Last year, a tradition was born when we took a look back at the year’s complimentary offerings in the form of the Games with Gold program. Welcome to the second annual Top 5 Games with Gold. I’m Kevin and I’ll be your host. Last year was pretty good, but eyeballing the list this year’s seems to be even better. But as we learned last year, looks can be deceiving. That’s why I’m here to help. So if you’ve got a long list of GWG games and don’t know where to start, or if you just love lists, you’ve come to the right place. Without further ado, here are our candidates:
- Rayman Origins
- Monkey Island 2
- The Cave
- Killer Instinct Season 2
- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
- World of Van Helsing: Deathtrap
- Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
- Project CARS
- Borderlands 2
- Layers of Fear
- Heavy Weapon
- Ryse: Son of Rome
- Assassin's Creed: Revelations
- The Walking Dead: Season Two
- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2
- Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
- LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
- Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris
- Assassin's Creed III
- Dragon Age: Origins
- Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
- Grow Up
- Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
- Slime Rancher
- Red Faction: Armageddon
- Trials Fusion
- Hydro Thunder
- Forza Motorsport 5
- Battlefield 3
- Rayman 3 HD
- Gone Home
- Medal of Honor: Airborne
- The Turing Test
- NiGHTS Into Dreams
- Trackmania Turbo
- Deadfall Adventures
- Tales from the Borderlands
- Child of Eden
- Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide
- Marlow Briggs
- Back to the Future: The Game
Honorable MentionsThe Better Than a Classic Award
When the gaming journalism industry was ruled primarily by magazines, a hot term we saw flung around regularly was X-killer. A Zelda-killer or a Halo-killer was an easy way for journalists and developers alike to drive up hype for an upcoming games. After all, what could be more exciting than an underdog going up against a monolith and coming out ahead as the better game? That’s what the Better Than a Classic Award is all about and this time it’s a Left 4 Dead-killer: Vermintide.
If you want the full story, I wrote an ICYMI on the game earlier this year. The cliff notes version is that this is basically a fantasy L4D with loot, and that makes it fantastic. You’ll pick one of five characters and then team up with three friends and set out into the world. Missions come in a variety of difficulties and completion awards loot which you can use to tackle even harder difficulties. The gameplay is deep and tactical with an intensity you won’t often find. You’ll hear the roar of a rat ogre or the hiss of an assassin and you’ll get a surge of adrenaline — or you’ll die a miserable failure as your team fails to react in time to the incoming threat. Plus, you kill hordes and hordes of Skaven (rat-men), which is just kinda awesome.
The IDARB Award
This one I haven’t actually yet played, but it’s definitely our winner of the IDARB Award. That’s the award that goes to an absurdly easy completion. This year didn’t have much competition — some games like The Walking Dead: Season Two were easy, but this one was by far the easiest and least time-consuming of them all. But as a bonus, it’s apparently also a quality game if our resident Newshound Sam can be trusted (he can be):
Gone Home is a game that only has one negative factor for me — I didn't play it immediately, and missed all of the hype. Yes, it's a walking simulator and yes, it's another game in which you pick up discarded objects in an empty house. But my word, the narrative woven in Gone Home is something special. Despite being effectively a teen drama plot, the interwoven character arcs and shifts in tone keep you guessing which genre this game sits in, let alone how it will all turn out. Only Life is Strange rivals Gone Home for bringing an unexpected tear to my eye, and the latter did a much better job of avoiding soapy melodrama. The music is perfectly utilised and the attention to detail will surely pull on the heartstrings of anyone who grew up in the nineties. Any further details would be a spoiler, so I will simply encourage everyone to give Gone Home a try.The Best Game I Didn’t Play Award
Well as the name of the award implies, I didn’t actually play this. Luckily, my fellow Newshound Mark did and he loves it. So I’ll turn the mic over to him and let him tell you why this is a game that you should take a peek at.
In last year's Games with Gold recap Kevin also deferred to me for this award of his. In that case it was Outlast. This time, it's another gem in OXENFREE which he (rather shamefully) ignored. OXENFREE was made by a team led by former Telltale devs, and you can see the link in the game's focus on dialogue, but OXENFREE's implementation of this system is much more dynamic and lifelike than anything from Telltale. On top of that, the art is gorgeous and unique while the story is a great mash-up of The Goonies and The X-Files. It's just sitting there in your backlog, for many of you, don't miss it!I’ll also point out he did a full write-up on it earlier this year for one of our ICYMI articles. If you want to hear more, I’d highly recommend you check that out.
I’m a bit of a sucker for Roman history and, admittedly, pickings were slim back when I played Ryse at the Xbox One’s release in 2013, but I do believe this game does not get nearly the credit it deserves. It tells the story of an alternate history Rome where one legionnaire, Marius, encounters the rise of a barbarian rebellion led by Boudicca. The story is really quite good, telling an unbelievable tale in terms of modern history but a great one if viewed more mythologically. With beautiful visuals even by today’s standards to back it up, this is a standout game even if the gameplay is mediocre. If you enjoy history or Rome whatsoever, you’ll likely get some good mileage out of this one.
