This January Is An Awful Month For Free Games On The PS4 And Xbox One

This January Is An Awful Month For Free Games On The PS4 And Xbox One

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.


  • Wow, there’s a bit of negativity to get the new year off to a flying start! I don’t think the value for money side of PS+ is anywhere near what it was back in the AAA PS3 glory days, but the actual quality of the indie games is generally OK. The issue I’ve got is more that you’re getting a good $15 indie game instead of a good $50 retail game.

    Personally, I’m pretty happy about Grim Fandango this month – I’ve been meaning to play that for ages. I tried Gauntlet last month and thought it sucked, so obviously there’s a fair amount of personal taste involved here.

    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

    I’m still chipping away at Broken Age from PS+ a few months back (on PS4, haven’t tried it on Vita) and have been enjoying it so far – what, exactly, is the issue with playing it on console?

    • Pixel hunting with a controller is unwieldy and it ruins the experience. Plus, Grim Fandango has the issue where it’s not using the full 1080p space; see the screenshot above. Broken Age doesn’t have that issue because the perspective is locked to the 2D plane, whereas Grim Fandango has the regular camera changes that will immediately turn some people right off. Little usability features, basically. Not terminal, but for some it’ll be enough.

      • I just found Broken Age just too slow. The point and click thing always just feels like guesswork to me. A lot of the time the logic is a little….illogical. I mean yes, it’s console controls, what you gonna do, but that’s not the reason I stopped playing after Act 1.

        Also given what has been given out in 2015 I’d say my $70 was worth it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s an awful month, a lot of people will enjoy those games.

        Not sure if the availability dates for Xbox are a point or just you’re providing info, (I assume the latter), but gold always has some games that run across the months half-half.

        • Just outlining things; might be a fair few people, new owners and what not, who weren’t across that before.

      • Grim Fandango isn’t a point and click game though, you control the character via traditional control with the analog sticks, there isn’t any pixel hunting. Plus Manny’s head tracks to close by important items and mechanisms. Game pad has always been the superior way to play the game, even on PC. Have you even played the game, or just judging it from a short blurb?

        • Point and click is shorthand for the adventure genre, but I should have used the full term in my comment. It wasn’t meant to be a precise, literal translation in the form of those Where’s Wally-esque adventures on iPad et al. Apologies. It’s been a long day and I’m not well.

          Also, just because I can’t let it go, I’ve played the original and remaster on multiple platforms, so saying “gamepad” is the superior way to play a LucasArts game on PC is a bit naff … well, I’m not going to support you on that.

        • I sometimes hear complaints about the tank controls of Grim Fandango. I can’t say that I ever had an issue with them. Seemed like a fairly intuitive way of controlling a character, and the arrow keys on the PC keyboard work great in that respect. I’m sure a gamepad would work nicely too.

          Plus, as you say, Manny’s head movements are great to clue in on interesting things, so no need to hunt down those damn pixels. Which was fine back in the VGA days, but there’s too many pixels on modern displays. Yes, that was tongue-in-cheek.

          I haven’t played the remastered version yet, but I’ll be trying it soon via my PS+ subscription. Thanks Sony!

  • youd think they’d try harder this month considering they’d have an influx of new customers over Christmas. Start strong to keep new customers, but I guess they didn’t worry about it

    • No need to try harder now that you need a subscription for online play on both consoles, I suppose. Given how many games have online elements these days, most people are going to need a subscription even if there aren’t any games included at all.

    • I guess they did the maths and decided that they’d got enough 6-12 month subscriptions instead of month-by-monthers that they can just phone it in for the next 4 months before straightening up and trying to impress for the renewal period.

      Kind of like politicians trying to pad out their scorecard in the months before calling an election.

    • Sony did that last year (I believe it was the first time a retail PS4 game showed up). I think Microsoft started putting up retail games a month or two earlier, or it might have been when they solidified the schedule. Before that everything was just too new to include with GwG/PS+. Perhaps this year they’re worried that the additional load of a 20GB-30GB AAA retail game will add even more stress on the already busy servers.

  • Honestly I had a lot of fun playing Van Helsing – and that it was something that I got for free was a bonus! Honestly though, given the amount of games I haven’t touched yet (only bought an XB1 when Halo 5 came out) I’m not that fussed if January is a light month for freebies.

    Just hope if there’s a slow month coming up they increase the offering, that’d probably be a better way to go

  • I’m looking forward to Hardware – should be mindless fun.
    Already have Grim Fandango and it hasn’t aged well.
    The PS3 games aren’t too flash but Nihulumbra on the Vita will get a look in.

