Though complaining about free stuff is the epitome of a “first world problem,” PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold users should feel somewhat disappointed over July’s $0 current-gen offerings. Sure, each service is receiving some high-quality titles, but there are some slightly troubling caveats that come with them. We are obviously in “the calm before the storm,” so to speak, as both the PlayStation 4’s Instant Game Collection and the Xbox One’s Games with Gold suggest that we have hit the quietest point of this console generation’s free game offerings.
While both of July’s free PlayStation 4 titles earned widespread critical acclaim, they feel like they offer less value overall. Towerfall: Ascension is best as a local multiplayer experience, with its single-player campaign being arguably its weakest aspect. To get the most out of this title, you need three friends in the same room who actually want to play it and three extra DualShock 4s, which will run you $180. That’s a significant monetary and organizational investment. This is not to say Towerfall: Ascension isn’t a great game, but it ends up being a lot more costly than other games which could have taken its place (such as Knack, Trials Fusion, Fez, or an entirely new downloadable title).
Though Strider is one of the PlayStation 4’s ten best games, it was released during a release drought. Not everyone has experienced this wonderful Metroidvania throwback, but dedicated PlayStation 4 owners played through it simply because nothing else was really available. If you were looking to purchase a brand new PlayStation 4 game in February, your choices basically came down to Strider and Thief. In fact, according to Sony’s very own PlayStation Blog, Strider was the most downloaded PSN game this February. There will be quite a few users who experience the game for the first time this July, but for early adopters this is just shy of a slap in the face.
The Xbox One’s free offerings are as mixed a bag as one could imagine. On one hand, Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition is the best free title on either service, making this perhaps the only month in the history of Games with Gold where it’s had a stronger headliner than PS+. The new edition of the Mexican-themed Metroidvania beat-’em-up, which we adored, introduces a number of new features, including new abilities and stages. Of course, Microsoft decided to shoot itself in the foot by rolling over one of June’s Games with Gold into July.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, will once again be offered as a free download to Xbox Live Gold subscribers. That’s right, if you forget to download this game over the past 20-plus days, you still have a chance to get it! Mere months after Microsoft proclaimed its commitment to bolstering Games with Gold, they’ve taken two steps forward and three back.
Back in March, Phil Spencer was quoted as saying, “I have been sitting down, monthly now, with [the Games with Gold team]…and playing a more active role in picking franchises that show up in Games with Gold, and I think you’ll see at least something that feels, at least, more true to what I think Games with Gold should look like with the constraints that are there.” While we initially focused on the fact that Microsoft appeared to be improving their lackluster offerings, we should have taken a look at Spencer’s mid-sentence backpedaling. In hindsight, perhaps mentioning “at least” twice was some sort of Freudian slip, as the rehashing of Max: The Curse of Brotherhood seems to literally be the absolute least Microsoft can do. Don’t insult our intelligence by pretending like you’re giving us two new games for free, when in reality we’re only getting one.
Again, I realize that complaining about free games is somewhat nonsensical. I should be happy that I’m getting anything for free rather than nitpicking Sony and Microsoft’s current-gen selections under a thin veil of disappointment. I’m still getting four games for free on PlayStation 3 and Vita, these monthly announcements should always make me do a dance of joy. Unfortunately, I can only look at the PlayStation 4’s Instant Game Collection and Xbox One’s Games with Gold offerings this month and sigh. Let’s hope this is a minor blip on the radar and not the start of an ugly trend.