While Xbox doesn’t have much in the way of true console exclusives, it does have one ace in the hole that gives consumers a reason to seriously consider buying an Xbox Series X/S or Xbox One console, and that’s Xbox Game Pass.
Xbox Game Pass is a digital subscription service that, for a monthly fee, allows subscribers to download the litany of games available and play them in their entirety. There’s also a higher tier of subscription, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, that includes Xbox Live Gold for online multiplayer, EA Access, and access to Xbox Cloud Gaming, allowing you to play Xbox titles on devices like smartphones and PC.
The best thing about Xbox Game Pass, though, is that it’s exposed us to some fantastic games that we might otherwise never have batted an eyelid at. So many cool titles are present and accounted for, from popular blockbusters like Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 to indie darlings like Night in the Woods and Hollow Knight.
We’ve asked the team about their favorite Xbox Game Pass discoveries - games that left a lasting impression and ones that we may never have checked out if it wasn’t for this excellent subscription service.
Night in the Woods (2017)
Rhys Wood - Staff Writer
Night in the Woods is a stunning indie game that really struck a chord when it was released in 2017, garnering a cult audience that praises the game’s narrative, characters and themes to this day.
Set in the dreary American mining town of Possum Springs, Night in the Woods tells a deeply relatable tale of a group of twenty-somethings struggling to make something of themselves as the town around them slowly succumbs to neglect, economic collapse and (checks notes) supernatural entities abducting townsfolk seemingly at random.
There’s so much to praise in Night of the Woods, from the dusk-soaked autumn hues of Possum Springs to the beautifully impactful soundtrack. Chiefly, though, it’s the game’s characters that are the biggest highlight. Mae Borowski is a delightfully erratic protagonist, but her friends Greg and Bea steal the show with excellent writing that runs the gamut from outright hilarious to deeply moving.
Outer Wilds (2019)
While Outer Wilds has blasted off from Game Pass since it launched on the platform, the impression it left is unforgettable. You’re a spacefaring alien creature known as a Hearthian, and are tasked with pootling around your solar system in a spaceship so rickety that it would give Wallace and Gromit cause for concern.
The universe is a beautiful, yet terrifying place in Outer Wilds. During my time with the game, I forgot to wear my space suit before leaving the ship, flew into the sun, got crushed by rising piles of sand and had my ship fall into a black hole countless times. Oh, and one time I accidentally unwrote the laws of physics, causing the abrupt undoing of all existence. That was a fun one.
The big gimmick in Outer Wilds is time. Specifically, each run only lasts roughly 22 minutes, at which point you’re returned to your origin point to blast off into space all over again. That might sound tedious, but Outer Wilds incentivizes exploring different strands of mysteries on each run as they’re unlocked in your ship’s handy log.
Outer Wilds plays out on a much, much smaller scale than a game like No Man’s Sky, with just a handful of planets to explore. However, each planet you visit is densely packed with mysteries to uncover, all culminating in a finale so utterly brilliant that it entirely justified the countless times I flew directly into the gaping maw of a giant space anglerfish.
The Ascent (2021)
Burned out by Cyberpunk 2077? Still bummed about its underwhelming release? The Ascent might just be what you need to lift up your sci-fi spirits.
The Ascent is hands down one of the most gorgeous looking games I’ve played on Xbox Series X. This dystopian, cyberpunk shooter is brimming with atmosphere, from the slick rain-soaked streets to the blinding neon shopfronts. The Ascent is one of those games where practically every location can make for a breathtaking screenshot.
But The Ascent isn’t just a pretty face. As a shooter, the game still needs to nail the feeling of blasting at enemies and make it feel good throughout the game’s runtime. I’m happy to say that The Ascent does this job wonderfully, with each weapon type feeling and sounding utterly satisfying with each pull of the trigger.
The Ascent also supports co-op play, both online and locally via a dedicated “couch co-op” mode. Sure enough, the only thing better than blasting away the creatures and gangsters of the world of Veles is being able to do it with a friend.
Gang Beasts (2017)
Gang Beasts might just be the most frustratingly brilliant game I've ever played. Essentially it's a player-vs-player version of Human Fall Flat, complete with gormless characters and dumpy physics.
But instead of trying to resist the physics engine to work together through obstacle course-like levels, in Gang Beasts you're actively using it to throw your weight around, knocking out your opponents in an attempt to grab them and throw them out of the arena.
There's a healthy amount of said arenas, too. From a beachside pier to a kraken-infested aquarium, each map impressively has its own gimmicks you can use to your advantage.
Gang Beasts is certainly pretty tough to wrap your head around at first, with the game not offering much help in the way of how it actually controls. But once you do learn, you'll be punching, kicking and headbutting with the best of them.
Gang Beasts is definitely best played with friends, and the game has free-for-all and team-based modes. And if you do grab some buds for the multiplayer experience, you'll be treated to one of the funniest games available on Game Pass.
Dodgeball Academia (2021)
A day one addition to Game Pass, the freshly released Dodgeball Academia surprised me with its charm, delightful hand-drawn characters and compelling gameplay. If you're a fan of Camelot's older Mario sports titles, such as the superlative Mario Power Tennis on GBA, then you ought to check out Dodgeball Academia.
Dodgeball Academia is an RPG, in a sense. You play as Otto, who's gone against his family's wishes to instead join the titular, prestigious Dodgeball Academia. As Otto, you'll progress through the main story, constantly adding other characters to your roster and levelling them up to participate in dodgeball matches each day.