    Seems like complaining about PS+ games has become a bit of a thing tho hasn’t it?

    I for one still think it’s a great service, granted it’s not as good as it used to be.. but what is?

  • Sadface. I signed us up for a yearly sub on PlayStation Plus on Jan 1 (so it would be renewable on the first of the year, lol) and was kinda excited to see what games we’d be able to play this month. But those titles are a little disappointing. No interest in either of those games. I’m sure there will be other games later in the year to make up for it, but for our first offering, I’m not too impressed. But then I guess we didn’t really sign up for the free games, it was for the online stuff in games we needed most.

  • Long article for saying ‘I don’t like the free games this month’. Yes we haven’t seen any ‘blockbusters’ on PS Plus or Xbox Live for the current gen yet, still I’ve been largely happy with the games so far. I loved Gauntlet (one of the first ever games I played on my Spectrum). Games like Counterspy, Resogun, Oddworld, Limbo have been brilliant as well.

    It’s all personal taste though. There’s been plenty of the free games that won’t be for everyone. Personally, I didn’t like Fez or Grow Home. Yes Grim Fandango might not have the best control system on console, but it’s giving the smaller games and developers an audience that they wouldn’t have reached normally and that’s great. It’s going to be up and down in terms of quality, that comes with the territory of indie games. It’ll be interesting if they keep the focus on smaller games each month though or start to bring in AAA titles like what happened on the PS3

    • Rocket League and Grow Home were pretty good; I think Gauntlet was a better deal last month than many give it credit for, and Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is an excellent couch co-op game.

      Not blockbusters, but still plenty of value (and you won’t find me whinging that PS+ or Xbox Live doesn’t have more AAA games or blockbusters). Counterspy is pretty neat too, I need to return to that.

      Also, given that Broken Age was free just in November and Double Fine is raising millions right now for Psychonauts 2, they don’t *really* need help reaching out to the audience. If anything, they’re the personification of big budget indie publishers (and not the kind of developers that could use a bit extra support/marketing, like you suggested).

      Aussie devs, on the other hand!

      • It would be good to see some more Aussie devs get on the act. Unfortunately as we fall under PS Europe I don’t think there’s a great chance of it. Fair point about Double Fine though. I heard some news about them possibly crowdfunding Psychonauts 2 but didn’t realise they’d gone ahead with it. Strange how the original game never took off and sold by the bucket load, there’s more than enough people willing to put their hands in their pockets for a sequel. I wouldn’t be surprised if some ‘donation’ to Sony has been made to put their games in front of everyone while they’re trying to get as big a fund as possible for their next game. Cynical me is cynical though

        I am surprised that they haven’t put the first few games available on PS Plus though. I would’ve thought Knack or Killzone would’ve been a free game by now. Having said that I don’t mind if they don’t, but there are the games available now to have a AAA (or a bigger studio game at least) game each month alongside an indie game or two.

        Holy crap, they rereleased Fantavision. I wouldn’t complain if some PS2 classics got made free.

    • I do sometimes struggle with how much certainty is implied throughout Kotaku articles over entirely subjective topics. Is this some kind of empowerment thing or a creative writing exercise?

  • Free Grim Fadango?
    All these flavours, why you gotta be salty?

    I’ll be signing up for this series (y)

    • Firstly, its a paid service. Secondly he’s right, the games have sucked since Rocket League.

      • To be fair, Rocket League is effing amazing…. can’t see any title beating it.
        We’ve been to the top of this mountain, it’s only down from here.

    • Fucking age of settlers..

      Edit: Perhaps I should clarify: Speaking about it when a service that used to offer more for your money now offers less isn’t a bad thing. Not bringing it up is what makes it acceptable for stuff like this to offer less value year on year.

      They roped people in with AAA games, phased those out and slipped online play under the paywall. Because they could. Because consumers should bend over and are labeled as bad or ‘entitled’ by other consumers if they don’t. You’re doing their jobs for them lol.

      • Less for your money? I used to pay for the service and get nothing for free, so in reality, you’re getting more whether the games suck or not.

        Whilst I’m not happy with the games, you won’t hear me every complain about anything that is being given away for free

        • … The games aren’t free, you pay a subscription for them.

          And again, at one point the service offered more than it does now. In reality, saying that you are happy with getting less than what we were getting previously, because at one point we got even less than we are now, is pretty irrelevant to the point I made, which was:

          It has gotten worse, there has been a decline in what is offered for the same price each month, and saying so doesn’t make you ‘entitled’ or a bad person or poor sport.

