It’s time for another one of my semi-regular looks at what’s become an absolutely essential service for me – Xbox Game Pass. I know it’s something I go on about quite a bit, but since I acquired my Xbox One X last year, I’ve been able to play an awful lot of games that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford – as well as play countless titles that I probably wouldn’t have given a chance in the first place. That latter category of ‘games I wouldn’t have tried’ doesn’t just include indie oddities either; given that I have no interest in racing games, I would never have tried Forza Horizon 4, for example – and it became my game of 2019 (yes, I’m aware it wasn’t released last year!).

So what exactly have I been playing on Game Pass recently then? Let’s take a look!

Train Sim World 2020

The younger me would have laughed at the present day me playing a train sim -and he probably would have been extremely disappointed. Lucky I don’t listen to that guy any more – he was an idiot. Train Sim World is an extremely compelling game which has a very zen, chilled out atmosphere; there’s quite a bit more of a ‘video game’ feel to it than is expected too, with you being able to walk around stations and train interiors in first person. I expected only to be able to drive trains – which can be quite a challenge – but here you can ride the train as a passenger, wander around the train, complete missions and even explore stations (with collectables to find as well!). Part of the appeal for me is seeing real world train stations recreated – and I can tell that the ones I’m familiar with (Reading, for example) have been beautifully, faithfully translated into digital form. It’s not the most impressive game from a technical standpoint – though it’s lovely to get views of scenery either from or just outside the train – but Train Sim World is a very fully featured, pretty open and laidback experience.

Old Man’s Journey

A beautiful little game about – yes – an old man, undertaking a trip across the country and reminiscing about his life as he goes. The gameplay sees you shifting pieces of scenery up and down so that the man can continue on his deliberately paced adventure; it’s full of gentle puzzles, with emotional cut scenes and wonderfully whimsical, enchanting music. It’s a very well crafted game; though not the longest experience, it’s one that’ll stay with you for some time. Lovely stuff.

Two Point Hospital

The spiritual successor to the fondly remembered, 90s classic Theme Hospital arrived on Game Pass the very day it was released to purchase on Xbox One. It feels like quite a big deal to see Two Point Hospital get a day one release on the service; there’s been a lot of buzz around it, for good reason. Full of Aardman-esque character design and puns, it’s an addictive game of light-hearted hospital management. Though it seems very easy at first, it doesn’t take too long to get pretty challenging. Two Point Hospital is charming, compelling fun – and you’ll no doubt see it pop up in these round-ups quite a bit over the next few months.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Another big addition to Game Pass, the second Ori game – being the sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest, which released five years (to the day!) before Ori and the Will of the Wisps – has only been available for a few days, but I’ve already spent a decent amount of time with it. The opening sequence alone is one of the most enchanting, dramatic and beautiful I’ve ever seen; it’s an absolute masterclass in animation, music and storytelling. It’d mean less if the game itself wasn’t up to par, but the Metroidvania gameplay is hugely compelling and – at least in the little I’ve played so far – not quite as infuriatingly hard as its predecessor. An absolute must play.

Crackdown 3

A weird thing happens when you review games to a deadline – your experience is compressed into a far shorter space of time than a normal playthrough would take place in, and it leads to a vastly different experience than the average player will have. Crackdown 3, for example, if played in mammoth sessions, would almost certainly feel repetitive, basic and pretty unsatisfying. This would certainly explain the lacklustre critical reception it received. However, as a game to dip in and out of for shorter play sessions, it’s simple enough in mechanics and story that you never feel lost – even after a long term break – and it always feels as if there’s something to do, with small, achievable goals absolutely everywhere in the game’s reasonably sized city. There’s something to be said for the simplicity that allows you to jump in and get fun stuff done even when you’re only able to play for ten minutes at a time; Crackdown 3 feels very old school in that way – and that’s not a bad thing.

Pikuniku

Finally, another critically lauded indie lands on Game Pass – and it’s been well worth the wait. I may overuse the word charming (even within this very article!), but it’s definitely applicable to Pikuniku. A simple art style – with superb, bouncy animation – brilliantly reactive soundtrack and very witty story sees your little, armless character awake from a long slumber and immediately cause havoc in a world of odd inhabitants who amusingly refer to you as ‘The Beast’. It’s fun, funny and has some nicely designed puzzles and tasks – I’m really looking forward to progressing further in this very quirky game.

So there we are, another varied – and high quality – selection of titles. There’s been some absolutely brilliant stuff added to the service recently; the range of games now available on Game Pass that I’ve not even touched on – the entire Halo and Gears of War series, along with titles such as The Witcher 3 and the latest Forza Motorsport and Horizon games, just to name a few high profile examples – is astonishing, really providing something for everyone. Hopefully, the Game Pass service will continue to offer the same high quality selection of games as we move into the next generation too.

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