By Oliver VanDervoort
The Xbox Game Pass service saw a ton of great games join its catalog this year from sports and shooters to AAA and small titles.
Xbox Game Pass has been around for a little over four years now, and it's possible that 2021 was its best year ever when it came to the quality of game it could offer. In the past, the service seemed to mostly focus on older games that were making a return to the Xbox console. A lot has changed, though, and it seemingly allowed Xbox Game Pass to surge in popularity.
There's very little doubt that surge was thanks to the number of great games on the service helped immensely. It's almost hard to narrow down all the best of the best titles that arrived on Xbox Game Pass this year to a certain number. Whether talking about sports games, or shooters, or roguelikes, there was something for everyone. There were big AAA titles and indies that flew under the radar. Xbox Game Pass even managed to land one game that has long been one of the most popular PlayStation first-party games out there.
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MLB The Show 21
MLB The Show 21 was officially the first installment of the MLB The Show franchise that was on any other platform than PlayStation. If that wasn't big enough news, the fact that it launched day and date on Game Pass meant that Xbox users were getting it for no additional charge while Sony users were paying full price. The added bonus here is that the game is actually pretty good. This year's edition didn't offer revolutionary changes, but it still moved the series forward with souped-up graphics and interactivity.
It's been six years since the last game in the Halo franchise hit. That made for a long wait for the fans of the series, and it meant that Halo Infinite had to thread a tough needle. Luckily, Halo Infinite's reviews prove that it did indeed thread that needle and might be one of the best games of the year. The fact that Xbox users don't have to pay any additional money in order to play it is actually quite the crown for Xbox Game Pass.
Speaking of games where the last installment was six years ago, Psychonauts 2 continued the story of one of the most popular games of the last few years. This also continued what was a rather impressive catalog of games that aren't Xbox exclusives that still managed to launch day and date on Game Pass while users on other platforms had to pay full price to play the game. It's safe to say this was one of the most anticipated games of the year and getting to play it for "free" is just an added bonus.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Microsoft Flight Simulator has come a long way from its simple beginnings. These days, the game is a marvel when it comes to realism and appearance. Get the right equipment to go with it and this game will definitely make users feel as though they're in the cockpit of their own plane, flying wherever they want. Even with just an Xbox controller, Microsoft Flight Simulator is quite impressive in the way it immerses players in its ultra-realistic world.
Anyone who hasn't played Hades yet needs to do so immediately. The roguelike was the "little indie that could" as its fun gameplay, original art style, and awesome soundtrack allowed this game to win a ton of Game of the Year awards last year. It actually took quite a while before this title landed on consoles, but when it did, Xbox Game Pass users were able to get the added benefit of not having to pay anything extra in order to try out all the weapons and fight off all the interesting enemies contained within.
Scarlet Nexus brought its interesting action role-playing setup to Xbox Game Pass in September. For those who haven't heard of or played this one yet, Scarlet Nexus features two teams of psychic warriors combating otherworldly forces in a dystopian near future. Going out on missions allows players to unlock new abilities to better fight off the horrors they face in this impressive JRPG. Overall, while some may not have the strongest feelings about Scarlet Nexus, the cost of free is pretty enticing and it's well worth that.
The Medium was the first Xbox Series X/S-specific first-party game to land on Game Pass. The horror mystery title was maligned by critics when it first launched, but it's actually rather underrated. The title offers plenty of spooky atmospheres, and the idea that the character exists in two worlds at once is definitely an original.
Speaking of adventure games that offer a brand new look and feel to the video game world, Control was one of the most original titles to launch when it arrived on the scene in 2019. It tells the story of Jesse Faden and the Oldest House, with unique powers and really fun gameplay tied in. Control: Ultimate Edition arrived on Game Pass this year, meaning that it got a graphics upgrade and all the included DLC, totally free for the subscription service's users.
The Forgotten City
The Forgotten City is one of those games that might have flown under the radar, but it might have been one of the best games of the year. The adventure game's story centers on a modern-day traveler who manages to find their way into an ancient Roman city that's trapped in a time loop. The citizens of this world operate under the fear that if anyone in the city commits a "sin" the entire population will instantly die and be turned to gold. In order to save its citizens, the player needs to get to know everyone and solve the danger of what's known as "The Golden Rule."
Forza Horizon 5
There's a little something for everything when it comes to Xbox Game Pass. The newest installment in the Forza Horizon franchise offers a ton of different cars to drive through a ton of different tracks and landscapes. It's also easily the best-looking game in the long-running series and that can certainly draw in people who might not normally be all that into racing games.
Octopath Traveler is an interesting title if only because it started life as a Nintendo Switch exclusive three years ago. Since then, the role-playing game has brought its stand-out art style and interesting gameplay mechanics to the PC, then Google Stadia, and finally Xbox Game Pass. Of course, of all of those platforms the game is now offered on, there's only one where people were able to try it for free.
Grand Theft Auto 5
One of the most popular games of the last decade spent some time being offered up for free on Xbox Game Pass. Grand Theft Auto 5 just keeps going and going and going, and for a time, it and its even more popular GTA Online offering were both totally free to play for Game Pass users. At the time, a game of this magnitude landing on the subscription service was quite the event.
Bloodroots is another game that might have been almost forgotten if not for its landing on Xbox Game Pass. Instead, the art style and the bloody way in which players will take out their enemies was seen and enjoyed by millions more people than it could have hoped to do all on its own. This is exactly the kind of game that is perfect for the service. It allows players to check out titles they might not have wanted to originally spend their money on.
The Ascent is a cyberpunk battler that landed on Game Pass day and date for its launch. For those who might have been fed up with Cyberpunk 2077 but wanted a good game in the same genre, this title, which offers Diablo 3 type combat certainly fit that bill.
Stardew Valley stands out among the games that have landed on Xbox Game Pass in 2021 because the point of this fun little game is famously not about fighting hordes of monsters or hitting as many home runs as possible. Instead, the point of this game is all about relaxing, unwinding, and just making the best home possible for the character in the game. This is one of those titles that users can spend a ton of time just planting and tending crops. It's basically the Animal Crossing of Game Pass and that's a good thing.
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