Doozie Dozen - 6th Generation Games: Xbox & PS2
I had been a Sony Playstation owner and felt really good about that decision because most of my friends had N64 and I really didn't like the games that much or the controller. PS1 had some great horror games and sports games as well as the Final Fantasy series. When Microsoft announced that they were launching a console for the next generation there was a lot of hype. They ran television commercials often and the Xbox looked totally bad ass. I remember going to an HMV record store where they had a PS2 and Xbox to play test. For me, the Xbox controller was a huge improvement. When I found out that they had a small version of the controller I was almost sold on the system. However, it was the exclusive games to Xbox that clinched it, especially the Halo series and the KOTOR series. I have been pretty dedicated to Xbox ever since. That being said, Blockbuster video was still a big deal when I bought my Xbox and I decided to occasionally rent the PS2 to test out games like God of War and Metal Gear Solid 3. In fact, I currently own a PS2 because it is such a robust machine. This list is my top twelve selections for best Xbox games and I have added some bonus PS2 games at the end.
12. The Warriors (2005)
I am a big cult movie fan and I have been playing GTA games since the beginning of the series. So it was exciting to play Rockstar's game for The Warriors movie. The story followed the movie nicely and the 3rd person view was a little more intimate than GTA games. There was a good amount of missions and activities between missions. The controls were simple to master and most brawls were straightforward for a beat'em up. The map could have been bigger, but was consistent with the movie narrative in focusing on the gang being from Coney Island, NY. The music soundtrack was excellent and I actually found some of my favourite songs through the game.
11. The Suffering (2004)
The Suffering was an absolutely brilliant iteration of the horror game because it improved many of the "suspenseful" frustrations of other horror games such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill. The Suffering has the same dark and scary mood as most horror games, except movement is fast, there is a surplus of weapons/ammo and there aren't many puzzles to slow the game down. The story for the campaign was very interesting as a death-row inmate, Torque, has to escape a prison island that has been taken over by supernatural monsters. There are alternate endings and Torque has the ability to fly into a rage where he is virtually indestructible for a short period of time.
10. Outlaw Golf 2 (2002)
As a gamer, I am most interested in compelling narratives. I enjoy being the director-protagonist in an adventure that grants me control and choice. However, I play a lot of different games and have always put in hours into sports games. Amped and NHL Hitz were big games for me when I first got my Xbox and they were games that my friends enjoyed playing when we hung out. A sports game that I played a lot on my own was Outlaw Golf 2. There was great progression for a sports game with lots of clubs, courses, characters and outfits to unlock. The game is a parody of golf but the mechanics are crisp for what one would expect from a golf game. The controls are intuitive and there are bonus games that can be played during a round. There are a lot of fun cut-scenes that match up nicely with the lowbrow theme.
9. Star Wars Republic Commando (2005)
There was a demo for Republic Commando on the KOTOR disc. I remember trying it out and thinking that the game was going to be awesome. I bought the game despite it being pretty expensive at the time and I wasn't disappointed. There weren't many different environments, but the levels were long and intricate. It was a standard 1st person shooter but had a tactical element where the three squadmates could be set up strategically to help pass difficult areas. There were attachments for the main rifle, but non-rifle ammo could be hard to come by. The characters in the game meshed well with the narrative from Star Wars Episode 1 and 2 and you got to ally with Wookies and fight against Geonosians. For the KOTOR fans, there was also a big focus on Trandoshan slavers. The controls were easy to master and targeting was intuitive. This was one of the best shooters for Xbox.
