A quiet banger
Hi-Fi Rush has a lot going for it. The latest title from The Evil Within developer Tango Gameworks is an action-rhythm game that blends the two genres expertly. It was practically made in a lab for me, as someone who’s very enthusiastic about both rhythm games and Tango Gameworks’ transition into action game design. I love its plucky hero, Chai, and his companions (I have a special fondness for 808, the robot cat that turns into the flying ball thing from Mobile Suit Gundam). I’m a huge fan of the game’s flashy comic book art and its early-00s soundtrack.
But you know what I love more than Hi-Fi Rush‘s electrifying gameplay? Its humble release. Just hours after the game was announced, it quietly dropped on PC and Xbox consoles via Game Pass. I have long held that certain games would fare better with no hype cycle whatsoever, and Hi-Fi Rush has left me with an addendum to that belief: certain games would fare better with no hype cycle and with a Game Pass release.
I know I’m not breaking any new ground by saying “it’s good when games are on Game Pass.” Obviously, it would be great if every game was released on Game Pass, so nobody would ever have to buy a video game again. But Hi-Fi Rush‘s surprise release is almost the ideal Game Pass situation.
Hi-Fi Rush would not be served by a traditional marketing campaign. Its action-rhythm gameplay doesn’t translate very well into a video – just looking at the game makes it seem like a bubble gum take on Devil May Cry, and while that’s not strictly incorrect, it’s also a little misleading. The game leans much harder on its rhythm aspects than some would expect from a trailer. I suspect that a months-long marketing push would leave a lot of players anticipating a very different game, and, ultimately, the exciting launch that Hi-Fi Rush is currently experiencing would have looked much less positive.
Just give it a try
The nice thing about Game Pass is that there are no stakes. You can flip a game on, decide whether or not it’s for you, and flip it off without losing anything but a few minutes (or hours, if you’re feeling generous). As someone who adored Tango Gameworks’ last game, Ghostwire: Tokyo, I always would have been willing to drop 30 bucks on Hi-Fi Rush. I want Tango Gameworks to take more genre swings, and I want them to keep getting wider. But not everybody wants that! Or, at least, not everybody thinks they want that. Ghostwire: Tokyo left a lot of people cold, and I think that’s because the stakes were too high at launch.
Ghostwire: Tokyo was hyped up as the triumphant return of the developers of The Evil Within. That is not what that game is. It’s a first-person shooter with snazzy action and a spooky setting. It also launched at 60 dollars after an expensive marketing campaign, and if you bought the new Evil Within game only to find out that you actually bought the new Doctor Strange game, well, too bad.
Now, if you simply downloaded a random new Tango Gameworks game as a part of a paid subscription, then maybe you’d feel a little warmer towards the Doctor Strange game you accidentally got saddled with. Take advertising out of the equation, don’t ask for a massive upfront chunk of change, and I suspect a lot more players would feel a greater fondness towards Ghostwire: Tokyo. More importantly, the people who didn’t like it wouldn’t feel slighted by its existence.
It’s happened before
In fact, this exact situation happened with 2022’s Scorn. That game looks a lot like a grimy action-horror title, but it’s more of a slow, moody puzzle-fest. Scorn‘s developers warned people that it would be an atmospheric adventure game, but it didn’t matter. The game seems like one thing in a trailer, and another thing in your hands. The best way to really understand a game like that is to play it.
I know a lot of people who bought into the hype for the game ahead of launch and did not like it. Folks who paid full price got it the worst, but even if they played it on Game Pass, they wanted one thing and got another. On the other hand, the people I know who had never heard of Scorn but stumbled upon it on Game Pass walked away with much more generous feelings. If you don’t know what you’re getting into, then it’s a lot easier to be won over by whatever you get. Hype is fun, but if you buy into it too hard, you can easily end up with a sense of disappointment and a lighter wallet.
My Game Pass subscription is an on-and-off affair, but every time my sub is active, I end up stumbling across a wealth of games I might have otherwise missed out on. I don’t like all of those games, but that’s fine. The stakes are lowered to the ground, and if I’m not enjoying a game, I can simply turn it off.
I think there are a lot of high-profile games that would benefit from the “simply turn it off” mentality. Without the heightened expectations that come with months of PR buzz and a full price tag, it’s easier to appreciate what a game has to offer, and not just what it has to promise. I wish that there were options like this available for a weird, ambitious, excellent game like Sunset Overdrive, which never found much of an audience at launch. I don’t think this kind of release is right for every game, but for certain titles, it could be an absolute boon.
I have no idea if this model is actually financially sustainable (I have my doubts about any subscription service after the demise of MoviePass), but it does seem like it provides players with a much healthier way to look at certain games. Also, by the way, you should totally play Hi-Fi Rush. It whips so hard.