          • How am i paying a subscription to get free games when ive always had to pay to play online?

            Dunno about the playstation owners but the xbox owners always got a decent online service for the small fee, now im getting free games a dsicounts as bonuses!

            I for one will not feel entitled.. these games are not for me but then again next month every single one may be and i wont have time to play them.

          • PlayStation plus was only for the games and online saves on PS3, online play was free until the PS4 came along. Perhaps I should have been more clear that I was talking about PS+ and not live, my bad for that part.

            I also want to point out that I’m quite excited for this months games, they actually appeal to me a lot, but I do miss the days where PS+ gamers were getting AAA games every month.

          • Don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not paying for free games, I’m paying so I can play online. Why would I pay for free games? I buy the games I want and pay for them that way

            You’re saying its worse? Ok, so no free games previously, and free games now…. I honestly can’t see how getting free games is worse? Especially considering we’re paying the exact same price as I was paying when there were no free games. They didn’t have to start giving us free games, people were paying for that service happily without the free games

            The games might not be the best, but they are still free, and that is something that they don’t need to do. I’ve been paying for the service for a long time now, so in my books, getting anything for free that I wasn’t getting before, is a bonus and something I’m grateful for, whether I like them or not

          • PS plus games USED to be better when online play was free on PS3 and PS+ was only really for the games. Xbox live has improved. Should have stated that I was talking about PS+ in my original post and not Live, sorry for the confusion.

          • Ah right, a PS player. Yeah, is a different kettle of fish in that case 🙂 all is good, the internet was created for disagreements about pointless stuff after all 😛

        • Sorry, didn’t realize that yo were talking about live while I was talking about PS+, could have saved us both some confusion. Edit. And now I’ve double posted. Craps.

      • I agree entirely!!!!!! The apathy of gamers today is quite frustrating. Ive had ps plus membership from day one and its gone way down hill ever since the bug-ridden ps4 came out!! Value for money is well and truly out the door thanks to the new found greed of playstation. We now have to pay for online which we never had to before, games on ps store are now even more marked up than ever and all we get now for the monthly release games is fuc#@ng indie games since December 2013. All the while Australians and New Zealanders are getting ripped off the most!!!!!!! Then theirs the ps4 itself ………and thats another story all-together.

  • I hated grow home, it was a massive pile of poo, would much rather have had Armello instead.

    The thing is a lot of people loved it, and voted for it. So it doesn’t mean that just because I didn’t like it, that I should apply my values to every one else and say its a crap month. I just accepted that different people like different things. Diversity right?

    Maybe @alexwalker should do the same and not write his opinion down like it’s a fact???

  • Most of the XB1 games have been “meh”, Valiant hearts is probably one of the only ones I played through.

    • I’ve enjoyed probably 50% of the free games. Granted the big releases are usually quite old (Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition and Thief) but some of the smaller arcade titles are quite good Guacamelee is excellent. Knight Squad is a very fun party game and So Many Me is a fun puzzle platformer. I wasn’t that impressed with Chariot and some games I outright disliked like IDARB and Super Time Force or whatever, a game I struggled to find interesting long enough to finish the tutorial. I haven’t gotten around to Valiant Hearts or Massive Chalice but I’m looking forward to both.

      • Massive Chalice reminded me of Gladius on xbox (the original). I really enjoyed it at first but you essentially do a battle, then it fast forwards 20-30 years and your populous learns more or discovers new things… which is kinda cool…. but you constantly needed to manage people being born, trained for royalty and trained for combat then dying… I hated that part of management. Otherwise the combat was really fun and wish it was more heavily focused on that side of things.

        Rocket League will be on xb1 this year…. so keen.

      • Knight Squad was the best suppose – went in expecting rubbish and got a great multiplayer game

  • PS4 has been out long enough to start giving retail games on PS+. Shit I’ll even take Knack at this point over any indie/downloadable game.

    • IMO, getting much better quality indies is way more preferable compared to getting an average AAA game that you can buy for like $20-30. Transistor, Rocket League, Guacamelee, and a lot of other indies I have immensely enjoyed. (Transistor is one of my top 5 favourite games on PS4 I think). Besides, you still get retail games every now and then. See inFamous First Light and Injustice: Gods Among Us.

      • I keep on forgetting Transistor is by Supergiant Games. Considering I just snapped up Bastion as it was on cheap, I’m gonna have to redownload Transistor again and actually play it this time

      • It’s been 2 years of mostly crap downloadable games with 1 good game every other month. Now is the time for mostly crap retail games with 1 good game every other month. Infamous First Light was on PS+ last January. The last retail game that was on PS+ was MGSV:GZ and that barely counts.