And the matches themselves act as Dodgeball Academia's battle system. You can have a team of up to three characters, and each have their own quirks and specials that make them unique, encouraging you to find an ideal playstyle. It's also just a ton of fun, and watching your opponents haplessly bounce across the arena when they run out of HP never gets old.
If you're nostalgic for a particular era of Mario sports titles, where world building and character progression was a key part of the experience, then Dodgeball Academia will absolutely scratch that itch. And as it's just hit Game Pass, there's no better time than now to check it out.
Alien Isolation (2014)
Vic Hood - Gaming Editor
When Alien Isolation first released, despite all my friends raving about it, I was too much of a wimp to play it myself. So when the survival horror landed on Xbox Game Pass, I was determined to finally find out what all the hype was about.
Set 15 years after the original Alien film, Alien Isolation follows Amanda Ripley - daughter of the iconic Ellen Ripley - as she searches an abandoned courier ship hoping to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of her mother. But, in true Alien fashion, young Ripley is being stalked by a terrifyingly stealthy Xenomorph, which slinks through the ship’s vents and corridors - ready to pounce at any given moment. Players must outwit and (where possible) avoid the terrifying Alien creature, while unearthing the ship’s secrets.
Alien Isolation creates a truly intense atmosphere. From its darkened corridors to the rumbles of the Xenomorph in the vents, you’re never quite sure when your adversary may choose to make an appearance. What’s more, if it does, the only real tactic you have is to distract it and try to escape without being seen. If you’re looking for a fantastic horror game on Game Pass, then definitely try Alien Isolation.
Golf with your Friends (2016)
Adam Vjestica - Senior Gaming Writer
I’m not really a fan of golf, but Golf with your Friends is a whole different story. Not only does the game literally implore you to play with your friends, but its mini-golf brand of mayhem never fails to get me and the squad howling with laughter.
From the janky ball physics, crude visuals, ridiculous courses and daft cosmetics (why not put a mohawk on a ball?), Golf with your Friends is exactly the type of multiplayer game that would have passed me by were it not for Xbox Game Pass.
If the idea of playing golf is still putting you off, don’t worry: Golf with your Friends is probably the loosest interpretation of the sport to date. You can turn the ball into a hockey puck, a cube, and even turn the holes themselves into basketball nets. So grab a few homies and loosen those hips, Golf with your Friends is certainly worth a swing.
Sunset Overdrive (2014)
Hamish Hector - Staff Writer
When you think of Insomniac Games you likely think of all their Sony exclusives like Spider-Man and Ratchet and Clank, though you shouldn’t forget this gem from the Xbox One era. I’d heard that Sunset Overdrive was good from a friend but always found a reason not to pick it up, until one day I was doom scrolling through the Game Pass lineup and saw it was free to download.
At first I found Sunset Overdrive's unique take on combat and traversal a little odd – it felt like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater had been turned into a shooter. But the story’s self-aware humor (imagine Deadpool but better) and dazzling art style was enough to keep me playing, and I’m so glad I stuck around.
Eventually the gameplay mechanics became second nature, and to this day I haven’t found a title that better balances gunplay and movement. It was so good that for weeks after finishing the main story and DLC I kept trying to pull off Sunset Overdrive combos in other games to no effect. If you own an Xbox – and Game Pass – you need to play this game.
Destiny 2 (2017)
David Lumb - Mobile Editor, US
Destiny, Destiny, Destiny – the gift, the curse, the experience. I had played a bit of the original Destiny years ago, and Destiny 2 when it launched. But during lockdown, a friend reached out to say, "Hey, Destiny 2 and all its expansions are on Game Pass – why don’t we all try it out and see if we like it?"
Destiny fans might be chuckling, because this was indeed like casually exploring a stream only to plunge over a waterfall: night after night, myself and two friends would fire up Destiny 2 and slowly grow our light levels (power levels? Whatever). It quickly became clear what Destiny excels at – the feeling of firing a gun, the superheroic thrill of tossing a super into a mob of minions, and scripted mini-adventure raids where you can do plenty of both. Everything else – plot, PvP, elite PvP, exotic gun balance in PvP – is… fine.
But it doesn’t matter. Playing with my buds on a game we can access with all expansions (through Game Pass) on consoles we have (Xbox One and Xbox Series X compatibility) with tried-and-tested online matchmaking – Destiny 2 became the reliable online space for us to gather nightly and shoot the business while we shot some alien business. It may not be my ideal game, but it’s been our perfect online escape in lockdown.
Monster Train (2020)
Nick Pino - Senior Editor, Home Entertainment
I had heard of Monster Train, of course, and had an inkling that the rogue-like deck-building game might be up my alley, but I never would have tried it without Game Pass. And what a shame that would’ve been as Monster Train is easily one of the best rogue-likes I’ve played in the past decade - only second to Hades, which drops on Game Pass August 13.
What hooked me most about Monster Train is the game’s carefully crafted card compatibility. Each run has you pick from two decks of cards - one that will act as your primary deck with its own set of relics and hero cards, and another deck that will act like a support deck to add some variation and strategy to your run. The decks are used to defend your train as it travels from Limbo to The Frozen Heart where you’re supposed to deliver the train’s cargo. Think Hearthstone where you’re constantly modifying your deck in between battles and your health carries over between matches and you’ve got the right idea.
The way the two decks combine in devious, sometimes game-breaking ways is incredibly satisfying while increasing difficulty levels make each run to the end harder than the last. At $25 / £19.49 on Steam, I probably would’ve never found it - but, thanks to Game Pass, I’ve found something genuinely fun, new and different that I never would’ve played otherwise.
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