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Character in orange and blue space suit and dark blue visor pointing a laser gun Image: Typhoon Studios/505 Games via Polygon

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Microsoft xCloud’s best games: 15 great places to start

Too bad if you have an Apple device

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Microsoft has added a cloud gaming option, xCloud, for anyone with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, allowing players to step away from their Xbox or PC to play a selection of over 150 games streaming to their Android smartphone or tablet. This feature also means that every multiplayer game now has the option for local co-op (as long as the players in the room all have their own subscriptions and Android devices). Sorry, no Apple support for now.

Almost all of the games require a Bluetooth controller, although a custom touch interface has been added to the streaming version of Minecraft Dungeons. You can even get an inexpensive accessory if you want to clip your phone to your controller, creating a sort of mini cloud-based console.

Microsoft has been beefing up Xbox Game Pass Ultimate quite a bit lately, and the added value of cloud gaming is pretty hard to beat, allowing you to play games at home and then pick up right where you left off by streaming them to your Android device on the go.

Like PlayStation Now, an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership means you get all of these games included as part of your subscription.

But where should you start? Here are 15 great games to try — available at the time of publish in the xCloud library, which changes over time — all of which can be played via the cloud if you have a compatible Android device and a Game Pass Ultimate subscription.

Let’s dive in, and see what’s good!

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

A character watches a tree burn Image: Ninja Theory

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice uses everything in its arsenal to perpetuate feelings of dread, anxiety and fear: camera perspective, light, sound, visuals, combat. There are no scary monsters, no jump scares, none of the traditional horror fare. Instead, it taps into something infinitely more terrifying: human psychology. And it is wildly successful.

Developer Ninja Theory worked alongside a team of mental health specialists, professors of psychology and people recovering from psychosis to convey their experiences. The depiction of main character Senua’s hallucinations and delusions feel vivid, honest and terrifying. From seeing literal fragments of reality to wandering mazes guided by a grieving ghost, every little thing you do skirts the line between myth and a terrifyingly inescapable reality. Every battle and puzzle ties back into the underlying themes and experiences of psychosis. —Ashley Oh

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Journey to the Savage Planet

a corporate drone with a spacesuit and a pistol stands on an alien planet in Journey to the Savage Planet Image: Typhoon Studios/505 Games via Polygon

My first encounter with an alien life form in Journey to the Savage Planet establishes the game’s tone in no uncertain terms.

I spot a rotund, featherless, and mostly harmless Pufferbird minding its own business in a cave near my crashed spaceship. My ship’s AI helpfully points out that the bird contains resources I need, and the on-screen hint urges me to try a melee attack. I hit the indicated button, and slam the big-eyed creature with an unexpectedly savage backhand. It explodes into a puddle of neon green goo, covering the ground, walls, and my hands with slime.

I do not come in peace, it turns out.

Journey to the Savage Planet drops me onto an uncharted planet, unprepared and uninformed, with the goal of determining if the planet is safe for human habitation or corporate exploitation. It would also be nice, for me, personally, if I’m able to refuel my ship so I can return home. My boss and the ship’s AI don’t seem too concerned with that secondary objective. —Jeffrey Parkin

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A human attacks the monster with a flame thrower Image: Phobia Game Studios/Devolver Digital via Polygon

Carrion is a game for anyone who has ever stopped at a mirror to glance at that screaming flesh prison we call a body and thought, “Ugh, I’m a monster.”

A pixelated side-scrolling “reverse horror” game, Carrion puts players in the role of its own anomalous creature: a cartilaginous mass of mouths, teeth, and tendrils that moves like a sentient wad of spaghetti meat possessed by some eldritch horror. It looks like it should be the end boss of this sort of adventure, not the hero of it.

The plot itself is fairly straightforward: You’re an extraterrestrial entity that was discovered by agents of a shadowy biotech corporation and subjected to a battery of invasive and humiliating experiments.

But one day, you break free of the containment chamber and immediately begin to rip and tear through everyone and everything in your single-minded pursuit of escape. Imagine, if possible, a version of Ape Out filtered through the body horror of John Carpenter’s The Thing. —Toussaint Egan

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The game is centered around the randomization of each run down the mountain. Not only are individual courses randomized by level of steepness, curves and stunts, but the routes available as you progress through a world are similarly unique to each run. Complete an entire run in a world without bailing out too many times, and face a boss level — a steep and challenging course ending in a gargantuan mega-jump.

