XBox Game Pass is most simply described as “Netflix for video games.” For twelve bucks a month, you have unlimited access to over a hundred games on XBox One, and you can play any of them as much as you’d like. Like its movie/TV equivalent, the XBox Game Pass isn’t going to provide the same amount of value to all people. But for casual, new, or returning players, it’s a fantastic way to get access to a collection of great, varied game experiences for a very reasonable price.
Ever since Netflix’s on-demand model became hugely successful for movies and television, video game publishers and console makers have been experimenting with games-on-demand services. So far, they have come up short: Sony’s streaming service is only for old Playstation games and can have problems with lag; EA’s service is a good reminder that so many of their games play and feel too much alike. As such, games-on-demand hasn’t really taken off.
I bring up the competitors only to point out that the bar for XBox Game Pass is set pretty low. The Game Pass manages to solve the problems inherent to Sony and EA’s models: games download to your console, meaning that they play exactly like any other game you own, and there is a tremendous variety of game styles to choose from, from indie to big-budget, racing to shooting to strategy, and so on.
As summer was winding down and I found myself without a game to play, I decided to give the service a shot. There were a number of titles on the list that had caught my interest but had slipped by unplayed, so I downloaded a bunch of them.
Mega Man Legacy Collection — Holy shit these games are still hard. I played about twenty minutes of Mega Man 1 and 2 and realized I have neither the intestinal fortitude nor the patience for the dated platforming mechanics. Beautiful, timeless art and music, but I think I’ve retired from this franchise. (I’ll always gladly watch somebody else play them, though.)
Spelunky — Apparently I hadn’t gotten enough punishment after Mega Man. Spelunky is unforgiving and full of nasty surprises, but it’s a really interesting evolution of the blue bomber’s 1980s mechanics. I’m not super fond of the art style, but there’s a depth and fairness to the brutality that makes me understand why people keep coming back for more of this rogue-like platformer. Not me, though. I’m not good enough to get very far.
Devil May Cry (DmC): Definitive Edition — It’s the dumb heavy metal aesthetic and pace of DOOM, paired with extraordinarily stylish third-person brawler action, and finished off with an undeservedly fine set of motion capture performances and voice acting. This is stupid and has all sorts of problems, but there is also a surprising amount of pathos and nuance in the margins of all this silly hack & slash fun. A nice find.
Soul Calibur 1 & 2 — Still fantastic. These older fighting games play so well and have a great visual style that has held up. There’s not a lot of single-player depth to these games (I wish Soul Calibur III was on here, with its weird semi-strategy campaign), but they are perfect for hanging out with friends and trash-talking one another.
The Flame in the Flood — A survival game I had been excited to try but nervous to buy. As such, this was the perfect opportunity to play it. And now I’m glad I didn’t buy it: while I have a soft spot for some survival games (e.g. The Long Winter), the main gameplay loop (rafting from small area to small area) didn’t quite do it for me. Really beautiful looking game, though. This was the best proof of concept for the Game Pass so far, as I got to play it, enjoy a little of it, and then not feel burned when I wanted to put the game down for good.
Sunset Overdrive — This has all the indicators of a great game that was rushed out the door: beautiful open world that you aren’t given much opportunity to explore (because you’re constantly fetching something for somebody); incredible movement mechanics, akin to a skateboard game, but unfortunately all in service of shooting stuff; a tremendous sense of style, including a haircut named after Buzzo from the Melvins; and a pasted-on story that probably could have been interesting if the team had trusted their writers more.
There are a number games on the list that I would still like to try, including Braid, D4, Halo 5, Mad Max, and Terraria. But after playing a few titles, I noticed the pattern: most of these are games that I’m curious about, and might be a nice surprise, but aren’t necessarily for me. The games that are brilliant and totally my style—Brothers, Limbo, Massive Chalice, OlliOlli, and XCOM: Enemy Within, for example—I had already played.
Ultimately, I think the XBox Game Pass makes the most sense for people who are getting back into video games after not playing for a few years, or for people who play casually and want to know there’s something new waiting for them without having to put in much work. Losers who have regularly spent time playing over the last few years (present company included) may find the service less useful. But in terms of value, you’re getting far more than your money’s worth if you only play one or two of these games a month. Considering that XBox added seven games in September, and that there are already many great titles to choose from, this “Netflix for games” service seems like it will continue to be a good deal.