As unpredictable as video games can be, January is perhaps the closest the industry can have to a predictable, relatable cycle. It is, historically, the dead month. But largely thanks to Xbox Game Pass and its constant need for substantive content, January has become super stacked for new video games.
We’re not in the same era when EA would release Mass Effect in a January — nothing will quite hit that level of excitement — but the range of games available over the second half of January has fleshed out the month substantially. Hitman 3 is on the verge of dropping and it’s well worth playing, even if you just want to get excited for the prospect of a next-gen James Bond title.
Even still, there was a lot to keep an eye out for. After carefully dodging Cyberpunk 2077 towards the end of last year — and sorting out its classification quandry — the Xbox will get one of its few console exclusives in The Medium. It’s also launching concurrently on Xbox Game Pass, another great advertisement for that platform.
Any game with mechanics so sufficiently advanced that the developers take out a patent is immediately going to catch my attention. And while I’m not a fan of horror games, I had a strange affinity for Bloober Team’s >observer, even though I think it falls apart far more often than it should.
But hey, that’s fine. Not every game is for everyone. And it’s always worth remembering that games that aren’t great (or aren’t successful) can always have great systems, elements or ideas that find a second lease of life in a new project. Bloober Team’s had plenty of experience with horror, so I’m sure they’ve learnt a lot along the way.
What if horror isn’t your thing, however? Well apart from Hitman 3, there’s a ton of games to keep you going.
I’ve already spoken about how Control is making its way to Xbox Game Pass, albeit only on PC. That’s great, but it’s not the only Game of the Year contender that’s being added to the service in the coming days. The brilliant Desperados 3, a game that Luke and I both loved, is hitting Xbox Game Pass for PC and console. It’s hands down one of the best strategy tactics games around. And that’s comparing it to the original Desperados games, Shadow Tactics (which preceded Desperados 3) or the Commandos series to which this genre owes so much.
Xbox Game Pass is also getting the whole Yakuza Remastered Collection, a perfect chaser if you’ve binged through Ichiban’s adventure in Like A Dragon recently. The Remastered Collection adds Yakuza 3, 4 and 5 into Game Pass, which already has Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza Kiwami 2. Yakuza 0 was already a perfect entry point into the series, so you might as well get to work mainlining the franchise.
But maybe that’s a bit too much time for you. Maybe you need something a little shorter. Something you can complete in a weekend. Maybe you just want to play life as a … hole.
Balancing out the 100-hour massive JRPGs that just got added to Game Pass is the snackable adventure Donut County. It’s whimsical, ridiculous, gorgeous, and just the right amount of length to be the perfect distraction. Game Pass is well served with more of these indies, and hopefully we’ll see more of its ilk (Frog Detective on Game Pass, anyone?) on the service in the next year.
But January’s mix of indies has already been quite good. There’s a strong, growing appreciation for the open-world expansion of EVERSPACE 2, which hit early access this week. The constant references to Freelancer and Wing Commander in the Steam reviews can only be a good sign — especially for anyone who bounced off the roguelike design of the first game. There’s also good news for Age of Empires 2 fans, as they’re getting new DLC towards the end of the month as well. Who doesn’t like a new campaign?
Like the idea of a Celtic action RPG? Gods Will Fall is dropping at the end of the month. There’s a gorgeous 2.5D cyberpunk adventure in ENCODYA, although this looks like it’ll be a little less frustrating than some cyberpunk point-and-click stories lately. If you want some classic arcade space action, the makers of Redout are launching Redout: Space Assault on Steam next week. The team of ex-YAGER developers who worked on All Walls Must Fall dropped their blend of XCOM cyberpunk tactics onto the Switch recently. And let’s not forget the excellent mod scene. Fallout New Vegas is always worth replaying, but especially now that The Frontier has finally been released.
And that’s not all the month has. Orange Cast looks like it could be an entertaining sci-fi shooter romp. Dyson Sphere Program is one for fans of Factorio, building a galactic empire. Want Game Dev Tycoon but bigger? Mad Games Tycoon 2 offers that promise, but it’s a simulator in early access, so it might take a few months (or a year) before it all really comes together. And there’s also a multiplayer game between a wife, husband and a neighbour where everyone is trying to dominate the marriage????
Either way, January’s video games went from “well this is a bit quiet” to completely stacked. Xbox Game Pass is a huge contributor to that, but across the board there’s a lot worth adding to the wishlist/Pile of Shame.