PlayStation Plus’ free games in 2021: A bargain at any suggested retail price

PlayStation Plus’ free games in 2021: A bargain at any suggested retail price

The number sticks out. Unlike Microsoft, Sony doesn’t mention the PlayStation Store’s retail price for the free games it doles out every month in the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection. When we build this year-end analysis, we’re adding up the game’s listed, non-sale prices at the end of the year. And this year, PlayStation Plus gave subscribers more than $1,400 worth of video games.

Since we started breaking down the offerings of PS Plus and Xbox Live Games with Gold in 2014, the $1,424.60 given out by Sony this year is second only to 2018, when the company was supporting three platforms with six games a month. In 2021, PlayStation Plus gave players 40 — a per-game average of $35.

Recently, I’ve tried to de-emphasize dollar figures as a measure of value in this analysis, but the numbers still stick out. And these aren’t Sony inflating the MSRP of a game it’s offering for free, nor are these games the dubious full-price wares of budget publishers whose catalog never goes on sale. Games With Gold’s year-end MSRP can be fairly chided for the influence of both, but not PlayStation Plus.

Sony used 2021 to solidify its position with PlayStation Plus as a debut stage for some new games that are at least worth a look, as well as a rewards mechanism to thank longtime subscribers for paying for multiplayer. Announcements of a new month of games are a circle-the-calendar reminder for most dedicated video gamers, and PlayStation makes it easy to claim everything quickly, without clearing off space for a full download.

They’re two entirely different services, but one could credibly say you’d buy an Xbox Series X for Xbox Game Pass, and you’d buy the PlayStation 5 — assuming you can find one — for PlayStation Plus. Small surprise that, for Microsoft, the free titles coming in Games With Gold are a shortcoming and, for Sony, the PlayStation Now streaming/downloadable subscription is considered second fiddle, its voluminous library notwithstanding.

There are rumblings that Sony has a new subscription service in store for 2022, but it’s one that leverages the back catalogs of the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable eras. It’s unclear whether this is separate from PlayStation Now, or another tier of service within it, and even then what impact it could even have on PS Plus, whose offerings deal with the PS4, PS5, and PlayStation Vita.

But if 2021 is any guide, don’t expect Sony to de-emphasize the games players get through PlayStation Plus. Seven day-and-date launches, ranging from upgrades like Control: Ultimate Edition to indie games like First Class Trouble, show SIE reinforcing PS Plus as its debut stage, much as Xbox Game Pass plays the same role for Microsoft. And with large third-party publishers willing to lend their biggest franchises to the cause, it shows that Sony does a better job, or at least makes a stronger effort, at selling its partners on participating in this program.

2021 in Review

In all, there were 40 games in the PlayStation Plus Instant Games Collection for 2021, with an average Metacritic score of 73.8 and a combined retail price of $1,424.60 (taken from the PlayStation Store at publication time of this analysis).

The Metacritic average is down one point from 2020, but the combined MSRP is almost double last year’s $789.72. Even if you add the MSRP of last year’s PlayStation Plus Collection games ($474.80) to 2020’s library, this year’s haul is valued more than last year’s ($1,264.52).

We’ll start breaking down, month-by-month, the offerings. Five games are both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 compatible, nine are PlayStation 5 only, and five are PlayStation VR only. They’ve been noted as such; all others are PlayStation 4-compatible. They’re all listed with their Metacritic score and age (at the time of availability).

a white woman, De Sardet, stands with her arms crossed wearing a Native American outfit, with the sun hanging low above the trees behind her in GreedFall
Greedfall (2019).
Image: Spiders/Focus Home Interactive

January

  • Maneater (PS5, 71, 0.6 years old)
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider (75, 2.3 years)
  • Greedfall (72, 1.3 years)

This is a solid first month, leading with two unusual RPGs many players may have missed when they launched (in Maneater, you’re a shark) and tossing in a AAA tentpole like Shadow of the Tomb Raider as a big-value known quantity.

