This year’s Gamescom was a strange one. The first year back after the pandemic, many of gaming’s biggest publishers decided to skip the show – which had the welcome effect of shining a brighter spotlight on many games and publishers that usually might have to jostle with the bigger multinational corporations for attention. French publisher Focus Home Interactive, previously best known for games like A Plague Tale and Vampyr, had the best line-up of the show. But another beneficiary of the no-shows was undoubtedly Xbox.
The only one of the ‘big three’ to show up, Xbox had ‘won’ the Gamescom hardware manufacturer competition before the show had even begun. But even then, I looked upon its line-up for the show with my brow furrowed. Is this it? This is a paltry offering. Not even a crumb of Starfield? But now I must hold my hands up. Mea culpa – I was wrong. It was a great line-up – for what it was.
Sure enough, it didn’t have the big-name announcements you might most desire. The biggest first-party games down on the Xbox stand were simply updates to existing rolling service games like Sea of Thieves and Grounded. The booth was dominated by attention-grabbing, line-up distracting photo ops. And, bluntly, there were a laughable number of stations to play – if you managed to get on anything in that stand during the public visiting hours, you were very lucky indeed.
But the line-up itself was… good? It was good in a new and different sort of way to what we’re usually used to. Traditionally we gauge these events on the megatons; the announcements and demos so big that they leave craters in your brain and in the marketing plans of the opposition platforms. But here was something different – and more appropriate for the subscription age. Rather than delivering one big fat gourmet marbled steak, Xbox rocked up to the show with a tasting platter. And it was a bloody good platter.
So on the first-party front, Xbox had two games at opposite ends of the Game Pass spectrum playable for the first time. High On Life is a brash and zany new shooter from the creator of Rick and Morty; the sort of game that frat boys can install and guffaw at while they smoke a fat doobie. Pentiment is the opposite – a thoughtful, slow-paced adventure RPG that is all about reading, thinking, and making careful story choices. Though, honestly, that would probably be pretty good high as well.
Non-playable, but shown with live gameplay, was the excellent-looking Minecraft Legends, the sort of game that looks like it might neatly thread the needle between a family-friendly IP and a typically fairly hardcore genre, the real-time strategy. Pair all this off with updates to existing releases and the fact that all of this is coming to Game Pass as part of the subscription (though not, as some media write, ‘for free’ – you’re paying for the sub, dummy) and that feels like a pretty decent games line-up.
Elsewhere, Game Pass expanded with more third party support, too. Already-released games like Mad Streets, GRID Legends, and Hardspace: Shipbreaker are all joining the service. And one of the darlings of Gamescom, the newly-revealed Lies of P, is heading to the subscription on day one, too.
To some extent, Lies of P is the perfect Game Pass game to me: I didn’t get a chance to play it at Gamescom, but multiple people described it to me as ‘We have Bloodborne at home’ – and I don’t think that’s a pejorative. I love a good-B or single-A tier game that lifts from a popular game of the moment. If 50 Cent Blood on the Sand came out today, it’d be a Game Pass game – and it was quietly one of the best B-tier gems of its generation.
So, yeah. Going into Gamescom, I wasn’t too thrilled with what Xbox had to offer. But being there, and seeing and playing their stuff, I understood. I got it. It snapped into sharp focus. This is all about Game Pass. And as a Game Pass showcase, Gamescom was perfect.