It's been a busy year for video games, especially if you subscribe to Xbox's Games with Gold or PlayStation's Plus programs. While both services offer all sorts of bells and whistles for the price of a single new game, what keeps folks coming back for more are the rotating rosters of free games. But which service offered the best collection of titles in 2016?
Games With Gold
We begin by taking a look at what was on offer from Microsoft and its Games with Gold program. Each month, Games with Gold shells out a quartet of new titles for players to add to their collection, including indie games, Xbox One titles, as well as Xbox 360 games that are typically backwards compatible on the new console.
According to Polygon, the Gold program spanned 48 games this past year, totaling about $930 in value. Considering the fact that you're only shelling out $60 for the service, that's an insane amount of bang for your buck. This past year's games average a 76 on Metacritic, too, so you're not just getting games, you're getting good games to boot.
The 2016 Games with Gold calendar started with a bang, offering titles like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Killer Instinct Season 1 Ultra Edition. Gears of War 2, Lords of the Fallen, and Saints Row 4 were other notable entries for the first quarter, with Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive causing a big splash in April.
Things slowed down a bit heading into the summer, but games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a launch day arrival of The Banner Saga 2 and Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate helped keep things interesting.
Working through the fall and into the home stretch, Gold saw even more great titles added to the list including the OG Forza Horizon, the launch-day arrival of Super Dungeon Bros. and December's Burnout Paradise and Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition.
Moving on to the PlayStation Plus 2016 lineup, subscribers received quite a few more games this past year, totaling 72 titles that would have otherwise set you back $1,150. As far as quality goes, this past year's Plus titles averaged a Metacritic score of 74.1 but, again, that the average spread out across nearly 30 more gratis games.
Reaching all the way back to January of this past year, PlayStation Plus began 2016 with a strong lineup that included games like Dragon Age: Origins, Grim Fandango Remastered, and Nihilumbra.
Things kept rolling through the first quarter with games like Helldivers and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax making for a bright February, with games like Broforce, Super Stardust HD, Savage Moon and Zombi heating things up on the way into summer.
During the summer months, Plus subscribers kept busy with games like God of War: Ghost of Sparta and God of War: Chains of Olympus, Tropico 5, Gone Home: Console Edition, NBA 2K16, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, the day-one arrival of Furi and the cult hit Yakuza 5.
Heading into the fall, we were looking at games like the critically beloved Journey the HD remake of Resident Evil, Transformers: Devastation, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture and, as of Dec. 7, Stories: The Path of Destinies and Invisible, Inc.
So Which Was Better?
So now for the big question: Which service had the best year in 2016? That's trickier to answer than you might think. While the average scores of games from Gold and Plus were too close to make a difference, it's impossible to overlook the fact that, on average, PlayStation Plus offers six games a month while Games with Gold offers four.
However, even that gets muddled when you consider the fact that Gold is only providing games for two platforms while Plus is dishing out the goods for three. Also, backwards compatibility and cross-platform play means that the numbers are all over the place.
In other words, what consoles you own likely had an impact on how you felt about this year's premium services from Microsoft and Sony. If you're only gaming on an Xbox 360, for instance, you probably weren't too impressed. Then again, if you're gaming on the Xbox One, you likely had a nice selection of newer games to pick from as well as those 360 games that are backwards compatible. The same situation exists for Plus, where a Vita-only subscriber might have felt like there were too many indie games and visual novels whereas someone with all three Sony systems had a much larger collection of games to be impressed by. Also, if you're more into core game offerings, then Gold's lineup likely felt like a more rewarding collection than Sony's, which frequently boasted more indie titles.
When it comes to exclusives, only four games published by Microsoft made it to Gold this year while PlayStation Plus' list of Sony exclusives was 20 games you can't get anywhere else.
In the end, there's no denying that both services had a pretty good year. Again, you're talking about a whole bunch of games for the cost of a single new AAA title. When a lot of those games are several years old, though, you might not be as impressed since, you know, you likely already played them.
If we have to give the nod to one service, though, it's got to be PlayStation Plus. We're not even taking the dollar amount into account here, but those 30 extra games certainly can't be ignored in the equation. While Games with Gold offered some real bright spots peppered throughout the year, too many of its games were already available on Plus and, again, only a handful were platform exclusives.
PlayStation Plus also earns big points for variety. While the message boards seem to be crowded with folks complaining about an "indie invasion" in these programs, we're all for it. Whether a game comes from a massive team or one person's garage doesn't matter if you're having a great time. Plus had plenty of "big" games, as well as a whole bunch of great games from smaller teams and a wide variety of genres. There was something for everyone and, for those who are a bit more open-minded, a hell of a lot of interesting things to try out.