Levels in each run vary due to their procedurally generated nature, but all contain a few staple obstacles depending on the world that they’re set in. In the Highlands, grassy fields are interspersed with quarter pipes and wooden ramps, and even the occasional castle tower jumping challenge. The Forest, the second world, adds jumps through firewatch towers and twisted bridges over rocky pits. Four worlds are available in total — the aforementioned Highlands and Forest, and the latter-game Canyon and Peaks.

Each level’s path has multiple checkpoints that, if passed through, will act as the respawn location after bailouts. These checkpoints are completely optional, though, and breaking from the path is always a possibility. However, going your own way might lead to missing out on some opportunities to score Rep points by pulling off a trick on a ramp, or nearly missing an obstacle that would otherwise bail you out, gaining you some ‘Near Miss’ Rep as a reward. —Dante Douglas

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Hypnospace Outlaw

“Tall Green” stamp in Hypnospace Outlaw Image: Tendershoot, Michael Lasch, ThatWhichIs Media/No More Robots

Hypnospace Outlaw is a flawless piece of historical fiction, a savage work of contemporary satire, and a genuinely tricky puzzle game.

Set entirely in a late ’90s Geocities-like online hub called Hypnospace, it tasks the player with working as a community enforcer, administering a code of behavior across its user-created pages. These ugly websites are populated by a diverse cast of internet archetypes extant in the ’90s, as now. My job is to take down copyright infringers, virus makers, hackers, scammers, and trolls.

I interact with them in ways similar to mechanics in other politically charged games, like Papers, Please and Orwell, gathering information through observation. I look through their websites and I decide if they are breaking the rules. I can delete stuff from their pages, and I can report them for greater punishment, such as a ban.

At first, it’s a simple case of trawling a few dozen websites and handing down infringement notices. But I’m soon required to take a more investigative approach, ferreting out passwords, connections, and relationships. My tools are basic: trial and error, lateral thinking, guesswork. —Colin Campbell

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Minecraft: Dungeons

Minecraft Dungeons artwork Image: Mojang/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

I did not expect a Minecraft game to teach my children the basics of dungeon-crawlers or loot-focused hack-and-slash games like Diablo, but here we are. Minecraft Dungeons is a simplified take on the top-down brawler, but it doesn’t lose any of the genre’s fun as it boils away all the unnecessary parts that serve to slow down more complex games.

Minecraft Dungeons isn’t simple, exactly — it’s just easy to learn and play. But that’s always been the secret to the rare, enjoyable family-friendly games from huge studios: It’s not a matter of making things easy, but ensuring that they are elegant. And this game is, above everything else, elegant. Microsoft is branching out with the Minecraft name, but doing it in such a way that brings fans deeper into the world of gaming, while effortlessly teaching some rather complicated ideas about tactics and strategy. —Ben Kuchera

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Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori surrounded by friendly creatures in Ori and the Will of the Wisps Image: Moon Studios/Xbox Game Studios

Ori and the Will of the Wisps invites you to dance inside a beautiful world. There is combat, sure, and there are threats, but the dance, and the beauty of your surroundings, are always the focus.

Moon Studios’ first game, Ori and the Blind Forest, was notable for the same reason. Here was a striking 2D platformer that staked out the visual middle ground between a Pixar short and an oversaturated photograph of a fantastical forest. Will of the Wisps is even more sumptuous and varied in its aesthetic, filled with delightful details that make so many frames look more like paintings than a video game. Screenshots and trailers don’t do it justice. —Andrew King

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Slay the Spire

A card delivers a lightning attack in Slay the Spire Image: MegaCrit/Humble Bundle

At the start of each playthrough, all I have is a generic deck, filled with basic attack cards, defense cards, and some skills. But every time I take down a foe, I get the option to add one of three new cards to my deck, drawn from the large pool of possible cards available to each character. These cards can unlock new, specific skills, and allow me to build diverse styles of decks using the generic cards as a foundation.

I thought I had a grasp of all of this at first; I’m used to playing both card games and roguelikes, after all. But even after a few hours, I was constantly losing and not making much progress. This isn’t uncommon in roguelites, and while I was having fun, I still felt like I must be missing something, since I was struggling so much. I assumed each class had a fairly straightforward approach to deck-building: The soldierlike Ironclad is a high-damage fighter, the Silent is a poison-chucking rogue, and the Defect is a robot that casts magical orbs. But after failing repeatedly, I knew I needed to take a different approach.

