is to buy an Xbox 360 with a hard drive. While the game is not technically free (you do have to buy a console to play it, after all), it is a nice bonus that was never advertised as being part of the package.

Is It Worth It? Hexic is an interesting puzzle game that doesn't break any new ground. Part of the problem is that when you think about Hexic you are immediately reminded that this was developed by Alexey Pajitnov, a rock star game maker who hasn't had a hit game in twenty years. Hexic isn't a bad game, but it's no Tetris. There's a reason why everybody remembers Geometry Wars and not this game, it's because not a lot happens in your average game of Hexic. Worse yet, Hexic has a way of going on and on and on with no end in sight. You can spend hours playing the game and realize that you've barely earned any points, which really makes you wonder why you're playing this game at all. As a free pack in I'm willing to be nice to this puzzler, but that certainly doesn't forgive the fact that the sequel costs $10.

Texas Hold'em
[ Aug. 23, 2006 - TikGames, LLC ]

We decided to go with this lame Texas Hold'em picture just so that we could hear you whine and cry!
What Is It? It's yet another virtual version of Texas Hold'em, the poker game that is sweeping the nation. If you haven't heard of Texas Hold'em then you haven't been watching television, playing games, paying attention to pop culture or doing anything else that would be considered interesting. It sounds like you might want to get out more; maybe go to a movie or see what the cool kids are doing in the mall. There's really no excuse for not knowing what Texas Hold'em is, so I'm just going to assume that we're all on the same page and we all follow the harrowing exploits of Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke. Well, this Xbox Live Arcade game is a pull-no-punches port of this popular card game, complete with online gambling and a terrible single-player game. Unfortunately this is one of those times when the history of the game is more exciting than the actual game itself.

Sure there are plenty of other Texas Hold'em video games, but how many of those were free (for 48 hours)?
When Was It Free? Texas Hold'em was released on August 23, 2006. It was free for the first 48 hours, after that it cost you $10 (800 Microsoft Points).

Why Was It Free? As the story goes, Microsoft had originally announced that Texas Hold'em was going to be a free Xbox Live Arcade release, paid for by sponsors. Unfortunately right before the game's release the sponsores backed out and Microsoft was forced to recant on the pricing and bump the game up to a nice round ten dollars. As you can imagine, this decision pissed off just about everybody who was looking forward to the game. The price tag wasn't helping anything either, instead of offering the game at a more reasonable $5, Microsoft decided to go for the whole $10. Considering that there are several free Texas Hold'em games available for the PC, asking $10 for such a simple game felt like highway robbery.

Seeing the community's reaction, Microsoft decided to compromise. To please the hardcore fans who had been waiting for the game and still make money, Microsoft opted to offer the game for free for the first 48 hours. While two days isn't a lot of time, it is enough time for all of those Texas Hold'em junkies who had been wanting it to download it (and then tell all their friends about it). After that 48 hours was up Texas Hold'em went back up to the regular rip-off price of $10.

Is It Worth It? Texas Hold'em is a fun card game, there's definitely a reason why so many people are addicted to watching it on TV. Unfortunately this Xbox Live Arcade version isn't as strong as it should be, especially when it comes to the quick controls and lame menu navigation. It's not that developers TikGames LLC broke Texas Hold'em, but they also didn't make a game that could compare to the free PC poker games. This isn't the worst version of poker I've ever played, but it's certainly not worth $10. While this is still a fun game (especially when you're playing with friends), I can't imagine anybody sticking with this version over one of the superior PC poker titles.

[ Oct. 4, 2006 - Freeverse Software - Strange Flavour ]

Call me old fashioned, but when I'm sitting there playing Texas Hold'em in the nude I don't want people to be able to see me. Oh my, I think I might have said too much!
What Is It? TotemBall is a wacky little action game that is played by using the Xbox Live Vision camera. Instead of using buttons and analog sticks, TotemBall has you waving your hands around in an insane attempt to be creative and fun. But it's neither creative nor fun. If this all sounds familiar it's because TotemBall is essentially a poor man's version of those Sony EyeToy games, only those were somehow more endearing. To the developer's credit, this is the first and last time anybody tried making a game out of the Xbox Live Vision camera. While there are plenty of games that let you transmit video back and forth, TotemBall is the only title that actually makes a game out of it. Unfortunately it's not a fun game, but perhaps that's beside the point.

When Was It Free? The game has been free since it was released back on October 4, 2006.

Why Was It Free? TotemBall was supposed to be the pack-in game for the Xbox Live Vision camera accessory Microsoft had been promoting. Unsure if people would be interested in only sending video and pictures back and forth, Microsoft

The reason you don't know what this is a picture of is because you never actually played TotemBall. Consider yourself to be lucky!
decided to bundle this free "game" with the device to prove that it is capable of so much more. Unfortunately something stalled TotemBall and the game wasn't ready for the Vision camera's September 19, 2006, release date. Apparently all it took was another two weeks, because on October 4, 2006, TotemBall was officially uploaded to the Microsoft marketplace. For more than a year Xbox 360 owners could download the full version of TotemBall for free. Of course, you don't need to do that if you don't own the Vision camera, but it's always nice to know that there's something free just waiting for you.

Is It Worth It? TotemBall is a terrible, terrible game. It's not quite the worst game on this list, but it definitely comes close. Why Microsoft would want this to be their proof of concept is anybody's guess, because TotemBall completely fails every step of the way. The game is near impossible to control, and just when you think you've got the hang of it the camera function won't register your move correctly and it's just a downward spiral from there. TotemBall is the kind of game that will make you happy that you don't own the Xbox Live Vision camera and don't just download anything you can get for free. I would rather see a chorus of hairy butts on my Vision screen than have to play this game again. TotemBall is not worth the money you're not going to spend on it.



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