        • Fair call, not many retail games on PS+. However, I feel like most people would agree that it hasn’t been 2 years of crap downloadable games.

          Just looking at my library from the last year, I’m seeing: OlliOlli 2, Transistor, Binding of Isaac, Infamous First Light, The Swapper, Injustice, Rogue Legacy, Rocket League, Valiant Hearts, Limbo, Guacamelee, MGS:GZ (Granted, like you said, not much of a game), Super Meat boy, Lara Croft: TOO, Broken Age, Gauntlet. Of the ones listed their, the underlines ones I have played and enjoyed.

          I understand some of those games might not interest people, but they’re not *crap* games. You’ve got GOOD platformers, puzzle games, sports games, shooters, open world, adventure games etc etc. They may not be your cup of tea, but most of the ones I mention here were received well. Again, this is maybe 30% of what was given to us, so that makes 70% of stuff that I’m not interested in. But for me, that 30% is good enough such that I don’t mind skipping the 70%.

  • I’m still sour over the decision to include only part 1 of an episodic series as the included ‘game’ (part of a game, more like), last month.

    You know not that many years ago, when episode one of many came out it was called a fucking demo, and it was free.

    • Yeah. It feels pretty dodgy when they do that. I mean it’s one thing when it’s an indie game that’s only selling for $10, that’s not great value but games come in all shapes and sizes, but when they only include episode one it feels like you’re subscription is paying for an advertisement.

      • I would argue however @transientmind and Dogman that it’s a shrewd business decision to include an episodic game, so that it entices to player to purchase the full series.

        The caveat to my argument though is that I feel it shouldn’t be in the place of a ‘full length’ game, but rather another offering in addition to however many full length games are normally on PS+/Games with Gold.

        • Yeah, take the Telltale games for example – jump on your phone and check the app store and you’ll find most (if not all?) of them have ep1 for free.

        • I won’t argue against it as a business decision, but it’s a shitty thing to do to a customer that’s already paying for a questionable ‘service’ subscription. =P

    • Considering that it’s par for the course for any telltale game to release ep1 for free, yeah.. totally agree.

      The month prior we received the complete season 2 of the walking dead.

      • lol, and Season 1 was on Xbox One through Games with Gold, if you were lucky enough to have both consoles going, like myself, then you scored.

    • Agreed. On a related note though, I’ve really enjoyed Kings Quest ep1 and I don’t generally enjoy the Telltale styled games. Colour me surprised.

  • I remember playing the old hardware online back on my ps2 when I bought the network adapter. Great addictive game so I can’t wait for the new hardware rivals.

  • Using the word “terrible” in this context is purely subjective. I, for one, am looking forward to playing Deus Ex: HR for the first time as all my friends won’t stop raving about it, and Zheros looks alright, in all honesty.

    If you wanted to say that this month’s worth of free games is terrible, you should have included what’s coming to PS3 – Medal of Honor: Warfighter, of all things. Eugh.

  • There might be other posts waiting to be reviewed by mods that cover this, but I’m going to go over it anyway.

    “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.”

    The stuff about KI Season 1 Ultra is almost certainly false. You can access Leagues (with a Gold subscription) and the Shadow Lab (even without a Gold sub) even if you only own, say, one Season 1 character. You certainly don’t need a Season 2 pack of any kind to access those features. Indeed, the actual game executable is the same for everybody, and purchased content just affects what content (characters, costumes, accessories, other minor stuff) is unlocked.

    As a follower of the game (far as I’m concerned, KI is *the* reason to own an Xbox One, though that’s been slowly changing) I’m pretty sure Iron Galaxy and MS Studios are going to great lengths to expand the player base over the coming months. At the end of December they added a Combo Assist control mode which allows players to omit motion inputs (Street Fighter-style quarter-circles and whatnot) from special moves during combos, so that new players (and some handicapped players too) can get into the meat and the mind games of the combo system without struggling with repeated motion inputs. You can literally just walk up to your opponent and press a bunch of buttons and get a flashy combo with combo assist on, no experience required. (Although if you don’t think about *which* buttons you’re pressing, your combo will probably just get broken by any experienced opponent — which is what KI’s combo system is all about anyway.) They’ve really thought out how to implement this so that it lowers the accessibility barrier without affecting the competitive balance of the game, so that players using combo assist don’t have to be segregated from the main pool of players.

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