It’s been a funny old year for fans of Microsoft’s console division. There have been plenty of positives coming from the continually content-rich Game Pass, the test phase for their Project xCloud streaming tech, the procurement of a number of new development studios and the first physical reveal of their next console, the Xbox Series X. Unfortunately the area where they’ve obviously been lacking, especially in comparison to their two key rivals, is in exclusive games.
It’s almost a misnomer to begin with, as anything you’ll see here is available on PC as well, but before we dig too deeply into that particular metallic container of wriggling invertebrates it’s worth highlighting the games that have kept Xbox owners happy for the past twelve months.
Gears remains one of Microsoft’s tentpole franchises, but after the by-the-numbers Gears of War 4, the fifth outing had a lot to do. Fortunately The Coalition earned themselves a hard-won hit with a fantastic return to form for the long-running series. Introducing open areas, side quests and RPG-style levelling for your robotic chum Jack. It’s all pulled together to create the most expansive and advanced Gears campaign yet, and the returning Kait, JD, Del and the ever-curmudgeonly Marcus remain enjoyable companions on your adventure.
Multiplayer is still one of Gears most important components, and alongside an updated Horde mode, Gears 5 brought in Escape, which sees a team of three plant a lethal bomb at the base of a Hive before legging it out through waves of enemies. It’s a fun, fresh and adrenalin-fuelled new addition for a series which has spent the last couple of games refining rather than revolutionising. You can even create your own Escape maps once you grow tired of the included ones too, making Gears 5 not only the biggest game in the series, but also the most creative.
Finally, while it’s not the be-all and end-all for any game, Gears 5 looks simply incredible. The environments double down on the series penchant for decaying structures and gross biological additions, while the cast and their grotesque foes have never looked better. If you’ve got an Xbox One X or a PC with some serious oomph, that wow factor gets even bigger.
Halo: Reach Remastered – Runner Up
It’s telling that the game in second place on this list is a remaster rather than a brand new title, but when it’s a remaster of one of the best entries in the Halo series, you can probably let it off. Bungie’s last hurrah as custodians of the Halo brand, you’re cast as a member of Noble team and thrust into the conflict that directly leads into Halo: Combat Evolved. What a conflict it is.
Things might have moved on a bit in the FPS space since Reach came out in 2010, but the glorious level design, brilliantly tuned gunplay and well-written cast of characters make it feel as relevant today as it did back then. The beautiful 4K update really makes the most of the original visuals too, and it’s the perfect pre-Series X reminder of why we should still be excited about Halo.
Void Bastards – Runner Up
Void Bastards breathed fresh life into the FPS genre. It took the comfortable formula of using a generic Jack Heroman to blast through the baddies and instead gave you access to a limitless supply of different prisoners who are being woken up by a possibly insane A.I. to go hunting for a Faster Than Light Drive.
Exploring the roguelike derelict space vessels while using a bevy of crazy weapons is simultaneously a pleasure and also heart pumping as most of the time you are running low on supplies and the guards are on your tail. With fantastic humour and a stunning comic art style, Void Bastards is well worth your time.
– Nick P
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
- Blair Witch
- Crackdown 3
To catch up on the Game of the Year awards we’ve handed out so far, here’s a handy list:
- Best Remaster/Remake
- Best Visual Design
- Best Soundtrack
- Best Ongoing Game
- Best Multiplayer Game
- Best Gameplay
- Best Narrative
- Best Single Player Game
- Best Indie Game
- Best VR Game
- Best PC Game
- Best Nintendo Switch Game
Regardless of exclusivity or not, what has really stood out for you on Xbox One this year? Let us know in the comments below.