One of the first mistakes I made was adding too many cards to my deck. Since there’s no limit, I just kept adding cards that seemed interesting. For instance, the Defect can cast four different types of orbs to power itself up. In my naïveté, I kept grabbing cards to add all four types to my deck, unaware that they really don’t mix well at all.

As I got further into the game, I was eager to make use of all the new cards I earned along the way. It turns out that the more cards I have, the less likely I am to draw my more essential cards. This is deck-building 101, but it’s easy for me to fall into this bad habit when I first start playing games like this. After poring over some guides from the game’s early access stage, I picked up a few new tactics. —Jeff Ramos

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Streets of Rage 4

colorful action from the throwback beat-em-up Streets of Rage 4 Image: Lizardcube, Dotemu, Guard Crush Games/Dotemu

If you played the original Streets of Rage titles, good news: Streets of Rage 4 is a lot more Streets of Rage. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, allow me to explain.

You pick a fighter from a collection of brawlers with unique stats. Some are fast but deal light damage, like the guitar-wielding teen Cherry. Some are slow but deliver punches with the concussive impact of a sledgehammer, like the cybernetically enhanced Floyd Iraia. Series stalwarts Axel and Blaze are playable from the start, and provide balanced combat options, while other Streets of Rage characters, including retro-styled 16-bit fighters in all their pixelated glory, can be unlocked as you collect experience points and progress through the campaign.

The combat has been improved a bit from the 16-bit era, but this is still a game in which you’ll spend most of the time bashing the same attack button, occasionally tapping the jump button to evade an attack, dealing a special move that can cost some of your own life, or unleashing a limited ultra move that slaughters any weak enemies standing in its way. There’s no button to guard yourself from attacks, so a good defense is moving up and down the screen to avoid getting kicked in the throat, while conserving health power-ups for the moment your health bar is nearly (but not fully!) depleted.

Some enemies require a little bit more strategy than others. Kickboxers block attacks, so you must grapple them — accomplished by literally walking into them. Endgame minibosses have Punch-Out!!-style tells, cueing you to move out of the way or rush in with an uppercut to the jaw. The final boss fight is hilariously complex and annoyingly difficult, designed like a classic arcade boss meant to fleece you out of every quarter in your pocket. But most enemies are little more than punching bags with knives taped to their side. —Chris Plante

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Untitled Goose Game

A farmer chasing a goose holding a radio in Untitled Goose Game Image: House House

The game has a knowing charm that benefits from its roughness. Yes, there’s not a lot to do, but that is, in some way, the point. Plenty of other games are burdened by busywork. And yeah, this one’s a little busted and repetitive at times, but it’s also the first game I can remember that lets me solve problems (or cause them) as a goose. Not an assassin or a spy or a killer. A goose.

Which is why I, gymnastics-style, grade on a degree of difficulty. A violent stealth game starring a scruffy generic soldier-type? That’s on the bottom of the scale. For decades, game makers have worked tirelessly to uncover every way to make killing fun.

But there’s little precedence for Untitled Goose Game. In each stage, I can sense the creators stretching, with great effort, to find new, fun things that don’t fall on old habits. The magic, when it really materializes, is punctuating a perfectly executed stealth maneuver with a quack. —Chris Plante

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Void Bastards

Stealthy enemies in Void Bastards Image: Blue Manchu/Humble Bundle

Void Bastards is a first-person roguelike where you’re forced to explore dozens of randomly generated space stations in search of, well, mostly bullshit. The game is pretty open about this. At one point you need to find a new HR computer because the last one exploded when you turned it on. The doodads you collect to enable your escape from the galaxy aren’t really the point, though, and just serve to keep things light and breezy, even while you’re starving to death.

Void Bastards’ biggest asset is its randomness. Unlike the set-in-stone levels of BioShock’s underwater metropolis, Void Bastards’ boundless variety of miniature space stations have their own layouts and unique variables. These require some cleverness to overcome or use to their greatest advantage.

One of the earliest stations I encounter is filled with pools of radiation, requiring that I sprint and jump to avoid taking long-term damage. Another has lost power, forcing me to maneuver through darkened hallways to reach the power switch and bring the station back online. This, of course, activates an array of security measures, and I’m instantly beset by unhappy robots.

But it’s not all bad; the randomness can sometimes be a boon. Before docking into one station, I am alerted that there will be friends onboard. One of the potential station variables causes a single enemy type to be friendly to the player, and it just so happens that this station has only one enemy type on board, instead of the usual one or two to contend with. In this case, it’s a small alien monster called a Juve (as in juvenile), who moves fast and can usually swarm me in seconds. But on this station, all the Juves are allies, following me around like mice behind the Pied Piper. It’s glorious. —Russ Frushtick

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The Outer Worlds

The Outer Worlds - a figure in a spacesuit holds up a pistol with a vessel in the background Image: Obsidian Entertainment/Private Division

I knew I’d love The Outer Worlds as soon as I stumbled into a cave and met a bleeding, dying gentleman.

