25 games you mustn’t miss on Xbox Game Pass

With instant, unlimited access to over 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 backwards compatible games for the stupid cheap price of R159 per month, Microsoft’s like-Netflix-but-for-games Xbox Game Pass service is the turbo deal-o-rama of this generation. But besides marquee megahits like Forza Horizon 4, PUBG, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection, its catalogue also includes some less obvious must-plays that should totally be on your list. Like these…

(Since this feature was originally published in February 2019, Microsoft has introduced Xbox Game Pass for PC, the combo Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, and launched a lot of new games on the console service, so I’ll be updating it from time to time.)


Gears 5

Microsoft’s decision to launch its first-party games simultaneously on Xbox Game Pass is perhaps most astounding with a AAA game like Gears 5, which would otherwise be expected to sell zillions of copies if it weren’t included in the subscription. And even if it counts as a marquee megahit and not a less obvious must-play, I’m adding it to this list because, you know, it’s Gears. And if you haven’t played a Gears of War game until now, you can fix that mistake.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.

Dead Cells

This game is hard. It’s so hard. But it’s also fun, I promise.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console, but the PC version is launching soon.

Dead by Daylight

One player is the bad guy, and can’t be killed. Five other players must complete a series of objectives and escape the level before the bad guy kills them. Bring your brown pants.

Asymmetrical multiplayer is a difficult genre (remember Evolve?), but Dead By Daylight is one of the games that manages to make it work – and unlike most of the others, it’s as much fun playing the victims survivors as it is playing the bad guy. This game is an absolute scream – pun totally intended – for LANs or custom lobbies with your friends.

The game launched with its own roster of just-different-enough-to-avoid-litigation bad guys based on iconic horror movie characters, but DLC purchases include Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Leatherface.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console.

Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut

You’ve played Fallout. Now play the sequel to the game that inspired it – and kept the isometric perspective, because let’s be real, the isometric perspective rules.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for PC.

Surviving Mars

“Mom, I beat Elon Musk.”

Because that’s the dream, isn’t it?

Surviving Mars is a sci-fi building and management sim in which you must establish a colony on – guess what, you guessed it – Mars, and… survive. It’s in the name. It’s also much more complicated than the lab nerds expected, because it turns out that colonists have opinions about the food.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.

Neon Chrome

It’s a super addictive, retro-nostalgic cyberpunk twin-stick shooter with local co-op and randomly generated levels, in which you must save the world from a cybernetic slum boss and die trying. Not or die trying. Because you’re going to die, leaving your significant other to finish on their own, and probably die trying. It’s like practice for the real thing.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.


Remember that time I couldn’t stop playing Stardew Valley? It’s like that, but worse.

Although, now that I think about it, Moonlighter is actually not so different from Stardew Valley, and it’s not just the retro aesthetic but that too. The game is a mashup of rogue-lite action-RPG and… selling things. I know, it’s totally more chores, and it doesn’t even have a Sebastian to make up for it, but somehow, this game is so compelling (and so frustrating).

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.

Metro Exodus

The same Metro Exodus that launched to instant critical acclaim in February, but now it’s free. “Free”. You know what I mean.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.

Into the Breach

Combining equal parts simple and complex, Into the Breach is an innovative, unconventional puzzler that requires lateral thinking, deliberation, and a lot of persistence, and in the end (and every other end), invariably exposes only your own inadequacy to save humanity from extinction, and that’s why you work at the bank or whatever. Everybody needs that kind of affirmation.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for PC.


When mom told you that you could grow up to be whatever you want, she probably didn’t expect you to become a coffee cup. But you show her. Also, don’t miss the game’s Mooncrash DLC, because it’s amazing.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console.

Thimbleweed Park

From the developer of retro classics Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, Thimbleweed Park is a mashup of The X-Files, 90s nostalgia, and… clowns. Also features the opportunity to combine a balloon animal and a corpse.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I played this game when it launched in 2013, and thinking about it still gives me the shivers.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.

Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition

It’s hard. But, like, hard-hard. But also adorable. But haaaaard.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

The game that more or less defined the third-person shooter genre, and introduced us to the Cole Train. WOO, BABY. BRING IT ON, SUCKER, THIS MY KIND OF SHIT.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.

