A lot’s been said about Xbox’s output of first party games for a number of years, and the criticisms surrounding that have heightened in intensity by several degrees of late. 2022 was a lean year for Xbox on that particular front, after all, and after years of Microsoft announcing games with CG trailers and then offering no updates on them for extended periods, all while reports talk about behind-the-scenes development issues and delays and reboots and what have you, people have started losing patience.
The Xbox first party pipeline, however, has had an unexpectedly bright start to 2023, in the form of Hi-Fi Rush. Rumours of The Evil Within developer Tango Gameworks having a unique new IP in the works had been doing the rounds for a while, so the announcement of the game in late January didn’t come as a massive surprise. What did come as a surprise, however, was the fact that the game was revealed and released on the same day. Shadow drops aren’t a very common occurrence as it is, but it’s even rarer to see major first party titles getting shadow dropped.
Hi-Fi Rush has garnered widespread acclaim since release. On OpenCritic, it has a glowing aggregate score of 90 after 62 reviews, and our own review was full of praise as well. Audiences, too, have responded to the game positive, to say the very least. Not only have people been taken by surprise by the fact that a studio that’s known for making nightmare-inducing survival horror games has come out with something so bright and humorous and charming out of nowhere, Hi-Fi Rush also has undeniable strengths at its core, thanks to its incredibly fun combat and its rock ‘n roll music.
But something else the game deserves a lot of credit for is the fact that, yet again, it proves the value and strength of Game Pass. That Microsoft’s subscription service is one of the best value deals in gaming isn’t a controversial take by this point at any means, but it’s not just consumers who’re benefiting from what it offers. It’s been argued by many on no few occasions that Game Pass and its subscription model allows developers to be more experimental, and sure enough, there has been enough evidence of that in recent years- but Hi-Fi Rush surely proves that beyond all doubt now.
The games industry has gotten to a point where even a game that isn’t a massive AAA production is going to be a big financial undertaking. Given how much time, labour, and money ends up getting pumped into getting a game made, developers and publishers grow increasingly risk-averse, which means constantly falling back popular trends that have proven commercial viability. That, after all, is why we have so many saturated sections of the market with the likes of open world games, looter shooters, multiplayer shooters, battle royales, and the like. But if you know your game is going to be available on Game Pass at launch and will, as such, have a much lower barrier for entry and likely attract a much bigger audience, you become much more willing to try new and experimental things that might not necessarily align with current trends.
That’s exactly what Hi-Fi Rush is. It’s a big swing for Tango Gameworks. As I touched on earlier, this is a studio that has made its name on hardcore survival horror games with The Evil Within and its sequel, and though last year’s Ghostwire: Tokyo wasn’t necessarily a horror game, it was still at least somewhat in that arena. Hi-Fi Rush, on the other hand, is a rhythm-based action game that is brimming with humour and boisterous personality, and sports a bright, lively art style. Simply put, it couldn’t be more diametrically opposed from pretty much everything Tango Gameworks has done since it has existed.
And it’s fair to say that if not for Game Pass, the studio would not have been so willing to greenlight the project. Last year, speaking to Famitsu, Tango Gameworks boss Shinji Mikami said as much, saying that, thanks to Game Pass, the studio is able to operate in a way that not only enables more variety in its output, but also makes for more efficient pipelines and production frameworks behind the scenes- all of which has proven difficult in recent years thanks to the increasing commercial demands of game development.
“In recent years, commercial considerations have meant that we have had to develop in large teams,” he said. “However, thanks to the emergence of game subscription services over the past few years, we feel that it is now possible to make games on a smaller scale. It is possible to gain experience in a small team and then get involved in a big project. This way, we can make even better games and projects can proceed more smoothly.”
And we have, of course, seen a number of other examples over the past couple of years that have proven the same point. Just recently, for instance, we got High on Life, a decidedly offbeat shooter that may not necessarily have had a lot of mass market appeal as a traditional release, but ended up being propelled to massive success thanks to Game Pass. Shortly before that, we got Pentiment, whose director Josh Sawyer said in an interview with Waypoint Radio that he would never even have pitched the game if not for Game Pass. “I never would have proposed making Pentiment without Game Pass,” he said. “I literally just wouldn’t have done it. I just don’t think it would have been possible. The old mentality of publishers and developers is generally focused on larger investments with higher returns, and that’s not the point in this environment, in this ecosystem. [Game Pass] is the only way in which I conceive of [Pentiment] being viable.”
Then you have Arkane Studios, a developer that has always somehow found its excellent games falling into the “niche” category, and with its next project, is taking a pretty big risk. Redfall is not only Arkane’s first open world game, it’s also the studio’s first co-op focused experience- and while its very existence cannot be attributed to Game Pass (no, Redfall has been in the works for a pretty long time), the developer has said that it is going to be assured of a much larger playerbase right out the gate, given the fact that the game will be available via the service on day one.
“I feel like with Xbox Game Pass, the potential is here for us to say: this is Arkane, and these are our creative values – we can expose a lot of people to the way that we make game,” studio director Harvey Smith said in a recent interview with GamesRadar. “The pool that Game Pass offers is huge for us. It’s kind of shocking, and scary in a way. Like, how many people are going to play Redfall in the first week? What if it’s a lot more than we anticipated… we’re going to get a lot of feedback very quickly, and a lot of people will see what we’ve spent the last few years on.”
From developers to audiences, Game Pass is clearly having a positive impact on many corners of the industry in significant ways. As players, we’re getting to experience an increasing number of games that don’t feel the need to fall in line with saturated trends and are instead happy to innovate and go off the beaten path. That’s something that indies have shouldered the responsibility for over the last decade or so, but now, larger studios always have a very clear and obvious pathway that allows them to introduce more variety to their output.
Long may it continue.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.
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