I offered to help, but he hesitated. Was I using Spacer’s Choice health care products? His contract clearly states that he can’t use a competing product. This was my first real introduction to the weird, corporate dystopia of the Halcyon system, where giant, sprawling conglomerates have the final word on just about everything, and everyone is simply trying to get by.

But maybe I can help with this whole mess, if I decide to try. The game begins with Phineas Welles — a guy who’s a little like a nicer Rick, sans Morty — waking me from cryosleep aboard the colonist vessel the Hope. The Hope was lost in space, I’ve been frozen for 70 years, and the entire system went straight to hell while I was on ice.

So I’m emerging into a space-capitalist nightmare, and Welles is asking me for help. I’ve just got to murder some robots and raiders, meet the locals down on some of the nearby planets, and try to figure out whether I’m down with Welles’ vision of eating the rich. —Cass Marshall

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Sea Salt

I am a dark god; my tendrils writhe beneath the waves, and altars to my magnificence are spread across the land. I seek worship, but, more importantly, I need flesh.

When the time comes for my devoted archbishop to sacrifice himself, he refuses and flees behind the paltry defense of the city walls. He has mistaken my call for a request, and now I must claim him — and anyone who stands in my path. I will feast.

I’m playing Sea Salt, a game from two-person studio Y/CJ/Y. It’s best summarized as Hotline Miami, except I’m an angry sea god instead of a nihilist in a mask. I also gather and manage minions in a way that’s a little like Pikmin, but for goths. I have to navigate through levels seen through a top-down camera, and use my 2D pixel-art armies to visit unfathomable violence on the enemies and obstacles in my way.

I’m the dark god Dagon, a glowing rune that controls the actual forces that I use to clean the map; my swarms of minions. If you’re like me, your forces are probably comprised of 90% murder crabs. Other people might choose an army of cultists, or little Zergling-type fellows, or acid worms. I mix, match, and experiment with the composition of my unholy horde as I tackle new levels and encounter new challenges. —Cass Marshall

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Gears of War 5

Kait aiming a pistol at the camera in Gears 5 Image: The Coalition/Xbox Game Studios

Gears 5’s campaign wants to be many things.

Some of it is designed for sipping, mulling, and savoring, like the hours I spent slowly and deliberately exploring large, open-world areas, discovering secrets and learning about the Gears of War universe along the way.

Other parts are as rumbly and explodey as an Avengers movie, like every time I shot my way yard by yard through small corridors, big rooms, and enormous factories, peeking out from cover to reduce monsters into meaty roast-sized pieces.

And sometimes it’s a bit of both, like when I discover a credible stealth sequence and botch it, and the cerebral calm transforms into a rumbling firefight.

These shifts in tone and pacing shouldn’t work, and yet they do. This is what makes Gears 5 so remarkable. The Coalition seems to have set out to redefine what a Gears campaign could be, and the final product shipped with a lot of varied ideas and set-pieces, many of which sound anathema to Gears of War when described in print.

And yet Gears 5 manages to cohere into something captivating, credible, and incredibly well-polished. —Dave Tach

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Middle Earth: Shadow of War

When Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor launched in 2014, it was a surprise, if not a revelation. Though it appeared in marketing materials and press events to be a tonally incoherent cash-in on a beloved intellectual property, Shadow of Mordor introduced one of the most astounding design innovations in the past decade of game development: the Nemesis System.

Developer Monolith Productions has, of course, returned to the this brilliant system in Shadow of War. The armies of orcs that would normally be nameless, personality-stripped bad guys are transformed. Enemy captains and warchiefs are imbued with entrancing and often hilarious character. Stories emerge procedurally rather than through cutscenes; each player experiences their own tale about the one Uruk they just can’t keep down, or the enemy whose hand they cut off only to have him return with a hook for a hand.

The Nemesis System was something delightful and totally new in 2014, and it was enough to earn the game a spot on our game of the year list. Now, it has expanded it to include even more orcs of a wider variety of personality types, and more interactions and options for building your personal army. In fact, Monolith focuses in so much on this aspect of the game that it loses the plot in other parts — like, well, the plot. —Philip Kollar and Chris Plante

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