8. Gun (2005)
I could put this game in the Xbox 360 list because I am pretty sure I actually played it on 360, however, it was also released for original Xbox. The story for Gun is one of the best in games and the campaign plays out like a classic Western movie. In addition, the voice work is an all-star Hollywood cast, featuring Thomas Jane, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Lance Henriksen, Brad Dourif and Tom Skerritt. The musical score by Christopher Lennertz was excellent. The player is given the opportunity to slow down the campaign by exploring a very large world and participating in a variety of bonus activities that mesh well with the narrative theme. The game is a third-person shooter and there is a lot of nuance in the movement and shooting mechanics which allows for mastery and the ability to replay the game on a harder level of difficulty. There was a neat quickdraw mode when the player is overwhelmed with enemies and it was also pretty easy to shoot while on horseback. The game erroneously came under fire by the legion of fascist pinkos for the representation of native Americans. I know that pinkos would love to rewrite history to preserve the perceived hurt feelings of the disenfranchised but that is ultimately a worse form of fascism than the crimes of Western imperialists hundreds of years ago - those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat its failures, therefore we have to preserve history as it was. The game's representations were historically accurate and there was nothing problematic about it whatsoever - Natives and non-Natives could be spiritually corrupt or loyal allies in the game. The treatment was very even, so don't believe the hype... did I say hype? I mean, bullshit.
7. Halo/Halo 2 (2001/2004)
Halo was one of the primary reasons that I bought the Xbox instead of the Playstation 2. Halo is one of the greatest shooter franchises of all time. The controls are intuitive and easy to master and there was a decent variety of weapons in the first two games. The theme, story and environment was very new for games when Halo launched. The topology of the Halo ring was a marvel and there was an interesting variety of vehicles available to explore the environment. The enemies had good variety where the Covenant soldiers had simple grunts and elite guards. The flood felt annoying when I first played the game, but on replays I really appreciate the difference between the Flood and the Covenant. Halo 2 seemed like one of the greatest game sequels because the campaign was so damn long. The game just kept going and going. They just don't make games like that anymore.
6. Spartan: Total Warrior (2005)
Spartan Total Warrior is the hack-and-slash par excellence. Usually, hack and slash games are bunk whereby the button mashing has your thumbs bleeding, the enemies are all the same and the narrative is non-existent. Spartan was the total opposite to these canonical trends. Spartan has a very compelling story and each of the first missions allows the player to gain powerful new weapons from the defeated bosses. The weapons all have unique power strikes. The narrative educates the player on cultural aspects of ancient Roman times, but also weaves in supernatural elements from Greek mythology. The player also has allies that are worth protecting while hacking away at hundreds of foes at once. Despite the massive carnage on the screen, I never experienced performance issues with the game. Ares as a final boss was a worthy foe to finish off a great story. The game actually seems rare on the market right now and there aren't a lot of gameplay videos for it. Part of this can be explained - unfortunately, Spartan Total Warrior is one of the few great Xbox games that isn't reverse compatible to Xbox 360.
5. The Punisher (2004)
First things first, this game was much better than any Punisher movie that has been made to date. The story had a lot of awesome cameos appearances from characters in the Marvel comic book universe. The story involves Frank Castle recalling how he ended up in a cell on Ryker's Island while being interrogated by two cops. Each memory becomes a playable mission in the game. There are a lot of different environments and bosses. The Punisher must battle the Kingpin, Jigsaw, Bullseye and Buckwacker, to name a few. He can be allied with Nick Fury and Black Widow, while Daredevil makes an appearance in cut-scenes and Iron Man comes to the Punisher's aid in one of the later levels. There are a lot of weapons to choose from and Frank can perform interrogations on enemies. There are special interrogation locations if you have a keen eye. In addition, the points system is highly developed and high scores are achieved when Frank uses meat shields effectively. High scores also become points that can be spent at the safehouse to upgrade Frank's abilities. When the campaign is over, you long for a sequel.
4. Def Jam Fight For NY (2004)
Fight for NY, like Spartan Total Warrior, was unfortunately not made backward compatible with the Xbox 360. I would say that this is one of the best games of the generation because there was a lengthy, fulfilling campaign as well as a wide variety of multiplayer modes. The story involves the player being an underground prize fighter. His opponents are all famous rap musicians who are also all voiced by the real deals. Snoop Dogg plays the main villain and is the final boss for the game. There are a lot of different venues for fights and each victory awards the player with points and money. Money can be spent to highly customize the player with unique outfits, accessories, jewelry, tattoos and haircuts. The points can be spend on learning new fighting disciplines and on purchasing special moves. The player can use four special finishes at any time and rotate them out between matches. There is so much to do in this game and it is a shame that they tried to get fancy with sequels and failed miserably.
