1st half of my super-late look at every 360 game I've played
Tue, 3 October 2006
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My Xbox 360 coverage got off to a bad start and things just continued to go wrong from there. My reviews for the system's software kept getting stuck on the backburner, while I was dealing with other things (some of those things were good, others...not so much). Anyway, I have now amassed a decent little library of 360 games; all of which are way, way, waaaay overdue for review here at Buttonhole.
To help catch things up (and, believe or not, some people do actually still want to know what I think of these games) I now present you with my Xbox 360 Software Buyers Guide Spectacular! Hip, hip, hooray! Really I've just whacked a bunch of small(ish) reviews together, but putting it that way doesn't sound as cool (or funny) to me. This is the first half, so I called it #1 (makes sense, eh?). I will post the second half in the next few days. Press start and off we go.
First come, first served - Activision tries to provide something for everyone.
Easily one of the most prolific publishers (and treasured Buttonhole supporters!) for Xbox 360 since its launch has been Activision. They've provided games in a nice variety of genres for the console too. Nearly all their first batch of 360 games have been ports of titles also available on other systems - such as GUN and THAW (both of which the dastardly Jason reviewed for us) - therefore they're not yet taking full advantage of the system's power. Still, for the most part, they remain extremely solid games that most 360 owners should be pleased to have available for the platform. Given their usual high standards, I'm excited to see what Activision have in store with some upcoming 360 releases that've been built to make more use of this 'next gen' monster. Until then though, let's kick the buyer's guide off with a look at a couple of Activision's early Xbox 360 offerings.
Call of Duty 2
Though I have been growing increasingly sick of First Person Shooters and games with war themes, I still like this one very much. That's due to the fact that Call of Duty 2 is extremely well made, atmospheric and, overall, just damn good fun. If you have this already on PC, you don't really need another version, as they are more or less identical. However, at least here you know that you're guaranteed great graphics and sounds, without having to worry about whether your hardware is up to scratch, or any of the other hassles that can come with PC gaming.
In fact, you'd need one hell of a powerful (expensive) PC to get Call of Duty 2 running the way it looks on 360. This is a superb looking game, with a huge amount of graphical detail. Of the initial line-up of Xbox 360 games from Activision, I'd say this is the first (and probably only) one of them to really make much use of the system's technical capabilities.
The sound quality is stellar and does a tremendous job of creating an immersive atmosphere. The audio definitely adds to the drama and intensity of the action; with bullets whizzing by, explosions... exploding and plenty of convincing chatter, from allies and enemies alike. Top it off with some appropriately rousing Saving Private Ryan- esque music and you have what I'd describe as one of the best sounding games for this (or any) format so far. Aurally, Call of Duty 2 is damn near perfect.
You all know what to expect as far as the gameplay goes, as covered in previous reviews at Buttonhole. Call of Duty on 360 is nothing new really, but boy is it done well! The polish shines through in every area and the intensity and fun factor are set at an exceptionally high level.
The sheer amount of content will keep any gamer busy for ages - with adjustable difficulty levels to suit your skills, enormous and nicely varied environments, heaps of different weapons to use and vehicles to control. As if that isn't enough, you can go online and enjoy some awesome multi-player action, for as long as your heart desires.
When it comes to making epic, authentic feeling and great fun FPS war games, Call of Duty 2's developers are true masters. The first game reviewed in my buyer's guide is also my first recommended purchase for Xbox 360 owners. I'll aim my sniper rifle, squeeze the trigger and score 9.5 out of 11 for this cracker of a game.
X-Men: The Official Game
The third X-Men movie seemed to please some fans, while others where left very disappointed. I won't go into my thoughts on that, yet - I'll save it for when I receive my review copy of the DVD (which is on its way, right now, from our mates at 20th Century Fox). Regardless, I think we could all agree that, at the very least, X-Men: The Last Stand featured some spectacular, eye popping visuals.
This game, on the other hand, would be unlikely to impress anyone with its looks. X-Men: The Official Game is a port of the very same title that was released on 'current generation' formats. I gather it looks somewhat better in High Definition (as you'd expect, really). But, looking at it on my humble standard TV, you'd be hard pressed to tell this 360 game from the regular Xbox version graphically. It doesn't look terrible, some parts are very nice even, but it sure isn't what you'd hope to see from a console with the 360's amount of grunt.
Unfortunately, X-Men's gameplay is even more underwhelming than its graphics. There are three controllable characters; Wolverine, Iceman and Nightcrawler - each with their own sets of levels, that make use of their individual powers. So you'd assume that would translate into a decent amount of variety. At first, it does indeed seem that's the case, as getting to grips with each of the trio's abilities starts off quite entertaining. Several levels later though and the game takes a one way trip to dullsville. Here's the rundown on the character's playing style:
Wolvie is the straight up brawler, striking and slicing his way through legions of foes in standard beat-em-up style action. As he's the most popular character, it is a shame that he has the weakest levels - basically just mashing the buttons in constant fights that quickly get as dull and predictable as Daryl Somers.
