In the last week Game Pass has suddenly become flooded by the huge EA Play library in accordance with Microsoft and EA’s deal announced earlier this year; Destiny also began its newest expansion with Beyond Light which Game Pass again gives full access to; big titles like Gears Tactics and the Final Fantasy VIII Remake also dropped growing Game Pass’ AAA stock; and with Bethesda games like Doom Eternal and Fallout 76 already being added, we can expect far more still to come from Microsoft’s industry breaking $7.5 billion acquisition of Zenimax.
But amongst the glut of Microsoft’s big-dick-swinging-AAA hot drops it might be easy for the treasure trove of hidden indie and smaller dev gems to be lost to the weeds.
Before now these hidden gems have been the lifeblood of Game Pass, helping to flesh out its library with a genuinely exciting variety of fun and novel titles – so how about we do a little essential list of some of these hidden “must plays” then?
Not to be confused with Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds released the same year, Mobius Digital’s Outer Wilds is one of my contenders for game of the year in 2019. Combining the space exploration of No Man Sky with the time loop gameplay of Zelda’s Majora’s Mask, Outer Wilds takes you across a breath-taking mystery and end of the universe quest that, when all is said and done, will leave you feeling extremely small and yet delighted at having been allowed to experience its beauty for the first time.
You begin as an intrepid explorer heading to space for the first time. Your goal is merely to investigate a few signals and find out whatever pieces of information lay hidden in the great expanse of space. However, after 22 minutes on your first flight, the sun will supernova and the entire universe will be wiped out.
Game over? Not quite because you then wake again, the previous day starting anew, but only you seem to remember what occurs 22 minutes from now. Cue a Groundhog Day-esque test where you must continually set out to unravel bit by bit more and more of the mystery and how an ancient race may be linked to saving the galaxy.
The game may initially be frustrating to get to grips with, but it has an excellent learning curve that then leaves you feeling extremely satisfied with every bit of progress. Plus it has an excellent soundtrack to boot!
HELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE
In the tiresome debate over whether games can be considered art or not, Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice proves that the latter argument is entirely false.
Hellblade is an outstanding narrative journey and a use of the medium that is so far unparalleled. While there can be some complaints about the repetitiveness of its gameplay, Hellblade more than makes up for it with its artistic direction and bold narrative that cuts right through to the trouble and horror of grief and psychosis.
Using a setting of Norse and Celtic inspired mythology, the game takes us through Senua’s struggle to overcome the grief of her lover’s death and the “darkness” that plagues her every waking moment. Its dramatic use of audio and visual plunges its audience into the horror of Senua’s psychosis, and together with its incredibly written narrative makes an immensely strong case for how powerful games can work as an artistic medium and tool in their own right.
Upon completion, Hellblade will continue to eat at you for a few days, and thereafter will live long in the memory as an awe-inspiring tale and experience. And what’s more, a sequel was announced at 2019’s Game Awards with a suitably intense trailer so you better get on this boat to Helheim right now.
ORI AND THE BLIND FOREST
If you’re ready to cry again after Hellblade then come on down to something a little less intense but equally as emotionally captivating. Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest is a beautiful tale of a lost child and a broken world trying its best to reunite. You’ll be both delighted by its cast of characters and heartbroken by their story.
Along with an excellent narrative, the art direction of the game is also glorious, and its incredible soundtrack punctuates some truly breath-taking gameplay sequences making this Metroidvania style game one of the best of its ilk.
Ori contains an excellent variety of puzzles and well laid out world exploration that becomes bigger and better the more skills you develop along the way. It forever feels fresh and fun at each step of the game and continually keeps its audience captivated both by story and gameplay – there is not a single weak quality to Ori and the Blind Forest.
Its sequel Ori and the Will of the Wisps released earlier this year though was initially beset by a number of technical problems. These should, however, have been patched out now and it is available on Game Pass as well so if you enjoy Blind Forest then you can launch straight into our little friend Ori’s story again.
Another Metroidvania 2D platformer but now without the cutesiness of an Ori. Hollow Knight, rather, is the Dark Souls of 2D Metroidvania’s – both in its darker fantastical dread realm and in its masochistic gameplay loop that has you accruing “souls” and naturally losing them all at a frustratingly difficult but satisfying-to-beat boss.
