For some reason it seems hard to get good reviews of Xbox games. Here are my reviews of the games I have, bear in mind I've been playing computer games for 20 years off and on (mostly off!) which I guess makes me something of a crusty. So you have an idea where I'm coming from, I've played games on various machines including an old Pong console, the Atari console, a 48K ZX Spectrum, an Amiga, on PC and finally on the Xbox. I have always really like games that break the mould and those that make you think. Those that spring to mind include Lemmings (PC), Worms(PC), Speedball 2(Amiga), Attic Attack(Spectrum), Age of Empires 2(PC) and Slot Racers (Atari Console). The list that follows is pretty much ranked in order of preference.
Oddworld [Players 1]
Another great Xbox launch game. For some reason we set this aside and got carried away with Halo but Oddworld is just as good, probably even better. I think we set it aside because it's only a one player game. On returning to it though, it is a masterpiece of graphics, sound (great little voice snippets) and gameplay. You have 2 characters, Abe and Munch, to operate separately to solve each level. This game has dynamic problem solving a bit like Lemmings but is far smarter with much more satisfying gameplay with very elaborate and smooth 3D graphics and easy to control characters. The whole creativity of the storyline is something else too. One level we've just done involved Munch in his wheelchair herding Meep (a bit like sheep) for no apparent reason apart from a bit of a fun puzzle to solve. Really great game where you learn the physics as you go. Great tutorial thing to get you started too.
If you get stuck with Oddworld there's a great website called The Spoiler which is very helpful indeed.
Halo [Players 1-4]
Halo is as good as they say and I'd definitely recommend it. I particularly liked the 2 player co-operative gameplay with the TV screen split horizontally, only problematic when you run each other over in the buggy thing. Halo has an excellent story to it with a neat twist. Graphics are impressive, particularly the animated cartoon style trailers to each new level. Gameplay is great allowing you to use various different weapons and drive various vehicles; the scorpion tank was a favourite. Sound effects are splendid and add a lot to the atmosphere - a couple of times the glass shattering behind me alerted me to trouble in my kitchen, fortunately it was just the game. There were a couple of bugs in the game but given the size of the environment I quickly forgave this. I haven't really explored the head-to-head game options but I guess when the Xbox broadband stuff takes off, this could be good fun.
Fuzion Frenzy [Players 1-4; multi-language]
Technically speaking, Fuzion Frenzy does not seem to stretch the Xbox at all! Mind you, we like it loads because it is such a brilliant multiplayer game. Well, in fact, it's a collection of 48 or so mini games that you can play as a tournament. The games range from racing boats and tanks to splatting bugs or blowing up your opponents in a variety of ways. I particularly like the game because it is very easy to learn and is therefore great for parties - I'm sure my young brother (12) and sister (17) picked up each game in about 5 seconds - needless to say, when you get into your 30s things take a little longer to sink in! I don't think I'd be too impressed with this if I'd spent £40 on it but you often see this now for £10 or so - at that price it's a great multiplayer game for parties! I also found out by chance that this game is translated into Spanish (and many more languages I expect) so if you are learning a language, worth setting your Xbox to that language for a bit of practice!
Project Gotham Racing [Players 1-4]
I don't play many car racing games so it's a bit hard to offer a comparison. I played Grand Tourismo once and was impressed with the compelling replays after the race - Project Gotham does that too and it's a lot of fun. Graphics are excellent, circuits are great and car control seems easy enough. 2 or even 4 player split screen is excellent fun too. Choice of cars is excellent including the new Mini, new Beetle, Audio TT or even a Z3, with many more that can be unlocked after you have pitted yourself against the machine and won enough times. If you prefer to spice up your racing life with a bit or carnage, Project Gotham supports that well enough! One gripe I had is really a bug - I got a new widescreen TV and the 'player' I created originally on the old TV would not work with this new TV setting. So all the cars I had unlocked will not work on the Xbox Widescreen setting. Shame!
Time Splitters 2 [Players 1-4]
We've just hired this from Blockbuster - seems great! Playing 2-player co-operative on 'story' mode is quite like Halo, though the graphics and gameplay are not quite so good. It's a bit more like the old Die Hard for the playstation I seem to recall. One problem with 2 player co-operative mode is when you die, you are completely out - not so with Halo which just re-spawns your one dead character when you are in a safe place (doesn't work if you both die!). This makes completing the levels in Timesplitters 2 much harder and reduces the benefit of co-operative play. One aspect of gameplay that is nice is the way creatures spring at you out of nowhere - works especially well with Zombies. Another great aspect of gameplay is the great care that seems to have gone into thinking through the playability of the levels - playing on 'normal' is pretty tricky, you need to use ammunition sparingly and be smart about how you progress, so rather than unloading a whole clip to destroy an automatic gun connected to a camera, just put one round into the camera itself.
One thing that is nice is the attention to multi-player competitive mode, which offers a neat arcade option where you can choose from a range of characters and fight against each other, as well as with a load of 'bots'. You can even create your own levels with this - but we didn't try that (2 night rental only!).