Initially, I found Nightcrawler's levels to be the most enjoyable of the three - at first "bamfing" all over the place using his teleporting skills was, by far, the highlight of the game. The blue guy's agility has been captured well, with some smooth control mechanics, meaning you'll soon have him zooming about the levels with ease, teleporting behind unsuspecting enemies and beating them senseless. Sadly though, this thrill was short lived. The action is again very repetitious, with little sense of exploration on offer, thanks to rather claustrophobic level design. As you're continually beating up the same foes, essentially the Nightcrawler stages tend to degenerate into the same button mashing monotony as the Wolverine sections, but at least they do it with a tad more panache.
Iceman is a little bit more refreshing to use - cruising around the sky on ice slides and shooting foes with his projectiles; his sections feature more of a shoot-em-up type of action, which makes a nice change from the other guys. But this too gets repetitive pretty quickly and Iceman is soon left wishing he was half as cool (sorry about the pun) as Frozone from The Incredibles.
Activision have published some excellent titles with the X-Men licence (like this one), but I'm afraid X-Men: The Official Game doesn't belong on that list. About the best thing I can say about it is that they at least tried to give it a decent plot, to tie it in with the film. It didn't work, but I appreciate the attempt. Also of some consolation (maybe) is the fact that there have been plenty of movie tie-in games that are far worse than this.
I'll use my mutant scoring skill to give the game 6.5 out of 11. For those who love the characters, it has a few cool moments that mean it would be worth a rental, but I can't really recommend a purchase here.
Quantity and quality- Here's Ubisoft
Ubisoft has been one of the strongest publishers for Xbox 360 from the start and that doesn't look set to change, as they have plenty more great games on the way. Their initial line-up for the system is pretty impressive, with the likes of Blazing Angels and these two games I'm about to discuss. The first is one of the best received games so far on the format and the second is one of my longtime personal favourites.
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
Due to its stupidly long title (and because, truthfully, most gamers don't really give a crap about the Tom Clancy part) this game is more popularly referred to by the acronym GRAW. Not to be confused with GWAR. Mind you, many people reckon this game rocks as hard as Beavis and Butthead believe that band does.
GRAW was, I believe, the first 360 game to use an engine especially made to harness the console's power. Therefore it was also the first one to really get people oohing and aahing over its fancy graphics. Fair enough too, as they are magnificent and clearly a step above anything that could be achieved on the previous generation of hardware.
Here's where I have to make an embarrassing confession...I have only played the first couple of levels of GRAW. That might well be enough to get me locked up for a few weeks by the geek police. So, if I go missing again, someone please come and bail me out. Prison is no place for a man as pretty as me!
As you'd all probably know, GRAW has been pretty much universally acclaimed, by the gaming press and consumers alike and is generally considered to be one of the 'must have' titles for Xbox 360. In fact, according to most sources, GRAW was probably the first 'killer app' (not Buttonhole's Killer App) for the system.
The brief time I've spent with it makes me believe all the praise is justified. I have been keeping it on the sidelines, with every intention to give it a massive amount of playing time as soon as I have some spare. But my plans rarely go smoothly. Basically, along with my usual health troubles, I've since remained constantly overwhelmed, with numerous other Buttonhole-related activities going on and a shitload of other titles eating away my playing hours. As a matter of fact, my addiction to another Ubisoft published title - Dragon Quest on PS2 - would have to qualify as one of those "time eating" offenders!
I can positively assure everyone that I will, eventually, give GRAW all the attention it (apparently) so richly deserves. For now though, I figured it'd be poor form to leave such a lauded game out of my Xbox 360 buyers guide; hence this "review" - despite my lack of hands on experience. I hope you can tell that, usually, both me and the rest of team Buttonhole spend extensive time getting familiar with any products we review. Okay then, here are the initial impressions of GRAW I can safely say I've gathered thus far:
The outstanding graphical detail really creates a compelling mood, with awesome lighting effects and textures; the games opening levels (at least!) feel very lifelike. For instance, the sense of heat conveyed by GRAW's swanky graphics engine is so convincing, I almost started sweating. When I come back to the game, I'll be sure to keep a can of deodorant handy, just in case!
This is a highly challenging game; while it does provide the player with some handy training to kick things off, it is obvious from the word go that you'll need to bring you're A-game to succeed here. You always have a heap of things to keep track of (both for yourself and your fellow squad mates) and the enemy AI level is high. Therefore, you best be wearing your 'concentration cap' at all times.
The game's plot appears to be very solid and I reckon before long it would grab you enough that you'd want to keep playing, to see how it all unfolds.
