Xbox 360: Year One - Mania.com



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Xbox 360: Year One

November 09, 2006


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The first anniversary of the Xbox 360's release is right around the corner. So which titles from the first year's crop are the must-haves? These.

5. Saint's Row. Surprised to see this on the list? I am, too. It's essentially a Grand Theft Auto clone, and when I first read about it, I wasn't too jazzed-- I'm a huge fan of the Grand Theft Auto series, and I've seen what other developers do when they try to copy it-- they muck it up real good. But somehow Volition (this title's developer) managed to do the opposite, primarily by sticking as close to the GTA formula as possible-- so close, as a matter of fact, that several times during play, you'll wonder why Volition aren't getting sued by Rockstar. Saint's Row does feature a few gameplay innovations that are unique, such as the addictive mayhem missions (in which you're given a location and a handful of unlimited-ammo weapons, and challenged to destroy an ever-increasing dollar amount of cars and people), and the well-crafted online multiplayer, but the game is at its tightest when it's just aping the GTA experience. The bottom line is that, all comparisons aside, the game is fun, if not wholly original.

4. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. This was the first Xbox 360 title that made the fanbase just lean back and gawp at the graphics, which are simply amazing. And it's still the only Clancy game on the 360 that has done everything right, providing a compelling singleplayer experience with a well-rounded multiplayer. The control interface is a bit daunting at first, but once you've climbed its learning curve, you can easily send your AI-controlled teammates into firefights to flank, provide cover, or just soak up bullets for you. Clancy games have always been about bringing a realistic modern combat experience to the player, and in GRAW, that experience is delivered with grit and enthusiasm.

3. Kameo: Elements of Power. How long have Xbox and Xbox 360 owners been waiting for developer Rare to finally get off of their duffs and deliver a game that's on par with their old Nintendo work? For those that don't know, Microsoft acquired Rare in 2002, retaining them as an exclusive second-party developer. After the tepid reception of titles like Grabbed By The Ghoulies and the Xbox remake Conker: LIve and Reloaded, it seemed as though one of the greatest game developers of the 90s had just run out of steam. But with Kameo, they're back on the map. Kameo originally began development as a flagship title for the Nintendo Gamecube, but spent so long in the cooker that it was still in development when Microsoft acquired Rare. Then slated for an Xbox release, the game was held back, beefed up, and polished to become one of the 360's launch titles. And in the end, the wait was worth it. The hallmarks of great Rare gaming are here: juicy visuals, memorable characters, and a gameplay design that's deceptively simple but progressively frantic. There's a multiplayer mode thrown into the mix as well, but the game's real strength lies in exploring the singleplayer campaign, which offers a lush, vivid world and some truly epic setpieces.

2. Dead Rising. Three words describe this title perfectly, and for some, those three words are enough to sell the game: "zombie outbreak simulator." Read those words again, and mull them over. Remember all of those times you sat watching "Dawn Of The Dead" or some other zombie flick, and thought to yourself "Well that's not what I would do"? If you know what I'm talking about, this one's right up your alley. Here's the skinny: you're a guy named Frank. You become trapped in a gigantic shopping mall chock-full of zombies. Everything that isn't nailed down is a weapon. Golf clubs, baseball bats, chainsaws, mall benches, food court umbrellas, frying pans... you get the picture. This is one of those games that lets you give in to your inner impulse for mayhem and destruction and just lay waste to thousands upon thousands of lurching, groaning flesh-eaters. There's a surprisingly interesting storyline to it as well, so you'll keep chopping through the teeming masses for a lot longer than you think your interest would allow. Capcom could have done a lot wrong with this title, and wound up with something that was interesting for a few hours at best, but their work in giving the game an open-ended, go-where you want environment paired with a challenging game structure (warning to novice gamers: this isn't one of those casual "save anywhere" games-- if you want to play to the end of the story, you have a tight schedule to keep, and you'll need to get to someplace safe to save your game) results in the game having the atmosphere of a frantic fight for survival. Or, of course, if you want, you can just lean back on the couch and slaughter wave after wave of zombies, which is why the game is worth owning: nothing helps you unwind after a long day in the office like smashing TVs over people's heads.

1. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. If you're buying an Xbox 360 this Christmas, for yourself or someone else, this is the first game to buy. A sequel to 2002's Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, this game is both larger in size and more graphically impressive than the previous title. Essentially what it offers is an immersive, MMORPG-sized living world for a single player to explore, and once the player works beyond the introductory twenty minutes or so, that living world is entirely open and free to explore as the player sees fit. The sheer size and variability of the game is almost too much for some players to handle, as the game is ardently non-linear in its requirements for what the player must do next. Simply taking a walk from one of the games cities to another is an experience in itself-- the game's weather and day/night cycles intermeshing with it's richly textured environments see to that. And this game world is riddled with various dungeons, caves, catacombs, and ruins to be explored, each stocked with an ample supply of foes. At a time in the gaming industry when most singleplayer campaigns offer roughly 15-25 hours of play, Oblivion's playtime is staggering-- a player intent on experiencing everything can expect at least a hundred hours of game, for just one character. The game also has a variety of downloadable plugins for extra content available on Xbox Live, with Bethesda Softworks (the game's developers) reportedly hard at work on a sizeable expansion which will increase the size of the game world itself. PC Gamer UK named Oblivion as the #1 spotholder in their list of the Top 100 Games Ever, and after a few hours lost in Oblivion, you'll understand why.

So that's it. There were other great titles offered in the Xbox 360's first year, such as Call Of Duty 2 and Splinter Cell: Double Agent, but the above-mentioned five make a great basis for a long-term 360 library, being an excellent group of titles to show the capabilities and variety offered by the console. And the next year of 360 games is looking promising as well, with Gears Of War closing out 2006 and leading the charge into 2007.

Click here to read the staff review by Mania.

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