There are over 100 games on Microsoft’s newly minted ‘Netflix for games’ service, Xbox Game Pass, and of those, there are plenty that, frankly, aren’t much to write home about. Also, many of the titles have been featured in Xbox’s Games with Gold initiative, meaning if you’ve made use of the paid subscription service over the last couple of years (and if you’ve played any multiplayer, you will have) you might already own many of these titles.
That said, there are a number of titles that absolutely deserve to be played. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of dipping a toe into any of the following gaming experiences, then what are you waiting for? Take the 14-day free trial, and give yourself a treat. You’ll thank me.
Bioshock - 1, 2 and Infinite
These get lumped together, as they’re all worth your time for different reasons, and to varying degrees. The original was a true watershed moment in gaming, with the incredibly realized undersea setting of Rapture, in particular, becoming instantly iconic, and going on to influence countless games since, right up to the present. The Bioshock series is also credited with bringing a strong narrative back to the fore in a AAA title, something that is very apparent in Bioshock 2, a more linear, less systemic effort which, though not as trailblazing as the original, improved on its predecessor’s combat significantly. Bioshock Infinite certainly has its flaws, and could never quite recapture the series’ early magic, but still, features top-tier art direction and an interesting alternate history/sci-fi story.
For many, the game which kick-started the mainstream indie revolution (especially on consoles) that still rumbles on to this day, Braid snuck some surprisingly complex gameplay ideas into a deceptively simple package and set the precedent for beautifully realized 2D platformers. It’s neat time-bending mechanics still feel dynamic and fresh, and there’s a real emotional heft to the allegorical story which has a lot to say about the nature of relationships. Is it pretentious? Of course. Is it worth playing? Absolutely.
Gears of War - 1, 2, 3, Ultimate Edition, and (if there’s time) Judgment
Microsoft’s other flagship action series (we’ll get onto a certain green-armored Spartan soon) Gears of War ushered in not only a new era of console graphical fidelity when it premiered way back in 2005 but popularized the cover-shooter sub-genre. The Ultimate Edition remaster brings that original game’s graphics up to date, but can’t paper over the storytelling, which feels thin by today’s standards. It’s still a blast though, and worth playing if just to become familiar with the characters. Gears of War 2 ramps up the story considerably, offering perhaps the most varied narrative, while Gears of War 3 has the most complete suite of content, with a huge wealth of multiplayer options to try (if there are still players to jump on with, that is). I’ve included the People Can Fly developed Judgment, because if you’ve played the other games you’ll probably want to complete the set, but in all honesty, the quality doesn’t quite match up with the original trilogy, or indeed the more recent Gears of War 4 from The Coalition, which isn’t included in the Game Pass (at least not yet).
Halo 5: Guardians
Yes, the single player is kind of patchy, but as we’ve covered recently, this game has the best version of the series’ online play since fan-favorite Halo 2, and possibly even the best version ever if you remove nostalgia from the equation. Developers 343 Industries have been incredibly generous with content for this release, with new game modes, a huge selection of both new and improved weaponry, and a lavish selection of maps (seriously—make sure you’ve reserved plenty of hard disk space if you plan to download this one). Best of all, Halo 5 is still absolutely packed with players, making this easily the most attractive of all the Game Pass titles from a multiplayer standpoint.
Don’t make the mistake of dismissing Spelunky as merely another quirky indie to make up Game Pass’s numbers. This game had a huge role in ushering in the current craze for roguelite platformers, and it still held up by many as the most successful version of that formula. Be warned: despite the at-times punishing difficulty, the game’s expansive procedurally generated underworld is endlessly re-playable, making this one of the most addictive indies of recent years.
XCOM: Enemy Within
Strategy games are still somewhat of a rarity on consoles, so when one is released, it probably doesn’t need to be that great. Luckily XCOM was a fantastic rebirth of the series which was sympathetic to the limitations of console hardware and controls, whilst also managing not to dumb down the overall gameplay, which is just as deep, and satisfying as the PC version.
Resident Evil 0
One for Resi fans, this. Before the series went a little off-the-rails with 5 and 6 (and eventually found its way back to a winning formula with 7), Capcom remade the original Resident Evil with updated graphics, then followed it with Resident Evil 0 using the same engine. This was a new take on the origin of the series and is thankfully far from the action-movie leanings and genre-pandering the series suffered from as the years went on. It was updated recently with a fresh coat of paint, and while it’s not quite the definitive Resi game (the quality of the remaster, in particular, can be a little inconsistent—especially the dated-looking cut-scenes), it still serves as a lovely window into the classic survival horror gameplay that was synonymous with these games for so long. And old or not, play with the lights off, and, it can still be just as chilling as modern horror games.
Also worth a try…
Terraria – 2D, pixel-art Minecraft with less focus on creation and more on adventuring.
DMC: Devil May Cry – Fun semi-reboot of the stylish hack-and-slash combo-building classic.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – Surprisingly touching family-themed indie puzzler.
Soul Calibur 2 HD – The pinnacle of pick-up-and-play beat-’em-ups, now with updated graphics.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+ – The definitive version of one of the most iconic video games of all time.