There are a multitude of very cool weapons and gadgets to use and the environments are massive; in this regard it reminds me of classics like GoldenEye 64, which leads me to assume there'll be plenty of room for experimentation and there will rarely be a dull moment. With such a huge array of actions involved, the controls are implemented very well; I soon had the gist of things enough that I wasn't staring at the control pad every 30 seconds, trying to remember what button I needed to use next.
Normally I would hesitate to offer any judgement on a game I've experienced so briefly. But, for all those reasons I just went through, I do feel quite confident in saying GRAW warrants a place in everyone's Xbox 360 game library. I checked out a whole heap of reviews of the game, to get an idea of what people (who I consider qualified), thought of its quality and every single one of them was extremely positive. They also all raved about its Xbox Live multi-player modes, so I am now looking forward to getting stuck into that side of it too.
I really can't give it an honest rating of my own just yet. However, just this once, I'm going to cheat a bit and say, because I was so impressed by the couple of levels I did play - and taking into account the huge wraps everyone else has given it - I believe it is most likely I'd wind up giving Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter a very high rating. Probably as high as, say, 10 out of 11. However, when I finally get around to playing it properly, if I decide otherwise I'll be sure to say so!
Sorry if this is a bit of cop-out on my behalf. To make up for it (and to prove how much faith I have in what everyone's told me about the game's quality), I'll make you an offer: Go ahead and purchase GRAW (if you don't already own it, obviously). If you are legitimately unhappy with the game and can explain to me well enough why that is, I will compensate you by personally providing you with any Xbox 360 game of your choice. I am asking for trouble here, aren't I? Jesus...I'm such an idiot.
Far Cry Instincts Predator
Phew, it feels a whole lot easier for me to talk about this one without any reservations! I don't have to give you any "haven't given it much time yet" explanations/excuses here. Old Sammy has definitely endulged in many doses of Far Cry action. I played a heap of the PC original and I played even more of the Xbox version, Far Cry Instincts. I was so taken with that one, in my review I called it the best FPS game on Xbox (which I still believe it is/was). The first 360 Far Cry game is a conversion of that awesome game. It also includes all the levels from the follow up (which was more like an extensive expansion pack than a sequel, really) Far Cry Predator. Putting this badboy through its paces on my 360 resulted in me getting quite hooked on Far Cry all over again!
First things first - if you already have Far Cry Instincts and/or Predator on Xbox, is it still worth getting the 360 version? That really depends on how big a fan you are of the game. If you're on a tight budget, you should probably pass and get something you've never played before instead. If you can afford it and/or you love the game, this port has been tweaked just enough that it could entice you to part with the moolah. While there's no doubt that this is the best version of Far Cry currently available, the upgrades are relatively minor.
As for 360 gamers who don't already have the originals; you shouldn't think twice about adding Far Cry Instincts Predator to your collection. It was a superb game to begin with and the additional levels of polish it has been given enable it to now rock even harder than ever.
The Xbox Far Cry looked better than a game running on that hardware had any right to. Graphically I still consider it to be, overall, the most impressive title for that system.
So, although the 360 port isn't a huge visual improvement, this is still a tremendously attractive game. The water, in particular, looks even more stunning now and I was rather blown away by that. But pretty much everything has been spruced up a tad, so this is just a gorgeous game all around. I can't wait to see what these guys can do with a game built from the ground up to make use of the 360's hardware.
I've already spoken about the gameplay, and so on, in my reviews of the other versions, so I'll not repeat all that here. One thing I should mention though, is that I found the game's controls on 360 to be a little smoother than before (though I'm not certain whether that's due to it being tweaked, or just the fact that I'm now far more familiar with the game). Oh and don't forget about all the Far Cry multiplayer goodness; that's been beefed up here as well, so there's something else you can get hooked on!
What more can I say? I am a big Far Cry fan. I was only too happy to play this again on 360, even though it is basically the same game I already went through on Xbox. It was a great game then and is an ever greater game now. Plus, here you also get all those Predator levels included on the same disc, making it excellent value for money. Because it is the same basic game, those who've already played the hell out of it on Xbox probably won't be awe struck by this port. For them, I'd score it 7.5 out of 11. However, for newcomers to the game (and/or those who love Far Cry as much as I do), I'd rate Far Cry Instincts Predator 9.5 out of 11.
Coming up next, in accordance with conventional numerical progression, shall be Part 2!
I hope you enjoyed the first part of my Xbox 360 Software Buyer's Guide Spectacular. I will start the second half with a look at some 360 titles published by THQ - who I am very fond of, since they release some great stuff and were also Buttonhole's first official supporter. As well as that, included in Part 2, will be my coverage of what I consider the three best Xbox 360 games currently available (of those that I have personally played, at least). Get your wireless control pads charged up and I'll see you again soon.
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