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Xbox Games With Gold gave out $930 worth of games in 2016. Was it worth it?

Looking closer into a key selling point of Xbox Live

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xbl games with gold Microsoft
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Last week, Xbox Live announced its schedule of Games With Gold for December, bringing to 48 the number of free games it offered in 2016. Were they any good? What would they cost otherwise? In short, what do the numbers say about the value of this Xbox Live Gold benefit?

We’ll try to answer that question this year as we have the past two. To that, however, we’ve added a few more questions: How old is the game? and Did Microsoft publish it? Did these appear earlier on PlayStation Plus?

These questions may shed light on where these free games programs are headed are headed, particularly as the previous console generation ages and the Xbox One’s backward compatibility program continues to pile up old titles.

What about PlayStation Plus?

That analysis is here.

Getting Started

In all, there were 48 games in Xbox Live Games With Gold for 2016, with an average Metacritic score of 76 and a combined retail price (current price, through the Xbox Live Marketplace) of $932.62. These values are essentially unchanged from 2015’s total.

All Xbox 360 games in Games With Gold are now compatible with Xbox One. So we also noted those games that are playable only on Xbox One.

Killer Instinct wikia


  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • Dirt Showdown
  • Killer Instinct Season 1 Ultra Edition (Xbox One only)
  • Zheros (Xbox One only)

Average Metacritic score: 73.5

Average age: 3 years

Total Value: $61.41

Skinny: The first season of Killer Instinct is its lowest-rated one, but it is the full game of the Xbox-exclusive fighter. You can only get it at retail packaged with season two for $29.99. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a great RPG; it was on sale for $6.44 at the time of this analysis. It’s worth a lot more than that.



  • Gears of War 2
  • Hand of Fate (Xbox One only)
  • Sacred Citadel
  • Styx: Master of Shadows (Xbox One only)

Average Metacritic score: 76.25

Average age: 3.5 years

Total Value: $79.96

Skinny: Microsoft goes back to its library to prop up an unimpressive month otherwise. After Gears 2, one of five in this year’s lineup that launched in 2008, there is the little-known “hybrid roguelike/action-RPG/deck builder” Hand of Fate.

Lords of the Fallen E3 2014 Deck 13/City Interactive


  • Borderlands
  • Lords of the Fallen (Xbox One only)
  • Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments (Xbox One only)
  • Supreme Commander 2

Average Metacritic score: 75.5

Average age: 4.25 years

Total Value: $92.96

Skinny: Lords of the Fallen is one of those games that inflates the overall price tag simply because its makers are not inclined to put it on sale (on consoles, anyway). At $39.99, it’s the second highest-price game of the 48. Sherlock Holmes was on Playstation Plus in 2015, and while Borderlands is a strong name, it’s also seven years old.

Gallery Photo: Sunset Overdrive screenshots Insomniac Games/Microsoft


  • Dead Space
  • Saints Row 4
  • Sunset Overdrive (Xbox One only)
  • The Wolf Among Us (Xbox One only)

Average Metacritic score: 83.5

Average age: 3.75 years

Total Value: $70.16

Skinny: Games With Gold’s strongest month, critically, though Dead Space shows its age. Sunset Overdrive is Microsoft-published but still a very good offer, and any time you can get a full season of a good Telltale Series, that’s value.



  • Costume Quest 2 (Xbox One only)
  • Defense Grid 2 (Xbox One only)
  • Grid 2
  • Peggle

Average Metacritic score: 77.5

Average age: 3.5 years

Total Value: $64.96

Skinny: The first real meh month. Good buddy Electronic Arts peeled off Peggle, a game long on offer for free through EA Access. Grid 2 is an average racer with a rather limited audience.

Firaxis/2K Games


  • Goat Simulator (Xbox One only)
  • Super Meat Boy
  • The Crew (Xbox One only)
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Average Metacritic score: 74.25

Average age: 3.25 years

Total Value: $66.96

Skinny: The Xbox 360 props up the Xbox One like no other month here. There’s the excellent XCOM (though only available at retail as Enemy Within) and it’s nice that, after a sour experience with Xbox Live Arcade, Microsoft gave Team Meat a little something for Super Meat Boy six years later. (It was on PlayStation Plus in October 2015). The Crew is a big but underwhelming racer, and Goat Simulator is pure empty calories.

Stoic/Versus Evil


  • The Banner Saga 2 (Xbox One only)
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2
  • Tron: Evolution
  • Tumblestone (Xbox One only)

Average Metacritic score: 73.75

Average age: 3.5 years

Total Value: $74.96

Skinny: The Banner Saga 2 is the Xbox One’s highest-rated game for the year, but if you’re not into tactical RPGs, or tactical shooters, this month can look like a snore.