Recently a TA Playlist title, this little game came as a surprise to me. One of the first achievements popped up for me in UHH earlier this year and I thought it'd be a quick one to knock out and it was. But instead of moving on to the next game, I kept playing. And playing. And suddenly I found it was very late at night and I had finished the whole game. The puzzles are excellent and the story is better still. The Turing Test has its faults — I wasn't a fan of the ending — but what it does well, it does very well and the story is very engaging if you're interested in sci-fi focused on AI.
The True To Itself Award
Trackmania’s debut on Xbox has been a success. With 200 tracks to complete, there’s a nearly endless amount of supremely difficult content to tackle in this time obsessed racer. Each track is short and tightly designed. There’s plenty of room to make errors, so while perfection is always the ultimate goal, there are a multitude of ways to fall short. This means you’ll be going back over and over again trying to shave that one last millisecond off your time to secure the goal medal. It’s addictive and it works.
Its gameplay can be distilled into a certain purity that few games achieve, and that’s why it gets our coveted True To Itself Award. That award, earned last year for the first time by Sunset Overdrive, goes to the game that truly understands what it’s meant to be. In Trackmania, every track is impeccably designed to give you minute successes while always moving the bar slightly farther ahead to ensure you want to keep playing more and more. It’s nothing more than a time trial game, but it’s a time trial game you’ll never want to end.
The Open Borders Award
Best Xbox One Game
The first Xbox One title to release this year was also the best. Dropping as a brand new title right on January 1st for Gold accounts, by all looks it seemed to be simply another tower defense spinoff that we’ve all seen plenty of times already. I was excited to play it, but mainly because it was free and I enjoy tower defense more than most. But Deathtrap was far better than it first appeared. I dare say that it’s the best tower defense game ever made. “How!?” Let me show you.
This is a mish-mash of two genres: a dungeon-crawling RPG like Diablo and tower defense. You start a match by laying out your first towers after inspecting the map and developing a strategy. Then you jump into the waves where you’ll use a variety of abilities based on your class to help defeat the wave. Rinse and repeat. What makes it work so well is the depth of the RPG mechanics. Tons of games have cursory talent trees and the like, but Deathtrap went above and beyond. There are tons of talents to spend, plenty of abilities to customize, gear to help maximize whatever build you decide to make, etc. And best of all, you can build your class how you want it to be. While the game is definitely challenging, there are multiple viable builds with each class. Sticking such a deep RPG system into a tower defense title that’s already got well-designed maps and interesting enemies is a recipe for success and this game is cooked to perfection.
That’s why it’s earned the Open Borders Award. That award goes to a game each year which does a lot to introduce new players to a genre they hadn’t previously played. Deathtrap does this through its RPG mechanics that we all know and love. We’re comfortable with them. Combining them with a tower defense game, which most of us played almost exclusively on a phone or in a Blizzard game’s custom lobby, shows us all just how successful the tower defense genre can be.
Best Xbox 360 Game
Best Overall Game Award
Dragon Age: Origins originally released back in 2009 to cap off a decade of golden years for its developer, BioWare. Since 2000, Bioware had managed to release an incredible amount of critically-acclaimed franchises consecutively: Baldur’s Gate II, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and Mass Effect. Obviously, DA:O had a lot to live up to — and it did just that. I’ll be the first to admit that jumping into this game in modern times is a rough experience — I tried three different times across five years before the game finally clicked for me. The visuals are horrible and the presentation seems clunky compared to later BioWare games. But once you get into it, this is one of the best RPGs available on Xbox and it’s worth your time.
The game has what you’d expect from a BioWare title at the time. It’s got solid, squad-based combat that can be very challenging and rewarding. It’s got a world to explore soaked with plenty of lore. It’s got an epic story about a hero. But the secret ingredient, as with Mass Effect, is the roster of companions you can recruit. These companions feel rage, loss, and love. They have their own motivations and they play off each other wonderfully. This is one of those games where every side mission feels rewarding just to spend some more time in the world and with the people inside it. If you haven’t played DA:O, you’ve made a mistake. Now you know what to do to start the year off right.
With that, we’re done for this year. Looking back on it, 2017 has been pretty incredible. There were a bunch of GWG games that certainly deserved to make this list but just missed the cut. Games like Rayman: Origins, Trials Fusion and Bayonetta almost certainly would have made the list in other years. Be sure to let us know your favorites in the comments below and we can certainly also take some predictions for what you hope to see next year. I, for one, am expecting Forza Horizon 2. We could only be so lucky.