On balance I reckon we'll buy this - and perhaps also get gun controllers, which I'm told work well with this game.
Silent Hill 2 [Players 1]
Emily nagged me for ages to get silent hill since she loved the old Playstation version. This is perhaps the first truly spooky game I have ever played, with good graphics and sinister music played surround sound adding to the tense atmosphere as effectively as it does in a good horror film. On trying a new door in one of the many spooky buildings I find myself sometimes hoping it won't open! I guess this is quite a sign of success for the game designers indicating that they have built a truly creepy environment. The game is actually a first person adventure where you have to get around a spookville town called 'Silent Hill' to find clues enabling you to progress, for example, rummaging around down a toilet pan revealed a wallet down there with a number in it; the number opened a combination lock opening a box revealing a key that will open a door. Some of the clues are a little puzzling but I personally prefer the more dynamic puzzling of something like Oddworld.
Gameplay is awful and this really puts me off the game. Controlling the huge character that you play in particular, with the 'normal' control setting, is very annoying. I eventually found switching this to 2D helped a lot. The monsters in the game are quite hard to kill but this comes about more from gameplay difficulties controlling your character than it does from any lack of preparation on your part. There is a button to spin the camera around so you can see where you are going but this often doesn't work, leaving your character almost walking towards you on screen, effectively into the unknown. Even the more administrative parts of the gameplay are not right - after saving if you press 'back' it offers to delete what you just saved, whereas on ever other Xbox game back would reverse you out of the screen (a bit like Cancel on Windows). Perhaps this is my User Interface Design obsession going mad but I really don't like needing to stretch my brain or pick up a manual to figure out how to exit some unimportant part of a game. Personally, whilst I really like the spooky atmosphere, I wouldn't recommend the game because I hate the gameplay and don't like the type of puzzles you have to solve. I think Emily on the other hand likes the spooky stuff so much that she's prepared to get on with the gameplay - mind you, I seem to have to help get her past the difficult bits sometimes! In fact, she must like it, as I type I hear screams emanating from the lounge!
Mad Dash [Players 1-4]
Mad Dash is a game where 4 players race along various wacky circuits to get to the end. There are 3 types of characters with differing abilities allowing different shortcuts to be taken. Graphics are pretty good and gameplay is quite smooth, although swimming and hand-over-hand sections were a little tricky.
I bought Mad Dash as another multiplayer game which I thought people could pick up quickly and play at parties and stuff. Actually, it is a little difficult to pick it up. There is quite a lot to the gameplay and loads of tricks you need to learn, so it's not great for people who haven't played it before. The instructions aren't great either and neither is the administrative part of the gameplay with getting the game started, characters selected and all that stuff a bit hard, especially with 4 controllers plugged in. Like Silent Hill 2, the normal keystrokes used on the Xbox for getting things set up are not followed, which is irritating and makes me have to think about something I really don't want to spend time thinking about. I do quite like the game and the 4 player split screen is fun, so I guess I'd recommend if you like this kind of thing but don't expect it to be easy to pick up by crustys at parties.
Sega Soccer Slam [Players 1-4]
After Emily got the knack of Fuzion Frenzy and refused to let me win any more I went on a quest for an alternative multiplayer game. Sega's cartoon soccer game is where I started. The cartoon style characters are fun and diverse making for interesting teams. The gameplay is ok with some weird sci-fi style soccer moves available. Playing the computer I find that the normal level of difficulty is a little too hard, but the level down from that far too easy. Not great. I don't play many soccer style games so comparison is hard, though I did used to really like Speedball 2 on the Amiga and would probably still choose that over Sega Soccer - mind you that could be a little unfair, it is years since I played Speedball! Anyhow, for me this wasn't a great multiplayer game because Emily didn't like it!
Azurik - Rise of Perathia [Players 1]
As an early adopter of the Xbox technology I was one of the people that paid the high launch price for the machine. Microsoft compensated us early adopters by sending us a couple of free games, Azurik was one I choose (Fuzion Frenzy was the other). Azurik is a fantasy style game with a hero who has a double ended spear for a weapon and apparent some magic powers. Compared with the graphics and gameplay of Halo or Oddworld, Azurik is a joke. Maybe one extremely boring day I'll take some time to try and explore it. I'd recommend avoiding this game unless you can try it in the shop first to convince yourself you'll enjoy it.
Since writing this I have been off work sick and played this game a lot. I still think it's a pile of junk!
Xbox games I'd like an opinion on
There are a few games that I've noticed recently that I'm thinking about, if you have opinions on any of these please drop me an email to let me know what you think.
Gauntlet Dark Legacy [Players 1-4]
Is this as good as the 4 player Gauntlet I used to play at the arcades in Southend? I seem to recall this being one of the very first 4 player arcade games I came across. Oh yes, it's all coming back now, if you died in the game you could plug in another £1 and come back to life. A great way to get money out of people!