YaK:: WebLog #535 Topic : 2006-02-21 02.43.10 matt : xbox game reviews for 2005 [Changes]   [Calendar]   [Search]   [Index]   [PhotoTags]   
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xbox game reviews for 2005

Geoff and I beat Prince of Persia for XBox this weekend, and I figured I'd give it a little review along with the other games we finished in the last year in reverse order of completion.

All these games were on Xbox, other platforms may vary (especially the cache-impaired Playstation 2). Also, I almost never buy brand new games unless they are $25 or under. I don't really like buying used games, but sometimes games will disappear from the shelves before they get to my price point.

First up is Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00009ZVHU/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2). I think this is one of my absolute favorite games I have ever played. Just enough action, just enough story/adventure, just hard enough to be satisfying, just easy enough not to be utterly infuriating. The graphics, voice acting, controls, and story are all top notch. The only real annoyance was a few camera bugs that prevented us from seeing things in fight scenes, and the sudden change of camera angles sometimes meant the direction you were originally moving in was now the opposite of where you wanted to be going. I'm a real sucker for great detail, and PoP had it -- his silk pants sway slightly, surround speakers are used to great immersive effect, and the building architecture feels... well, plausible. Anyways, I highly recommend it -- I went and bought the second one Warrior Within (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0002CHJ3W/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2), even though I understand it's not as story/adventure oriented. I'll definitely pick up the last in the trilogy, The Two Thrones (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0009Z3IV4/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2), when it's below $25. One last thing -- all the games in the series support 16x9 480p, so they look great on HDTV.

Next up, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000X4M4C/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2). This is the third game in a series of adventure games, none of which I had played. I actually had only heard about the series when the scummvm (http://scummvm.org/) open source project I used to help on added support for Broken Sword 1 & 2 thanks to Revolution (http://www.revolution.co.uk/) giving them the original source code. Anyways, as anyone who knows me knows, I really like adventure games. Besides scummvm, I also participate in the FreeSCI (http://freesci.org) and Sarien (http://sarien.sourceforge.net/). I have played bad adventure games I didn't like, but Broken Sword looked very promising with great graphics and a great interaction system. The voice acting in the game were absolutely fantastic, as was the story for the most part. The graphics were good, but not amazingly great due to deficiencies in the models. There were some great details, like the slight bounce to the breasts of the female character and the hair on the male character's head. People's chests tended to look a little weird because there was a lot of detail on the face that immediately ended and looked a little incongruous. I really liked the switching between the two characters, one of which was female. I'm not one of these homos who is into really powerful women characters, but I do like monotony to be broken up a bit. Alas, this feature of switching between playing the woman and the man stopped about 1/4 of the way through the game and it was back to playing the guy while the woman did little other than various girly things. I wish she had stayed as a useful character that was playable. The story was pretty good, but seemed to rely quite a bit on playing the previous games, so I don't think I could appreciate it as much as I wanted to. That being said, the story is good and the voice acting is what really carries it over the top. The worst thing is the load times, which take WAY too long. If you like adventure games, I recommend it.

