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Xbox Game Pass Ultimate review – passed with flying colors

Game Pass Ultimate lets you play some of the best Xbox Series X games, including Forza Horizon 5 and Sea of Thieves, and helps expand your gaming horizons.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate review - image shows various games on the Game Pass platform.

Our Verdict

While the Cloud Gaming feature still need a little refinement, as a subscription service that gives you access to a selection of fantastic games to play, Game Pass Ultimate is the best option you'll find.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate has changed the face of gaming forever in many ways. It was one of the first substantial gaming subscription services on the market, and it continues to prove itself as the best of the bunch. But what about Game Pass makes it so special?

First of all, I’d like to give a little disclaimer: when Game Pass first launched in 2017, I just kind of shrugged and thought “Well, okay, that’s nice, but nothing special. I’ll always prefer buying the games new and this just isn’t for me.” However, in 2023 my perspective of the Xbox Game Pass is very different.

Xbox Game Pass Price

A good way to highlight the value of Xbox Game Pass is to look at its pricing. It costs $14.99 (£10.99) or just under $180 (£131.88) a year. That might sound a lot, but think about the cost of big next-gen games – the likes of Forza Horizon 5, or Halo Infinite would cost around $60 at launch, so the cost of a Game Pass will be off-set if you play just three big releases through the service.

Of course, not quite very new game comes to Game Pass at launch, but anything that comes from Microsoft Studios does. Already, that encompasses the work of a long list of dedicated developers, and they aren’t the only ones who come out on the service on day one. Even those that aren’t there on launch day are often available on the service a couple of months later.

When looked at in this context, it’s easy to see that this is quite a cost-effective way to get your games. If you think “Well, I would buy three big games a year anyway, so what’s the benefit of that subscription? Either way, I have them” then consider all the other games that you’ll be able to play – all the hidden gems that you’ll be able to discover.

So is Game Pass worth the cost? Well, I think so – but if you happen to be a particularly frugal gamer who only buys games on offer, or who lives on a diet of affordable indie games, then you might find yourself spending more than you would otherwise.

Game Pass Ultimate review: image shows a screenshot of Sea of Thieves, a game included in the service.

Xbox Game Pass Games

We have a list of all Xbox Game Pass games which you can look at if you want to see the complete collection. We also have a list of the best Xbox Game Pass games, which highlights some of the biggest games in the Game Pass library. But let me tell you what I thought, because, after all, this is my review.

My favorite developer in the Microsoft stable is Rare Ltd. and as a fan of Rare, the selection of games on Game Pass is delightful. Looking back on the classics, both Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie are in there (in their polished-up, Xbox 360 forms), and you’ve even got Goldeneye 007 in the mix, which is something that nobody would have anticipated a few years ago. Indeed, having Rare Replay (which ropes in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Viva Pinata, and Perfect Dark, among others), covers pretty much all their bases and, for their recent work, you have Sea of Thieves as well.

But what about people who aren’t scary Rare fanatics? Well, what do you like? Every Halo game is in there, even the two Halo Wars games, which is pretty cool, giving you countless hours of Spartan-driven fun. And if you like big sci-fi adventures, then having the whole Gears of War series in there will put a big smile on your face too.

Game Pass was also the platform that gave me the chance to discover the Forza series. I’m not a car person, but I thought I’d give it a whirl, because I’d heard good things and, gosh, my experience with Forza Horizon 5 was delightful – driving down the open road, taking in the beautiful scenery. It was therapeutic more than anything else, and easy to play for ages.

And I think that’s an important thing to underline: Game Pass isn’t just about playing the game you already know about on the system, it’s about trying and playing things that you’d otherwise never have looked twice at. Without Game Pass, trying a completely new game is a bit of a financial risk, whereas here you can just choose something from the list and get going.

There are also some Game Pass exclusives. Usually, these are just slightly different versions of games you can find elsewhere, but in the mixture, you’ve also got Super Lucky’s Tale – a game I adored. This is a charming 3D platformer that was followed by New Super Lucky’s Tale (a remake that kept some core ideas but is essentially a different game). I would argue Game Pass is worth it for this game alone (which you can probably beat within a month), but I appreciate that not everybody will love it as much as me.

Game Pass Ultimate review: image shows a Forza Horizon 5 screenshot with cars driving in the sand.

Xbox Cloud Gaming

A Game Pass Ultimate subscription gives you access to Xbox Cloud Gaming too. This service allows you to stream games to your console, your mobile device, or your PC. This is quite handy for a number of reasons – for one thing, it gives you the option of playing your games on the go, which wouldn’t have been possible before.

