It sure has been a lot of games completed haikus–seven in a row!–and nothing much else here on Grinding Down for these past few months, and that’s fine. This happens every year. My archives prove it so. Summer is crazy-busy for me at the day job, which basically means I find myself with both less free time to think and write about all them videogames in my possession. Plus I’m trying to get some comic books done for MICE. Do not fret; I’m still playing things here and there, jumping from game to game and system to system like an unchained glutton, but unfortunately I’m just not finding the time slash energy to put down all my hot takes. That is until now.
The other night, while mindlessly scanning the list of new releases on Xbox One’s store, I noticed a free-to-play thing called…Ben-Hur. Hmm. Curiosity got the better of me, and I had to know what exactly this was. Not because I’m some huge fan of the 1959 film starring Charlton Heston as the title character or even the least bit interested in this new re-imagining of the source material (though Morgan Freeman’s hair looks amazing). I’m just forever bewildered by tie-in videogames of all shapes and sizes, whether they are for movies, comic books, or even pizza-delivering establishments. I went into Ben-Hur thinking it’d be a quick, lackluster experience that existed only to constantly urge you, the player, to stop playing, drop some cash, and go sit in a movie theater instead, and I wasn’t disappointed in that prediction. At least I got a bunch of Achievement points, right?
Here’s how Ben-Hur goes, and try not to blink or you’ll miss the entire rundown: you participate in a chariot race where need to mash the A button to accelerate–but not too much as your horses will tire–and pull the left and right triggers to whip opponents on either side of you in hopes of taking them out for good. The natural goal is to come in first place, and you can do this by being a strong racer or simply eliminating the competition. Whipping the horses or running opponents into traps and other obstacles on the course does the trick. A season is made up of three individual races, each with their own number of laps and opponents. That’s it.
My first session with Ben-Hur lasted a total of twenty-eight minutes, in which I both won the season without breaking a sweat–or my chariot–and popped 8 of the 10 easy-as-pie Achievements. I’ve since gone back and gotten one more Achievement, and a part of me wants to get the last one, which requires destroying every opponent in every race of a season, but I think if I don’t get it the next time I play this will simply be removed both from the Xbox One and my memory. The tricky part is that you, the titular Ben-Hur, must destroy all the chariots yourself; they can’t be destroyed by other players or their own undoing. That’s as challenging as this live-or-die race gets, and the most hilarious cause-and-effect happening is seeing these health power-ups tossed out on to the track the moment you take a teeny tiny bit of damage.
Turns out, Ben-Hur was published by AOL and developed by Float Hybrid, which creates “branded experiences,” and Krome Studio, the developer of games I actually enjoy, such as Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. Maybe that’s what was missing from Ben-Hur: boomerangs and that distinct-sounding Australian English that I’ll never be able to perfectly replicate. Oh, and no, this did not inspire me to purchase a pair of tickets for the new movie. If anything, I’m inclined to stay far, far away.