Next up, X-Men Legends (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0001I9YFS/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2). I originally bought this game because it supported 720p and I'm a sucker for games that will look awesome on our HDTV. My friend Ryan Dy worked on the underlying engine and had mentioned it was a good game, but I wasn't going to get it until I saw the 720p and the 1-4 player cooperative multiplayer capabilities mentioned on the box. Oh, and it was $20 ;> X-Men Legends turned out to be an awesome game -- this coming from a geek who isn't into the comic books. I really like the movies, but the game takes place in a slightly different universe than the movies seem to. The best thing about X-Men is that it is just action enough and just RPG enough not to bore me too much either way. What really makes it work is the cooperative multiplayer and how flexible that system is within the game. New players (up to 4) can join in at any time, while the other characters on the screen default to a decent AI. You can switch to the other characters at any point to adapt to a situation that requires their specific capabilities. Also cool is what could be called mini-games which are training exercises in the "Danger Room" that can be played over without affecting the game's main storyline. Some of the exercises are very difficult and provide for good replayability after you've beaten the game. The less likable aspects are forgivable to some degree, but we almost gave up due to a few of them. Mainly, there are portions of the game devoted to story exposition which are single-player only as Allison (aka Magma). Story exposition is good, a little exploration of the mansion and the universe is good, but it just didn't feel well integrated with the rest of the game. Maybe if a better adventure game aspect where your interactions with characters in the exposition mode would change inter-personal outcomes or make certain characters available/unavailalbe for specific missions would have been nice. As it is, there isn't enough detail to the mansion to make the exploiration meaningful other than the first time. The voice acting, compared to Prince of Persia and Broken Sword, is fuqn terrible. It does have Patrick Stewart (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001772/) doing the voice of Doctor Xavier, but it seems like they got him at the expense of good voice acting anywhere else in the game. I sincerely hope they resolve that in the sequel. Like Broken Sword, I liked the fact that male and female characters can be played -- specifically the main character, Allison (aka Magma). Magma's powers are awesome and I suspect that most of the people who played the game never gave her a proper chance due to her annoying voice and boring story exposition -- both of which could've easily been made better. The sound (other than voices) is okay, nothing amazing though the music cues are done well. The graphics, even though in 16x9 720p, are very disappointing. It looks like one of those games that they dumbed down for the PlayStation2 and then didn't enhance for other platforms. The lack of skeletal joints and mouth movement looks utterly horrible, especially during the character close-ups in the Danger Room. At the least, they should've had different models for those scenes. During the game, these deficiencies aren't as noticable, but there are still a few places where taking advantage of XBox/GameCube hardware would've been a real boon to the game. Despite the graphics and voice acting crapiness, the game succeeds due to a well-balanced cooperative multiplayer, action, and RPG mix.

Somewhere in here, Geoff played Halo 2 (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00008J7NZ/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2). I can't play first-person shooters -- they make me motion sick. I can say that the graphics were fucking amazing to having framerate issues in a few places, and it felt like a better polished expansion pack on the original Halo. So, if you like FPSes and/or the original Halo, Halo 2 is a no-brainer. I'll ask Geoff to write a more detailed review on this blog @ http://geoffomg.blogspot.com .

We also played Myst III: Exile (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006F2BC/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2). Myst is an adventure game series I never really played until we played RealMyst on the PC (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004ZC7H/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2) a few years ago. Having enjoyed RealMyst, and it's heavy emphasis on exploration, story, and puzzles, we gave Myst III a shot. First, let me say that the story, puzzles, and environments were extremely creative and quite amazing. The acting by Brad Dourif (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000374/) and the others was also pretty good. The controls were a little cumbersome at first, and took a while to get used to how to navigate around the game's universe. The sound was okay, but I was expecting more activity in the surround speakers given the previous games' emphasis on sound. The real let down here was the graphics. The pre-rendered background were gorgeous, but displayed in 480i which looked bad on our HDTV. The video was also lacking due to what looked like low bitrates. I don't know if they dumbed it down for PlayStation2 and then ported that to the XBox, or what. That being said, these things are forgivable once you get into the game. The game has incredible depth to it, so I wouldn't recommend playing it and then leaving it for too long. We did this and had to start over because we forgot what was going on. After we beat Myst III, we briefly popped in Myst IV (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0007DGB4O/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2) and were blown away by the graphics. So, at least they learned their lesson. The Myst games are very deep and exploration-based, so I'll only recommend them for people who really like adventure games. For some people, the beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds may suspend their distaste for the genre long enough for them to get into the game.

