Part of the fun of owning the next-gen consoles has been some of the surprisingly good value available in the Xbox Games with Gold and PS+ titles made available to members on a monthly basis. Some of them, particularly in the case of Rocket League or Grow Home, have been some of the best releases that year.
So you'd think that Microsoft and Sony, flush with a bigger audience following the holiday sales, would continue highlighting the value of their subscription services post-Christmas with an excellent offering in the new year. Thing is, the free games this month are bloody awful.
I know the publishers like to advertise how much value gamers are getting by breaking titles down to a dollar value, but that's often a terrible and worthless way of looking at what you get from PS+ and Games with Gold. The games are quoted at their full RRP, which nobody in their right mind would ever buy because they've often been released for years.
On Team Green's side, the Xbox One gets the following: the Ultra Edition of Killer Instinct's first season and Zheros, the latter of which is a new release that won't become available for download until January 16. "Beating folks up with a bunch of clever combos, tracking down secret areas, and some light platforming are at the core of Zheros," Xbox advertises.
Zheros won't be everyone's cup of tea and while the full pack for Killer Instinct sounds nice, the second season of Killer Instinct came out well over a year ago. The Games with Gold version doesn't give you access to Killer Instinct 2 Classic, the excellent Shadow Lab mode where you train an AI avatar or ranked leagues. Given that KI is also shaping up for a re-release on PC, a massive expansion of the player base would have been a perfect opportunity.
Even factoring in the ability to play the Xbox 360 titles on Xbox One doesn't improve the situation substantially. Deus Ex: Human Revolution won't become available until January 16 and DiRT: Showdown, perhaps the weakest of the franchise, is only available for the first half of the month. And it's worth remembering that just because the Xbox One is a lot more powerful than its predecessor doesn't mean older emulated titles are likely to run well at all.
Still, that's better than the Sony situation.
PS4 owners this month will get access to Grim Fandango Remastered and Hardware: Rivals. At the time of writing Gauntlet: Slayer Edition and the first chapter of King's Quest are still appearing as this month's PS+ titles, but that's because Sony said the new games won't kick in until "the first Tuesday of January".
That means everyone has another 48 hours to enjoy Gauntlet, at least. It's made by the same studio behind Helldivers and Magicka, and deserves more credit than it gets, but at the same time it's not going to set off fireworks for anyone. But it's a better option than Grim Fandango Remastered, which is something better enjoyed on the PC than on the couch with a controller.
I know it's been redesigned to be compatible with a controller, but anyone who worked through Broken Age on the console will know how enjoyable a experience that was. Grim Fandango's not likely to be any better, and even if it was the traditional nature of its gameplay (not to mention the perspective changes) will infuriate some.
Hardware: Rivals is the unknown offering, an multiplayer vehicular arcade shooter with simple controls and skill tree progression. Reports from the beta late last year said it was a touch like Vigilante 8 or Twisted Metal, while not being as spectacular or memorable. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out, and how the developers handle the influx of players that comes with being a free title on PS+.
But the offering could have been so much better. On the Sony side, it would have been nice to see some of the titles rejected for the fan vote in September — like Armello — get another look in. Alternatively, it would have been cool if one or two of the re-released Star Wars downloadable titles were pushed through PS+ now that everyone and their dog has seen The Force Awakens.
All in all: if you were hoping for something good for free on Xbox One or PS4 this month, don't. Gauntlet isn't a bad choice for some local co-op — the implementation of spell casting on the Wizard faster and more accessible than what Arrowhead has done in the Magicka games. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing didn't save Xbox's games from being ordinary across the board (or terrible, in Thief's case), but that's probably worth more of your time than anything Team Green has to offer in January.