If you spend a lot of time reading about video games on social media, you’ve probably seen this week’s instantly tiring discourse. It started with a couple of journalists harmlessly noting that they planned to unsubscribe from Xbox Game Pass for a bit, which escalated into a classic console war debate complete with angry fans on every side and brand clap backs.
Like much gaming discourse, it’s a distracting sideshow that’s not worth adding to (I’ve already said more than I care to about it here). But if you’ve come out of the conversation wondering if you’re really getting your money’s worth out of the service these days, there’s a detail that’s been unfortunately lost among the noise: Xbox Game Pass is having its best month of 2022 so far.
At first glance, that might sound like a contrarian take. Microsoft’s service is struggling this month after Bethesda announced it would be delaying both Starfield and Redfall out of 2022. That means there likely won’t be a single AAA Xbox first-party exclusive available day-and-date on the service this year. For those who subscribe primarily for that value proposition, it’s completely reasonable to dip out until the taps turn back on.
But the value of Game Pass has never really been its tentpole Xbox titles. They’ve always been few and far between, something that was especially clear when the Xbox Series X launched without a new killer app to sell it. Instead, the service has always been more valuable as a discovery platform for independent games that don’t always get the time of day in a busy release year. And with a quieter release schedule in the industry at large right now, Game Pass is currently leaning on that strength to great effect.
When it comes to new releases, there are several new standouts to try right now if you’re feeling bored. Citizen Sleeper is a current indie darling that would be easy to skip out on normally. The narrative adventure uses tabletop RPG hooks to craft a sharply-written sci-fi story with an anti-capitalist streak. Similarly, the excellent Hardspace: Shipbreaker, which exits early access today, is now available on Game Pass, and it’s a must-try experience. The incredibly unique title is a sort of anti puzzle game about reverse engineering spaceships in zero gravity — and it does that while delivering some weighty commentary on unionization and workers’ rights.
Both titles are the kind of curiosities that makes Game Pass an appealing service. Games with left-field premises like that can be a tough sell on their own, especially for those who primarily play big-budget titles, but Game Pass lessens the financial stakes that come from buying a $25 game on a whim only to discover it’s not for you.
While those two titles are clear highlights, there’s much more that’s worth checking out if you’re currently subscribed. Floppy Knights is a charming tactics game from Rose City Games that makes the historically tough genre more approachable with its card-based gameplay and delightful cartoon art style. Trek to Yomi is a stylish samurai action game that’s worth diving into for its striking black-and-white visuals alone. Loot River is an intriguing roguelike where players rearrange platforms on a river in puzzle-like fashion while fighting monsters.
Looking further down the line, Sniper Elite 5 is the closest thing the service has to a major release this month. It’s normally the kind of game that would be easy to ignore, but based on our demo of it recently, it’s shaping up to be a surprisingly inventive immersive sim that’ll be worth checking out (though its usual $60 price tag would usually make that a risky proposition).
When it comes to older titles, there are some must-plays in the bunch. Her Story, Sam Barlow’s FMV game where players scrub through police interviews to learn the real story behind a crime, is a bona fide classic. Vampire Survivors is something of a recent sensation this year along the lines of Loop Hero. The monster-slaying game plays out like a small-scale musou that’ll surprisingly push the power of your PC by tossing as many enemies on screen as possible.
Perhaps best among the entire crop of May titles is Umurangi Generation Special Edition. The standout photography game was a sleeper hit when it launched in 2020, gaining a sort of cult following among indie enthusiasts. Now that it’s readily available on the service, there’s no harm in finally checking it out if you haven’t already.
Speaking personally, I’ve gotten more value out of Xbox Game Pass this month than I usually do. I’ve already hopped into several games that would have cost me upward of $70 normally. And there’s still more I plan on trying out soon, like Pac-Man Museum+ and Little Witch in the Woods, which is riding a wave of positive buzz.
There’s no shame in unsubscribing from a service for any reason (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve subbed and unsubbed from Apple Arcade). But if you’re looking for a reason to stay just another month, there are plenty of innovative titles worth checking out before you skedaddle.
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