February

  • Destruction AllStars (PS5, 62, day-and-date launch)
  • Control: Ultimate Edition (PS4/PS5, 85; the Ultimate Edition is a day-and-date launch, the game itself is 1.4 years old)
  • Concrete Genie (PlayStation VR; 75, 1.3 years)

Destruction AllStars is one of those multiplayer console exclusives that needs a big audience to thrive, and publisher Sony launched it on PS Plus to give the game a good chance to gather the crowd. Control is one of 10 games that pulled a Metacritic of 80 or better, which makes the 2021 PS Plus collection’s overall Metacritic of 73.8 (practically level with Games With Gold) a real head-scratcher.

March

  • Final Fantasy 7 Remake (87, 0.9 years)
  • Remnant: From the Ashes (78, 0.5 years)
  • Maquette (PS5, 70, day-and-date launch)
  • Farpoint (PlayStation VR, 71, 3.8 years)

Sony continued its launch-window support of the PS5 with Maquette; although it’s not an SIE game, it is exclusive to the console. Final Fantasy 7 Remake is the highest-rated game (87) among the year’s offerings. Players had to wait until the penultimate week of December to pay to upgrade it to the PS5 version if they wanted, however.

April

  • Oddworld: Soulstorm (PS5, 66, day-and-date launch)
  • Days Gone (71, 1.9 years)
  • Zombie Army 4: Dead War (72, 1.2 years)

Days Gone is a double-dip from the PlayStation Plus Collection, but it’s somewhat forgivable, as you need a PlayStation 5 to claim that. So there were tons of subscribers getting their first crack at the bikers-vs.-zombies open-world adventure here. Also, SIE probably wanted to spotlight Days Gone now, with its Windows PC release on deck for May. Zombie Army 4: Dead War is a big, violent, dumb-fun shooter that’s grown on me precisely because I got it for free, and I doubt I’m the only one, so Sony and Rebellion can consider this a success.

May

  • Wreckfest (PS5, 82, 1.7 years)
  • Battlefield 5 (73, 2.5 years)
  • Stranded Deep (65, 1 year)

Wreckfest is simply one of the best motorsports video games of the past five years, and essential to any serious racing fan’s collection. The upgrade option from PS4 to PS5 launched in June, which is why it shows up here. Battlefield 5 is a nice, big-name shooter from a big-budget publisher, but it’s also been on EA Play since June 2020, and PlayStation owners have been able to subscribe to EA Play since 2019.

June

  • Operation: Tango (PS5, 72, day-and-date launch)
  • Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown (78, day-and-date launch)
  • Star Wars: Squadrons (79, 0.7 years)

Most of Star Wars: Squadrons’ uninspiring Metacritic score comes from the game’s rather limited single-player campaign and its dependence on multiplayer. Like Battlefield 5, it’s also an EA Play title (since March 2021), but it’s also a fresher game appealing to a bigger fandom. Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is a remade-and-upgraded version of Sega’s 2006 fighter, getting a splashy reintroduction here.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018)
Image: Treyarch/Activision

July

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (83, 2.7 years)
  • WWE 2K Battlegrounds (60, 0.8 years)
  • A Plague Tale: Innocence (PS5, 81, 2.1 years)

I’ve come to expect July to be the slower months for these free game services, but Sony shrewdly paired a lot of sizzle (Call of Duty: Black Ops 4) with some substantive steak (A Plague Tale: Innocence) and tossed in a licensed brawler if neither were your speed.

August

  • Hunter’s Arena: Legends (PS4/PS5, 60, day-and-date launch)
  • Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville 77, 1.8 years)
  • Tennis World Tour 2 (56, 0.9 years)

OK, here’s your answer for why PS Plus’ average Metacritic score is so uninspiring. August was the weakest month, by far. Perhaps Battle for Neighborville deserved better than its 77 suggests, but Tennis World Tour 2 didn’t solve whatever was bothering tennis fans in its 2018 predecessor, and even if it did that’s a niche video gaming audience.

September

  • Overcooked! All You Can Eat (PS5, 84, 0.8 years)
  • Predator: Hunting Grounds (56, 1.4 years)
  • Hitman 2 (82, 2.8 years)

This is basically four games, as the Overcooked! bundle comprises two games in a funny, creative, multiplayer series. Hitman 2 speaks for itself. Unfortunately for Predator: Hunting Grounds, the asymmetrical multiplayer shooter depends on a robust online community for its enjoyment, and even launching at the height of the pandemic, with voice work from the former Governor of California, it couldn’t drag much of one.