Return of the King (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00009VE6E/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2) could've been as good as X-Men Legends, but failed on a few points. First, there are always 3 characters on the screen, but you can only control 2 at a time via multiplayer and you can't switch between them while playing the game. Also, specific skills don't come in handy so it ends up being a hack'n'slash-the-fuck-out-everything-until-your-thumbs-hurt experience. The upside is that the voice acting and graphics (16x9 480p) are great. There's some small framerate problems in one or two places, but it's barely noticable. The extras you unlock as you progress in the game are pointless, in my opinion -- maybe if the unlocked artwork was in 720p or 1080i so you could see enough detail it might be meaningful to me. At least it is cooperative, which means you can play with a friend (and/or husband) and it is inclusive that way :)

Super MonkeyBall DX (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0002VS8UG/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2) has a frustrating "story mode" and a slew of incredibly fun party games. The voiceovers get incredibly annoying since they do not vary at all, but in the madness of 4-player, it isn't really noticable. The graphics are pretty good and the gameplay in most of the partygames is a blast. A few of the games are boring: Soccer, Bowling, etc. The ones we play again and again with a crowd are Racing, Target, Golf, Boxing, and Dogfight. The Racing and Target games are simple enough that a 6 year old might be able to play them.

Soul Caliber 2 (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00008H2IU/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2) is a standard fighting game, so it's great for when people are over and you can pass the controller over to the next person when you lose. The graphics are 16x9 720p and are quite amazing. The voice acting and sound are pretty good. There's not much to say about the game other than it's a good fighting game with great graphics. Geoff tried playing the story mode and got pretty far, but it's not exactly gripping. My favorite characters the ones who look like he is gagged like an eastern version of "the gimp" from Pulp Fiction (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000068DBC/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2) and another character who we call "Tits McGillicutty". When you play, you'll know which characters I'm talking about. I'd recommend it if you like fighting games or want to show off your HDTV.

Tetris Worlds (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006AN03/matthargettbl-20/103-7571562-7812640?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2) is also unbelievable fun in multiplayer mode with 3 or 4 people. You might wonder what they can possibly do to Tetris, but the graphics and music are great and well-suited. There are also alternate rules of play, like Crush and HotLine which are great fun as they make you think differently about your strategy.

The last mention-worthy game I can remember playing was Wallace & Gromit: Project Zoo. I really like Wallace & Gromit, and was excited that the game had the original actor's voices and was written by the creator. It also uses some XBox-specific graphics shaders to give the characters a kind of clay-like look. The graphics and models are good, the voice acting is top notch, and the platform-gaming aspects are pretty good. The one annoying thing to me was the fact that the game plays in 480i and looks like crap, even though my XBox is configured to do 480p. A few games do this, like Broken Sword mentioned above, and it irritates the hell out of me. I would LOVE a modded bios or some other thing that will patch the kernel to just change into 480p when 480i is requested. Anyways, Wallace & Gromit looks like a kid's game but it's a little too difficult for children, in my opinion. If you played Prince of Persia and liked a well-constructed platformer, you might also like Project Zoo even though there is no fighting action.


These are the games that I would recommend buying on some level. We played other games, like Unreal 2 that we didn't like. Check out Geoff's blog at http://geoffomg.blogspot.com for his reviews on other games.

Am I totally off-base on these? Any other suggestions? What should we play next?


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by bryan:
Prince of Persia is one of those games that I totally enjoy and will never finish and I can't explain why. It might be the lack of satisfying action. The fights feel kind of mechanical. Single out one bad guy, exploit his obvious weakness with an acrobatic manuever, stab, repeat. If you've got a PS2 I really have to recommend God of War if you enjoyed PoP: Sands of Time. It's violent, it's bloody, it's got a good enough story, the action is outstanding, and it's beautiful with just enough platforming to keep from falling under the Final Fight type beat-em-up catagory.

I really missed out on X-Men Legends. It's right up my alley and I never got it because it's another big RPG that I'll probably never finish.

I'm so close to finishing Halo 2 that it's ridiculous but I don't feel any pressure to finish it because from what I've read the ending is non-existant. Maybe when Halo 3 is on the horizon I'll polish it off.

Soul Calibur 2 is a ton of fun but it's totally a button-masher. It requires so little skill to beat that you might get away with a win by slapping the controller against your ass. It's an enormous departure from more cerebral fighting games like Virtua Fighter 4, which is realistic to the point of being unenjoyable.

Unreal 2 is another one that I haven't gotten around to and that's probably not a bad thing. I loved the first Unreal, I love Unreal Tournament, I hated the Unreal 2 demo, and I still feel compelled to buy it when I see it sitting all by it's terrible self.

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