Doozie Dozen - Xbox 360 Games
The original Xbox wasn't a reliable piece of hardware, but once I took it to the game shop to get the fan power bumped up, it never caused me grief until it was on its last legs in 2007. At that point, it was time to get a console from the next generation. There were three reasons that I stayed loyal to Xbox and purchased a 360: the controller was still ergonomically more to my liking than that of Playstation, I had been impressed with the array of games for Xbox and most of them were still playable on the 360, and finally, I needed to play Gears of War. The advertisements on television for Gears of War blew me away and then at one point I was invited to a buddy's party and there were a group of dudes playing Gears in the living room. I didn't get an opportunity to try the game but it looked amazing. I bought the Xbox 360 and have had no regrets. I never got a great opportunity to try out the PS3 and really only played some Uncharted 2, but I only have time for one console at a time, so I still believe that I made the right decision. This list is my top twelve Xbox 360 games for their narratives, specifically. There are other games that were excellent for their gameplay and online multiplayer formats (COD Black Ops, Rainbow Six Vegas 2, Battlefield 2, etc.) but this list focuses on the games that had the best campaigns and engaging stories.
12. Resident Evil Revelations (2012)
This game plays very similarly to most Resident Evil games, except that the camera tracks the character a little more intimately. The narrative is structured non-linearly as two separate story lines develop and eventually converge. The location of the story is an infected cruise ship which is a novel environment that provides vastly different areas aesthetically. The weapons upgrade system is easy to understand, but like all Resident Evil games ammunition is severely rationed. There is also a worthwhile survival mode in the game. The nice thing about the two story lines in the plot is that the player sometimes approaches the same area at different times and the characters late to the party play up an investigative role. Having greater knowledge than the characters is a pretty unique experience for a narrative-heavy horror game.
11. Hitman Blood Money (2006)
Hitman games have unique narratives because they have very discrete missions, each one often set in a new city or country. Agent 47's character is slowly developed throughout Hitman games often through flashback cinematic cut-scenes between missions. Blood Money has missions with a nuanced plot development. There are two major story lines that conceive multiple games of cat-and-mouse. This works well for an espionage/contract killer genre game. One story line involves a former CIA director's intention to find Agent 47 and kill him while the other story line deals with one of the assassin agency's agents who recently went rogue. The rogue agent is devising a plot to kill the Vice-President of the United States and one of the final missions takes place at the White House. Hitman Contracts is very dark, whereas the Blood Money missions have a lot of humour and the locations and marks are fun and lively.
10. Crackdown (2007)
Crackdown has a third-person view similar to GTA IV, but there is the possibility to scale buildings and parkour (much like, Assassin's Creed games) with super powers and state-of-the-art weapons. In effect, the game combines elements from several other successful game genres and styles of shooters. The three major environments are noticeably different and the overall map is quite large. It is a shame that the sequel to this game is so poor. Crackdown has a series of interesting and unique bosses and taking them out can be done strategically. The player is in control of a special unit police officer whose personality and body are separately honed, maintained and fitted for intense gang warfare combat. When the body dies in the field, a new body is spawned and the personality housed in it. It is a creative explanation for infinite spawns, even if a little far-fetched. The story involves the police agency taking out the three different gangs, which in itself is straightforward and simple, but there is a fun twist at the end that makes the story unique. There is a time trial mode that is worthwhile, whereby the player takes out particular bosses on their home turf. The gang bosses are creatively imagined and disseminated into the world giving rise to an informal narrative that is very engaging.
9. Halo 3 (2007)
To be frank, Halo and Halo 2 have better narratives than Halo 3, however, with the addition of brutes there is a new dimension to the Covenant as an enemy. In addition, the Flood are made more interesting when Master Chief has to enter one of the Flood's primary nodes. What makes the narrative noteworthy and appropriate for this list is primarily the fact that it is the last Halo game focused on campaign mode and the overall story. After Halo 3, the Halo games have pandered to youth culture's superficial expression of uniqueness and immature desire to feel special through repetitively-bunk online gameplay and endless customization of characters.
8. Gears of War 2 (2008)
Gears 2 vastly improved on the game mechanics and online game modes from its predecessor. The story is engaging and memorable but didn't have the nuanced character development and brothers-in-arms pathos that existed in Gears of War. That being said, Skorge, is a worthy boss and follow-up to the epic, General Raam. Other characters are introduced that open up the narrative and make the game about more than just Marcus's quest to find his father and Dom's quest to find his wife. Anya Stroud's character is developed through cut-scenes as a prelude to her involvement as a playable character in Gears of War 3. Like Halo, when game franchises start to focus on online multiplayer, usually the campaign mode suffers greatly. Gears has attempted to stave off this trend as their franchise has developed sequels, but it is ultimately a losing battle.
7. Army of Two (2008)
Army of Two has a similar 3rd-person view to Gears of War and the gameplay mechanics are almost as fluid marking it as one of the best 3rd-person shooters of its generation. The story is very engaging with the option to play as either one of the two very likable private military contractors, Rios and Salem. Their snappy patter during missions keeps things light while the player mows through waves of terrorist soldiers in multiple mission environments. Ultimately, Rios and Salem must stop a rogue agent from their own agency. That element of the plot is hackneyed in games, but the rogue agent, Clyde, is very well-developed as a detestable creep making it worthwhile to complete the campaign. There have been two sequels to Army of Two that weren't very good in comparison to the original.
