I’m likely going to be making a rather large portion of the internet angry with what I’m about to say, but here goes: I really enjoy the free indie games that I get every month from Playstation and Microsoft. I honestly prefer the offerings on current generation consoles more than I did back when monthly games became a thing. Sure, it’s always nice to be hooked up with a Blood Dragon or inFamous 2, a truly AAA title, but I’ll take a Binding of Isaac or Don’t Starve any day of the week, no questions asked.
It’s been a bit of a debate amongst the gaming community ever since the PS4 and Xbox One have been giving free games to their monthly subscribers, with one side declaring AAA offerings to be the only things worth downloading, and the other side being relatively comfortable with indie games, albeit usually only the more popular ones that pique an interest to them. Every month, whenever the free games for PS Plus or GWG are revealed, there’s generally a fairly sizable uproar from the AAA camp where they demand ‘higher-quality’ titles for the money invested in their online subscription.
There’s a few reasons why I’m alright with what we get, however. If the offerings on hand were of consistently poor quality, I would understand the anger from the community, as nobody wants a free game that plays poorly or is just of below-average quality in general, but that’s not the case most of the time. While the past year has consisted of indie games from both sides (more on that later,) I can’t think of one that I would call objectively bad. There have been some average ones that I haven’t enjoyed as much as others, sure, but for the most part I’ve found something to enjoy nearly every month, on the occasion that the games offered are ones that I don’t own already. Both Sony and Microsoft have a minimum Metacritic score that a game must reach to be considered a free monthly title, and while that rule has been broken on occasion, you’re guaranteed to get something at least decent. There’s the odd Aaru’s Awakening, sure, but the majority of titles available for download are actually downright stellar games, despite being independent. Grim Fandango, Gauntlet, Super Meat Boy, Valiant Hearts, and that’s just over the holiday season! From how many games are put out for next-generation consoles, to have at least one a month be an absolutely fantastic game, or at least one that stands out among the shallow AAA waters, is quite the impressive feat.
Another major complaint on the AAA side is the complaint that there are too many indie games every month, and that AAA titles should be offered more frequently. While this I can sort of sympathize with, as some people may not be as huge a fan of Metroidvania-style side-scrollers or the 16-bit aesthetic as I am, there is rarely a month that goes by where there isn’t something else available to whet your appetite, and for the most part the indie games put up each month offer up fresh experiences that your usual first person shooter or action adventure game wouldn’t be able to bring you. Let’s look at the past few months of free games for reference, and see what the overall trend looks like:
November: The Walking Dead Season Two, Dragon Fin Soup, Magicka 2, Pneuma: Breath of Life, Knight Squad
The month of November was a great one in terms of free games, and serves to perfectly demonstrate my point. None of the games from that list are necessarily ‘retro,’ and they encompass a wide variety of gameplay styles to appease almost any kind of gamer. You have your story-based adventuring in The Walking Dead, your strategy RPG in Dragon Fin Soup, your top-down co-op adventure game in Magicka, your puzzle game in Pneuma, and your fast-paced party game in Knight Squad. Even if none of them can be classified as AAA, save for perhaps Walking Dead just for its popularity, they shouldn’t be shoved off as ‘trash’ just because they’re games made by independent developers. It’s nice seeing smaller titles get the attention they deserve, especially if they’re genuinely good games like Dragon Fin Soup, which, I wager, would have flown right under everybody’s radar if it hadn’t been a free game.
December: Gauntlet: Slayer Edition, King’s Quest: Chapter 1, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, Thief
Like November’s free games, I would hardly call any of these games ‘indie garbage,’ and I would truly wager that most people believe the AAA Thief to be the worst thing on offer for the month of December. Gauntlet is a fantastic hack-and-slash, the new King’s Quest is much akin to The Walking Dead in its gameplay, and Van Helsing is one of the best ARPGs I’ve ever played, despite being created by a smaller team. These three games are all indie games, but like I mentioned before, they’re not bad games because of it. I’ve had more fun with Gauntlet than I did with Just Cause 3, and I think that really says something. I don’t care what kind of budget your game has, how pretty it looks, whatever. As long as its fun, I’m happy. Undertale is a wonderful example of this, widely regarded as one of the best RPGs in recent years despite having the retro aesthetic and being independently made. If it was given a console release (however unlikely,) I would find it ludicrous to complain about just because it’s indie. It might not be for you, but that’s no reason to dig into independent developers altogether.
I would wager that most of the people complaining about this kind of thing (for their $4 a month, I might add) would actually rather enjoy many of the games given to them if they didn’t wave them aside as ‘indie trash’ just because they’re not getting the newest Assassin’s Creed for next to nothing. If you truly hate everything Sony and Microsoft give you each month, unsubscribe to the service and don’t pay for it any more. If you’re paying for PS Plus or Xbox Live for the online, then the free games should just be icing on the cake, and you’ve really got nothing to complain about. Even if I don’t think I’ll like a game, I add it to my library anyways, because it might end up being a hidden gem that I would have passed over otherwise.
Since I’m rambling on anyways, I might as well touch on the point that these games aren’t necessarily ‘free,’ but you’re instead renting them for a monthly fee. While I agree with this, because I pay for the online service anyways, I don’t think it really applies. I’m not paying for a rental service, I’m paying to use online and getting a rental service included on the side. Since I’m not likely to let my Plus subscription run out any time soon, the fact that these games are ‘rentals’ really doesn’t apply, at least in my case. Most people probably aren’t keen on not being able to play games with their friends any more either, so many are likely going to keep extending their time on the service until something better comes along. PS Now is a rental service through and through, but we’ll get to that at some point in the future, for now, I’m comfortable with defending PS Plus and Games With Gold for what they offer, and I’ll continue to play my monthly games whether they’re AAA games or not. They’re a treat when they come along, but I will almost always take the niche titles, the ones that I would have passed over otherwise, because there’s a chance it’ll be something I truly cherish.