Meanwhile, it means you can enjoy the best Xbox Series X games without even having an Xbox. Since you’re just streaming the games, you don’t need a device capable of playing them, you just need something to pick up the feed of the game being streamed. So if you were ever thinking about buying an Xbox, this could be a good way to test out the games before actually buying it.

The ability to stream games can also save you from having trouble with storage capacity. Is there a big new game that you want to play, but you don’t have room on your hard drive and don’t want to delete anything? Well then, Cloud Gaming to the rescue. It’s a handy feature in quite a lot of ways.

I should mention though, that it is noticeably different when you stream a game than when you play one natively. Occasionally the screen will freeze for a couple of seconds, before suddenly snapping back, and sometimes you’ll find the graphics smearing or stretching a little bit.

It’s not perfect, but then again, it is still in beta, with Microsoft actively working to improve the service all the time. I thought it was perfectly fine, even when playing big, triple-A releases – though I certainly have a higher tolerance for things like that than other gamers I know, so it’s definitely going to be different for some readers. If you’ve get a Game Pass subscription though, this is something I recommend you experiment with.

My biggest hope for the future is that the Nintendo Switch will one day be able to stream Game Pass games. I want to play Sea of Thieves curled up in my armchair with my Switch – but with relations between Nintendo and Microsoft looking pretty rosy lately, I’ll hold on to my optimistic dream.

EA Play

EA Play is EA’s answer to Game Pass. What relevance does it have here? Well, with Game Pass Ultimate, you actually gain access to EA Play as well. Considering EA has some pretty popular franchises under its belt, I imagine that this is going to be a big selling point for a lot of people. This covers things like:

  • FIFA
  • Dead Island
  • Mass Effect
  • Madden
  • Star Wars
  • The Sims

Those are only just a few highlights as well. If you go for Game Pass Ultimate, the addition of EA Play substantially increases the games you’ll have access to. I’m personally not hugely interested in a lot of EA’s offerings, but I have to admit that it’s pretty cool to get them with Ultimate.

Xbox Live Gold

Game Pass Ultimate also encompasses Microsoft’s other subscription service: Xbox Live Gold. This enables you to play online games like Sea of Thieves or Halo Infinite. That’s all well and good, but most excitingly, it also gives you free games every month.

The Games with Gold feature covers all kinds of things. While you might not see recent triple-A releases available through this, you will find an enormous selection from the back-catalog of Xbox games, as well as an enormous selection of indie games, and smaller releases from big studios.

These games will remain available to you even after your subscription has expired. They’re yours for keeps. This alone will go a long way towards making the money you spend on Game Pass worthwhile, and it’s certainly given me the chance to own games I’ve been curious about, but which I’d probably otherwise not have bought.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate review: image shows Master Chief in a Halo Infinite trailer.

Game Pass for PC

Another of the benefits of Game Pass Ultimate specifically is that it also gives you access to the PC library of Game Pass games. Take a look at the PC Game Pass games list on our sister site, PCGamesN, if you want to see everything available through it. While it’s not a feature I really took advantage of (there’re only so many hours for gaming each day), having played many of the games that are available through it, I can confirm that this is a worthwhile addition to your subscription.

Of course, Cloud Gaming also allows for console games to be played on PC, which is pretty nifty. One way or another, if you play on you’re a PC gamer as much as you’re an Xbox gamer, there’re going to be lots of opportunities for you here.

Other streaming services for gamers

It’s when you look to the other services on the market that the qualities of Game Pass Ultimate really begin to shine. For example, let’s look at Nintendo Switch Online. In fairness, I love that service and the access it gives me to retro games, but there are no free games given out, and the selection of options within the service itself are significantly limited. Game Pass Ultimate has it beat in almost every way.

On the other side of the gaming pond, what about PS Now which, actually, is shaping up to be a bit of a rival to Game Pass Ultimate, but it still doesn’t have an equivalent to Games with Gold? On top of that, on a purely subjective level, its selection of games is much less appealing than those on Game Pass. Microsoft Studios has some incredible output, and PS Now can’t cover any of their work. It does have the likes of Horizon Forbidden West, but I just think Game Pass has more heavy hitters.

Final Verdict

When streaming services for movies first came out, I thought to myself “Why would I subscribe to that when I can just buy a DVD?” and while I still buy DVDs of my favorites, most of my TV viewing is done via streaming services. While I’m not yet at that point with gaming, I think it’s only a matter of time. I’ll always buy the old favorites, but I think the time will come when the majority of our games are played through streaming platforms – especially as the price of big, new games continues to skyrocket.

Of all the streaming services for games currently available, Game Pass Ultimate is the best one. Maybe one day it will be dethroned, but if it is, I imagine it will only happen as a consequence of one of the other services working hard to emulate Microsoft’s offering as much as possible.