2K Sports


  • Beyond Good & Evil HD
  • Spelunky
  • Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate (Xbox One only)
  • WWE 2K16 (Xbox One only)

Average Metacritic score: 79

Average age: 3 years

Total Value: $124.96

Skinny: Any time you can get a full, licensed sports video game, take it, even if it’s two months before the launch of its successor. Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate was still going for $59.99 at the time of our analysis, which is why this month’s total price tag is so distorted. Beyond Good & Evil HD is a five-year old remaster of a 13-year-old game and was on PlayStation Plus in November 2015.

Playground Games/Microsoft


  • Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China (Xbox One only)
  • Earthlock: Festival of Magic (Xbox One only)
  • Forza Horizon
  • Mirror’s Edge

Average Metacritic score: 74.25

Average age: 3.25 years

Total Value: $71.41

Forza Horizon isn’t for sale anymore so we used its current pre-owned price on Gamestop. Yes, It’s the best title, but it’s also from Microsoft’s back catalog and support for it ended in October (that means no DLC can be purchased). EA chipped in another ancient freebie from Access, Mirror’s Edge.

Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings screenshot 1440 Metalhead Software


  • I Am Alive
  • MX vs. ATV Reflex
  • Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings (Xbox One only)
  • The Escapists (Xbox One only)

Average Metacritic score: 74.5

Average age: 3.25 years

Total Value: $84.96

Skinny: Super Mega Baseball stole the sports show in 2014 and for a console starved for any quality baseball title, this is a home run. I Am Alive was on PS Plus in April 2016.

far cry 3 blood dragon large 2 Ubisoft Montreal


  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  • Murdered: Soul Suspect (Xbox One only)
  • Super Dungeon Bros. (Xbox One only)
  • The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

Average Metacritic score: 68.5

Average age: 3 years

Total Value: $64.96

Four novelty titles, all capable of making no appeal to many users. Also the poorest month, critically — of both services. Even PlayStation Plus was able to average above 70 each month.

United Front Games/Square Enix


  • Burnout Paradise
  • Outland
  • Outlast (Xbox One only)
  • Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition (Xbox One only)

Average Metacritic score: 81.75

Average age: 4.25 years

Total Value: $74.96

Skinny: God damn, how many times can Sleeping Dogs be offered? The Xbox 360 version was on Games With Gold in January 2014 and PlayStation Plus had it all the way back in 2013. Burnout Paradise is a wonderful and accessible racer, but dates back to 2008.

Wrapping it up

Microsoft continues to make the most traditional appeal in its free games, but it is plainly propping that up with classic hits from the Xbox 360 days that are beginning to show their age, backward compatibility notwithstanding. The Xbox One is over-represented by indie games and unknowns. While the Xbox 360 titles contribute a Metacritic average of 81.5 to the quality here, it bears mentioning that the 70.6 average of Xbox One-only titles is decisively the lowest among all platforms with a free games service, even the PlayStation Vita’s.

Microsoft also isn’t afraid to go to the well with a game it has published or to ask good friend EA to lend a hand, in order to keep the name-brand appeal going. Though some very good titles highlighted individual months, there was no real breakout month that gave subscribers a feeling they were really beating the system, and that’s part of the lure of a free games promise: That you’re coming out ahead and the console maker is giving something up.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Eidos Montreal/Square Enix

By the Numbers

Average score: 76

Average price: $19.43

Average age: 3.46 years

Published by Microsoft: 4 titles (Killer Instinct, Gears of War 2, Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon)

Appeared on PlayStation Plus earlier in 2015 or 2016: 6 titles (Styx: Master of Shadows, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, Super Meat Boy, Beyond Good & Evil HD, I Am Alive, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon).

Total value: $932.62

Omega Force/Tecmo Koei

Platform Averages

Xbox 360: 81.5 Metacritic average, 5.54 years old, $14.08 per title.

Xbox One: 70.6 Metacritic average, 1.38 years old, $24.78 per title.

Highest rated Xbox 360 game: Gears of War 2 (93)

Highest rated Xbox One game: The Banner Saga 2 (84)

Highest price Xbox 360 game: MX vs. ATV Reflex ($29.99)

Highest price Xbox One game: Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate ($59.99)

Lowest rated Xbox 360 game: Tron: Evolution (58)

Lowest rated Xbox One game: Murdered: Soul Suspect (51)

Lowest price Xbox 360 games: Mirror’s Edge, Dead Space and Deus Ex: Human Revolution ($6.44)

Lowest price Xbox One games: Goat Simulator, Zheros and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China ($9.99)

Visceral Games/Electronic Arts

Metacritic Ranges

90 and up: 3 titles

80 to 89: 19

70 to 79: 14

60 to 69: 7

59 and below: 5

Price Ranges:

$25 and up: 11

$20 to $24.99: 3

$15 to $19.99: 10

$10 to $14.99: 11

$5 to $9.99: 13

$4.99 and under: 0