Microsoft launched their “Games with Gold” program in June 2013 as an answer to Sony’s popular PlayStation Plus service, which had been offering free games to subscribers through its “Instant Game Collection” for 3 years at that point. While Microsoft’s service started out a bit rough, offering much fewer games than Sony and sticking to out-of-date games, they have made significant strides in improving the service in its 2 year lifespan. While Sony’s Instant Game Collection is still widely considered the superior service, Games with Gold has the advantage of allowing users to keep their Xbox 360 games even if they cancel their Xbox Live Gold subscription (Xbox One games are inaccessible without Gold). There have been quite a few standout free titles offered through Games with Gold, with the following 10 arguably being the best in terms of value and overall quality.
*Please note that these games are no longer offered through Games with Gold, since the selection changes each month.
10. Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition (Xbox One) – July 2014
Most of the games that have been offered through Games with Gold so far have been for the Xbox 360, but there have been a few notable titles added for the Xbox One since the console became eligible in June 2014. One such title is DrinkBox Studios’ highly-acclaimed indie brawler Guacamelee!, which was originally released in April 2013 for last generation systems like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. What makes Guacamelee! such a notable addition to Games with Gold (besides its actual quality) is that the Xbox One port, called the Super Turbo Championship Edition, was added the same month it was released. Snagging a new game for free is always a welcome proposition.
9. Just Cause 2 (Xbox 360) – June 2015
There’s a reason Just Cause 3 is one of the most anticipated games of 2015. The original Just Cause was a promising open world action game released in the early days of the Xbox 360, but it was largely forgettable. Developer Avalanche Studios clearly went back to the drawing board for the sequel, as Just Cause 2 made a huge splash when it was released in 2010. Over-the-top and brimming with things do (and blow up), Just Cause 2 is easily one of the best open world sandbox action games on the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, it was just recently taken off the service on June 15.
8. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Xbox 360) – January 2015
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt may be one of the best games of 2015, but it wouldn’t have a leg to stand on without the accomplishments of its predecessor, 2011’s The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. The Witcher 2 puts players in control of Geralt, a monster hunter for-hire who gets entangled in a violent political plot in the fantastical realm of Temeria. It’s a violent fantasy game that skews towards a more mature demographic and it’s also not the most accessible game, but it’s definitely one of the best RPGs Microsoft has thrown onto Games with Gold.
7. Dark Souls (Xbox 360) – June 2014
Including a game like Dark Souls on Games with Gold was a smart move on Microsoft’s part. The Souls series is rather notorious for its intense difficulty, which is a barrier to entry for some players. By making a game like Dark Souls for free, it removes the monetary commitment that some people might not be willing to expend on a game they may not like. Dark Souls was released on Games with Gold last June and can be considered a good indicator of when the service started to course-correct itself and start offering better, more recent games.
6. Dishonored (Xbox 360) – August 2014
Nobody was really expecting a game like Dishonored when it was released in 2012, so naturally its inclusion on the Games with Gold platform back in August 2014 came as an unexpected delight. The winner of numerous Game of the Year awards, Dishonored puts players into the fleet-footed shoes of Corvo Attano, an assassin who must clear his name after being framed for his Empress’s murder. Featuring open-ended stealth gameplay and a unique Victorian steampunk aesthetic, Dishonored is one of the best new original titles to come along in years and definitely part of the Games with Gold elite.
5. Sleeping Dogs (Xbox 360) – January 2014
Although some were quick to deride Sleeping Dogs as yet another pale imitator of the Grand Theft Auto school of design, this Hong Kong-set game is actually a worthy alternative to that mega franchise. Sleeping Dogs switches things up by casting you as an undercover cop and plays like a martial arts crime film come to life. It doesn’t have the complexity and depth of a Grand Theft Auto game, but it more than makes up this with style and a better combat system. The only disappointing thing is that the Xbox One definitive edition hasn’t been featured on Games with Gold yet.
4. Hitman: Absolution (Xbox 360) – April 2014
The Hitman series has always been consistently enjoyable, but it went dormant for years during the Xbox 360 era until it made a big comeback with 2012’s Hitman: Absolution. While most major franchises have begun “dumbing down” their games in order to appeal to a wider audience, Absolution kept the core Hitman experience — giving players an objective and a wide variety of ways to accomplish it — while also modernizing the series with better graphics and more dynamic play experiences. Admittedly, Absolution’s focus on a more personal story for its lead character Agent 47 left something to be desired, but taken as a whole, it’s one of the best pure stealth experiences on the Xbox platform.
3. Tomb Raider (Xbox 360) – March 2015
The Tomb Raider reboot was one of the most popular and celebrated games of 2013 and successfully brought Lara Croft’s adventures into the modern gaming era. Focusing on Lara before she became the confident globe-trotting adventurer everyone knows her as, Tomb Raider is a much grittier, violent affair by comparison and feels very reminiscent of the popular Uncharted series. Tomb Raider was put on Game with Gold in early March, but much like Sleeping Dogs before it, it’s disappointing that this was only done for the Xbox 360 version and not the superior Xbox One edition.
2. Bioshock Infinite (Xbox 360) – March 2015
Bioshock Infinite was one of the most hotly-anticipated games of the Xbox 360 generation and while it didn’t quite live up to the landmark 2007 original, Infinite is still a fantastic game in its own right. The game’s first hour alone is a thing of beauty, as players are introduced to the breathtaking fictional city-in-the-sky Columbia and its radical early 20th century American zealotry. The game does devolve into extended shooting galleries far too often, but there are not many better games that have made their way onto Games with Gold.
1. Rayman Legends (Xbox One) – March 2015
Sure, Rayman Legends may not be the best overall game that’s ever been offered on Games with Gold, but it’s the first full-priced Xbox One retail game that’s made it onto the service, which is a feat in itself. It also helps that Legends is a wonderful game; a colorful, charming platformer that’s simply brimming with creativity. While it’s a bit of letdown that only one Xbox One retail game has made it onto the service in the span of a year, hopefully Rayman Legends‘ inclusion is evidence of bigger and better things to come for Games with Gold.