Sky Force Reloaded

A retro-nostalgic vertical scroll-’em-up with local co-op for two players, and one of the most madly addictive games ever made.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

First up because it’s that important, Ninja Theory’s unconventional, intimate exposition of mental illness and psychosis is an extraordinary game that should be a mandatory must-play for everybody, ever, and I can’t recommend it enough. BUT PLAY IT WITH HEADPHONES.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.

Strange Brigade

From the developer of Sniper Elite studio Rebellion, Strange Brigade is an eccentric co-op, third-person shooter that launched at the wrong time in 2018’s crammed schedule. With its campy 1930s B-movie conceits and droll narration, it’s a mashup of Left 4 Dead and British imperial hubris that has up to four of Her Majesty’s Secret Service agents on a mission to eliminate some ancient evil inadvertently released from her prison-tomb by an archaeological expedition. So, you know it’s more or less historically accurate. Besides the reanimated mummies, anyway.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console.

Zombie Army Trilogy

Also from Rebellion, and featuring a similarly absurd premise, Zombie Army Trilogy introduces an alternate history in which Hitler – in a desperate attempt to rescue his failing war in Europe – deploys a zombie army. But you probably guessed that already. Much like Strange Brigade, the game includes online co-op for up to four players, plus tactical dismemberment and some of the most grotesque headshot animations ever.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console.

Warhammer: Vermintide 2

More of the same co-op funs for up to four players, but this time dressed up in Warhammer’s grimdark medieval fantasy chainmail. The game swaps genre conventions with a focus on melee combat, and on harder difficulties, Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is no joke.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

The world has (mostly) ended in nuclear war, and it’s up to a duck and a pig to save what’s left of it. INTRIGUING. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a turn-based strategy game that’s kind of like XCOM, but much less traumatic because if characters get killed in combat, they wake up when it’s over, and it was just a bad dream. So, for people who want to play a turn-based strategy game without consequences for their egregious incompetence. Like me.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.


Ghost Town Games’ kitchen chaos management sim is the co-op culinary catastrophe game you didn’t know you’d always wanted. “But Tarryn,” you’re thinking. “A cooking game?” Yes, a cooking game. NOW SHUT UP AND WHAT IS THIS EVEN SOME KIND OF ONION SOUP BUT WHY IS IT FULL OF LETTUCE AND ON FIRE AND HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO FINISH THIS LEVEL WITH ZERO TICKETS COMPLETE AND A SINK FULL OF UNWASHED DISHES AND A HAMBURGER ON THE FLOOR AND IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU. AND IT’S OVER. And it’s Valentine’s Day next week, so.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console.

The Swapper

Bamboozle your brain with this uniquely bizarre and creepy indie sci-fi platform-puzzler in which you must use clones of yourself to accomplish tasks and navigate through a decrepit space station, and contemplate profound existential questions like which one of these clones is even the real you and is science a mistake.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console.

Aven Colony

Colonise an exotic alien planet, and suck everything out of it before moving on to the next one. It’s what humanity does. Aven Colony is a futuristic SimCity with more robot drones, toxic gas, and people complaining about the shitty food – but it doesn’t have a subway system, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console.


With its permadeath, uncompromising difficulty, and randomly-generated levels that preclude any sort of meaningful planning and inevitably end in reckless tragedy anyway, Capybara’s gloomcore roguelike isn’t for everybody – but if emotional masochism and relentless despair is your thing, you won’t be disappointed. Or you will be disappointed, but only because that’s exactly what you want, isn’t it? Weirdo.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console.

Laser League

It is 2150, and sports have death-lasers now. It’s the rules. With support for up to eight (!) players on one screen, Laser League is the high-speed, topsy-turvy, what-the-fuck-is-even-going-on party game that’s almost guaranteed to end the evening in resentment.

It’s not available anymore. Boo.

Bonus! Ruiner

It’s been over 20 years, and we don’t have a sequel to Origin’s cult-classic Crusader: No Regret. But we do have this retro-nostalgic neon cyberpunk blast-’em-up to (almost) make up for it.

Available on Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.

Bonus-bonus! Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Because Laser League got scrubbed so I had to add one more, and also because it’s going to include Halo Reach and Halo Reach is the best Halo ever, don’t @ me.

Available now on Xbox Game Pass for console, and launching on PC sometime this year.

StarCraft: Ghost leaks on the internet