But that is meant in no way as a negative against the game; Hollow Knight takes the dark souls formula and brilliantly reimagines it for the Metroidvania genre, with a wealth of abilities, weapon upgrades etc to make the game feel like a “play your way” adventure in which you are getting better all the time. The challenge of the game adds to its thrills and learning the best ways to navigate the environment as you expand further and further into new realms each with a distinct new challenge makes for an incredibly enjoyable experience overall.
Hollow Knight drops you into this bizarre and darkened realm with very little to hold your hand. Players must learn their own way and uncover the story and quest as it unravels ahead of them. It is a must for any of the “Soulsborne” persuasion, and also too for any players perhaps too intimidated by FromSoftware’s games as Hollow Knight will act as a nice bridge into the genre.
PLAGUE TALE: INNOCENCE
From French developer Asobo Studio, Plague Tale: Innocence is a pseudo-horror-adventure-puzzle-stealth game that takes players, unsurprisingly, into a Black Plague desolated France during the English inquisition of the Hundred Years’ War.
You follow Amicia De Rune and her young brother Hugo on the run as the English Inquisition seems to be targeting their family. What follows is an odyssey-like adventure across the country in search of answers to the De Rune legacy and a solution to end this chase once and for all.
The game stands up best in its stealth and puzzle sequences that see you navigating your way through hordes of rabid plague rats as well as English soldiers. The combat does not hold up to too much scrutiny and is a little rough around the edges, but this can be forgiven for its better action and stealth sequences and a narrative that pulls you into this forsaken world and its enduring characters. Although that said it does also have a truly awful final boss fight.
Nevertheless, it is no new thing that games struggle for a final conflict, and Plague Tale is at the very least worthy of a hidden gem accolade for its overall experience.
ENTER THE GUNGEON
From Dodge Roll, Enter the Gungeon is a fast-moving roguelike and dungeon crawler that comes with all the spunk and verve one might have to expect from a Devolver Digital published game. Players have the choice of a cast of protagonists to begin with, each with a different play style, and every entry into the Gungeon is set up with enough variation to allow for the game to remain fresh and fun through many run-throughs. There are supposedly over 300 guns to find on each run meaning there are a near-endless possibilities of playstyle.
If you’re confined to the Xbox and are currently ruing not being able to plummet the depths of Greek hell with new GOTY Hades, then Enter the Gungeon will more than suffice for now (please Microsoft and Supergiant, get Hades to Xbox please I beg you!).
MUTANT YEAR ZERO: ROAD TO EDEN
Read more: Blinded By The Light Review
If you’re already done with Gears Tactics and want more turn-based tactics to feast on, or even if you’re an avid XCOM fan, then Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden should tide you over well.
Unlike these other tactical turn-based games, however, Mutant Year Zero brings a real-time adventure quality to it, allowing the player to also freely explore the world and set your characters up before you enter in the turn-based combat. This allows for a lot more planning before fights so that you can perhaps quickly and stealthily whittle down the enemy forces before, naturally, everything goes to hell and you find yourself in a huge and often overwhelming battle.
Like other entries to the genre, you build up your team and choose who is best to use for each venture. However, contrastively to other turn-based shooters, rather than having an open cast of randomly rolled grunts, MYZ keeps you with a tight-knit group meaning you’ll find yourself more closely invested in both them and their story.
All in all Mutant Year Zero does enough to satiate hardcore fans of the genre while also offering enough new angles to it that it still remains novel.
Where to start with Pathologic 2? From Russian developer Ice-Pick Lodge, the game was originally meant to be a remake of the original but soon spurned into an entirely new reimagining of its own.
I won’t even try to explain the plot of Pathologic 2 because truth be told I don’t really know. The game drops you straight into the last days of a plague-ravaged town, and every character and image you see is more bizarre than the last, and at no point will the game endeavour to quite explain what you are actually seeing.
And that discombobulation will continue as you are then brought back in time to “Day 1” as protagonist Artemy ventures back to his hometown where he is seemingly hated by all. What follows is an RPG of sorts, that is utterly brutal in its survival mechanics.
The game grows increasingly weirder and to be honest you’ll be starting to question your very own sanity along with the game. It is rough around the edges but to be honest that barely matters because of how truly unique and bizarre this game feels, and, if anything, the roughness of Pathologic 2 only adds to its clouded fever-dream experience. You’ll be continuing this one out of sheer curiosity.
What do you make of these games? Have you enjoyed them and think there are any other hidden gems to add? Let us know in the comments below.
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