October

  • Hell Let Loose (PS5, 68, day-and-date launch)
  • PGA Tour 2K21 (76, 1.1 years)
  • Mortal Kombat X (83, 6.5 years)

Hell Let Loose’s low score notwithstanding, all three are strong representatives of their genre’s virtues, but if you’re not into sports, fighting, or multiplayer shooters with an ambitious strategic command layer, this month could have felt like a miss. Mortal Kombat X is the second double-dip from the PlayStation Plus Collection, and of course it was supplanted by Mortal Kombat 11 in 2019.

November

  • Knockout City (PS4/PS5, 80, 0.5 years)
  • First Class Trouble (PS4/PS5 79, day-and-date launch)
  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning (72, 1.1 years)
  • The Persistence (PlayStation VR, 78, 3.3 years)
  • The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners (PlayStation VR, 79, 1.5 years)
  • Until You Fall (PlayStation VR, 85, 1.1 years)

Meaning no offense to Velan Studios or Electronic Arts, but if it took you until November to get a free look at Knockout City, you either didn’t care or weren’t paying attention. Velan’s creative dodgeball-shooter launched in May on every platform, with a free, carryover-progression trial available to all. It was also available through EA Play from day one. First Class Trouble is probably the highlight of the month, with a same-day launch for the indie social-deduction game.

December

  • Godfall: Challenger Edition (PS4/PS5, 61, 1.1 years)
  • Lego DC Super-Villains (74, 3.1 years)
  • Mortal Shell (76, 1.3 years)

Heh, 2021 is bookended by Greedfall and Godfall. And oh, man, the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection, founded at E3 2010, lasted 689 games and nearly 12 years before leaning on the Lego crutch. Not even in the nadir of 2016 were things bad enough for PS Plus to go Lego on its subscribers. Once is fine; if Sony starts ransacking Konami’s couch cushions for Castlevania HDs, they’ll need an intervention.

Cloud throws a dart in Final Fantasy 7 Remake
Final Fantasy 7 Remake (2020).
Image: Square Enix

By the Numbers

Average score: 73.8

Average MSRP: $35.62

Average age: 1.4 years

Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment: Five titles (Destruction AllStars, Concrete Genie, Farpoint, Days Gone, Predator: Hunting Grounds). Three others, all day-and-date launches, were console exclusives (Maquette, Hunter’s Arena: Legends, and First Class Trouble).

Publisher with the most titles: SIE’s five titles led all publishers. Electronic Arts had four (Battlefield 5, Star Wars: Squadrons, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville, and Knockout City) all of which were available on EA Play before being offered on PS Plus.

Appeared on Games With Gold or PlayStation Plus earlier: Technically, none appeared on Xbox Live Games With Gold before. But Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown, for the Xbox 360, was offered by Games with Gold in July 2018, and the PS3 version was offered on PS Plus in July 2012. Overcooked! All You Can Eat includes the first Overcooked!, which Games with Gold offered in October 2018, and PlayStation Plus offered in May 2019. Days Gone and Mortal Kombat X are both in the PS Plus Collection for PS5 owners. And the original Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was a PlayStation 3 offering in October 2013.

Appearing on Xbox Game Pass: In addition to the four EA Play games, which are available to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers, Remnant: From the Ashes, A Plague Tale: Innocence, Greedfall, Wreckfest and Mortal Shell are all currently on Xbox Game Pass and were there before being offered in PlayStation Plus. Maneater was added to Game Pass after its time on PlayStation Plus. Zombie Army 4: Dead War was simultaneously offered by PS Plus and added to Xbox Game Pass. Mortal Kombat X and Shadow of the Tomb Raider were on Xbox Game Pass but were removed before their PS Plus appearance. Both games comprising Overcooked! All You Can Eat have appeared on Xbox Game Pass, with Overcooked! 2 still available. In all, 14 PS Plus titles in 2021 have had some kind of presence on Xbox Game Pass.

Appearing on PlayStation Now: Just three titles: Greedfall, Stranded Deep, and Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown.

Total Value: $1,424.60 (Full MSRP taken from PlayStation Store at publication time).