6. Darksiders (2010)
The story of Darksiders is based on the Christian lore of the Rapture and the unleashing of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse across Earth. The developers took the Christian mythos and blended it with that of several pagan religions. The gameplay is third-person hack-and-slash but there is a good number of enemies to not make progression slogged down with bunk button-mashing battles. The environments are truly unique and different from each other while the playable character, War, gets to battle against the forces of Heaven and Hell - occasionally all at once. The story is well-crafted but the overall plot is familiar enough to most mature Westerners that it almost feels important ethically to see the campaign through to the end.
5. Borderlands (2009)
Borderlands cleverly juxtaposes familiar post-apocalyptic post-modern tales with a brand new science fiction universe organized around conglomerate corporations and the pirates that prey on their greedy oversight. There are mystical alien powers in this universe and they left a legendary treasure somewhere on a barren planet now controlled by pirates. Corporation administrators and pirate gangs have been tracking down the location of the treasure. The player can choose from one of four mercenaries that jumps into the mix and begins the hunt for the ultimate treasure against a band of ruthless, cannibalistic pirates. There are a lot of different areas to explore and thousands of customized weapons to choose from. The bosses are memorable and generate unique auras for environmental regions that otherwise seem pretty similar.
4. Assassin's Creed 2 (2009)
The first Assassin's Creed did have a great story, but the gameplay was very repetitive which broke up the action and diminished from the overall effect of the plot. The sequel corrected all previous mistakes. The playable character is young, brash, Ezio Auditore and yet, he is charming and brave. His adventures through 15th century Italy are memorable for the extremely well-researched environments and famous edifices. The corrupt Pope Alexander VI makes for an ominous threat throughout the game. In fact, Ezio's adventure is so epic that it spawned two sequels prior to Ubisoft developing a new character for the AC series. The finale in Rome is cleverly constructed not only as a tease, but to refute the inevitable conflation of historical eras that most gamers would have drawn out.
3. Hitman Absolution (2012)
This Hitman game redefined the franchise. The missions are intricately connected around a single story. Agent 47 begins by assassinating his former handler in the agency, Diana. That in itself is incredibly dramatic for any of the Hitman fans. Diana's dying request is that 47 protect another engineered assassin like himself from the clutches of the agency. 47 is put to task and must hide the girl from contract killers sent by the agency. In the meantime, he manages to get framed for a murder in a hotel, leading to a Chicago-wide manhunt by the police. To be honest, the story spins a little out of control when there are so many different contract killers in the game. Each assassin is effectively relegated to a cameo role, however, this works perfectly for a Hitman game that is accustomed to focusing on discrete missions. The story and gameplay are married perfectly through some creative genius on the part of the developers.
2. Gears of War (2006)
Gears of War has one of the best science fiction premises of all time which was effectively ruined through the developers' appeasing of "smarks" and forcing a progression of story that actually detracts from what was potentially a better developed backstory for the fictional universe. In this first game, the enemy, Locust Horde is only known as having been spawned coincidentally with the aggressive warlike behaviour of the humanoid civilization of the planet, Sera reaching a terminal point (nuclear holocaust). It seems that fighting the Horde only leads to more waves of enemies being spawned - as if their legions are subject to the very hatred of the humanoids. That connection would have been extremely clever as a major plot point, however, the sequels pandered to the smarks and what resulted was a rather banal story based on the famous Reptilian conspiracy lore of our human race (namely, that Homo Sapiens chased evolved bipedal Reptiles into underground catacombs across Earth). Unfortunately, the story development in Gears borrows from a naive tale of humanity. It would have been far more interesting to explain the Locust as more symbiotic spiritually with the humanoids of Sera. Then the implication becomes that to defeat the Locust Horde requires that humanoids give up the fight, surrender and be slaughtered. Thus, the fight will always be a zero-sum game, tension would be absolute and the stakes at an all-time high. The game would have taken the purpose of a shooter (to kill or be killed) and interwoven it with the purpose of the fighting armies in the diegetic world of the game. Blasted! A shame that game developers have traditionally been ludologists, caring little for narrative development and often relying on sub-par authors to craft their stories.
1. GTA IV (2008)
Niko Bellic is as iconic to video games as Lara Croft or Solid Snake... and he is only featured in a single game. GTA IV has a very extensive story with episodes and events that span a massive environment. The player is granted the choice to progress the main story or to take time off from that and develop friendships and romantic relationships with a variety of characters in the game. In addition, Niko can be developed as a professional car thief, taxi cab driver or phony undercover cop, although these roles are often best-suited as pastimes. The main story involves Niko redeeming himself for guilt he experienced as a soldier in Serbian civil wars. Niko is granted the opportunity to save the life of his cousin, Roman. While he manages Roman's safety, dozens of illegitimate opportunities are made available to Niko. Niko is even granted a few chances to spare some of his marks on assassination missions thus allowing the player to develop Niko's character in a customized way. It isn't all sex, drugs and rock n' roll in GTA IV and Niko has an interesting character that help raise the stakes of what would otherwise be a frivolous drama.