3. Hitman 2/Hitman Contracts (2002/2004)
Hitman games are some of my favourites. There are a decent amount of levels, but the way the game is played is to use stealth and tactics in order to control the environment. Spaces are hermetic and NPC movements are patterned. Hitman games are the chess of shooters. You have several options for how to play through a level - run-and-gun or silent assassin, with every other possibility in between. At the end of the level, you get a rating based on how bloody the mission was and how silent you were as a contract killer. There are objectives that need to be met, which almost always means a mark to kill. The story in Hitman 2 and Hitman Contracts slowly explores the life of Agent 47 and teases out some of his mysteries in a fulfilling way. Each mission in Contracts is very different from the previous one and most take place in different countries. The option to take costumes and try to blend in with the surrounding population is an important one, but there are greater in-game rewards for completing contracts in the iconic Agent 47 black suit. Hitman games can frustrate a lot of people who don't find satisfaction from running and gunning but also can't bring themselves to being disciplined as gamers and learning the levels inside and out. I learned the levels of these two games thoroughly and the replay value of Hitman games is incredible.
2. Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2005)
Both of the Star Wars Battlefront games for Xbox are excellent, but the sequel stands out as superior. There were some tweaks made on mechanics that made shooting, targeting and movement smoother. Also, there are playable Jedi, Sith and mercenaries familiar from the Star Wars franchise. The environments are varied and many correspond to particular special characters (Yoda on Dagobah or Jango Fett on Kamino). Each special character has more powerful weapons than the standard soldier classes and lightsabers are particularly effective in battle. With a Jedi or Sith boss being played from the onset, a mission can be won within seconds, whereas when restricted to regular soldiers, the round will go on much longer. There are vehicles to use that are most useful for getting from base node to base node. Controlling all the nodes takes away the opponent's ability to spawn units and the round will be won. There are space battles where winning is achieved through disabling major systems on the opponent's carrier. The spacecraft can be used to break down system from the exterior or the player can fly into the enemy hangar and take down critical systems and shields on the inside. Most levels are ground-based battles and depending on which side you fight for, there may be NPC allies that are used in addition to the standard outlay of troops. Troop classes are unlocked with points from victories. The galactic map is extensive but there is a distinct web of routes that restricts movement. There are different game modes and the galactic map has two different eras and a choice of "good guys" or "bad guys" to play as. The campaign mode in Battlefront 2 was an added bonus. A familiar Star Wars narrative is played out in the campaign and familiarizes the player with the different environments and hazards. Also, permanent bonuses can be unlocked from high achievements in individual rounds. Finally, there is a free-for-all game mode on Mos Eisley which involves on the special characters.
1. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 1/2 (2003/2004)
It is hard to pick a favourite out of the two KOTOR games as each has an incredible story and array of characters. These games are RPGs and the world created around the player has a very special aura. There are a lot of options with dialogue trees and the player can customize the personality of their character through how they play. The allied characters and other NPCs will react to decisions very differently depending on choices made in behaviour and attitude by the player. In KOTOR 2, you can actually affect the light-dark alignment of your allies and depending on how you gain influence with them, can eventually train them to be Jedi or Sith. There are a variety of melee, ranged and Jedi/Sith weapons to use and in KOTOR 2 the workbench becomes an invaluable device for upgrading weapons and getting the edge in large battles or boss fights. The player can highly customize their character with attributes, feats and powers, choosing to play reliant on ranged attacks, melee attacks or force powers. This game cannot be described briefly, but one can understand its influence in gaming when considering that the petition to have a KOTOR 3 got one hundred thousand plus signatures online. Many gamers were extremely unhappy with the choice of LucasArts to make a PC MMO for the KOTOR sequel. I haven't even played it yet, but after watching gameplay videos online, probably won't either. The difference between the environments in KOTOR I and KOTOR II is very influential - the ruin of the galaxy in KOTOR II generates a significant amount of pathos and that is why it would be suggested to play KOTOR I before KOTOR II.
Bonus: Playstation 2
Most of the games in the list above are not exclusive to Xbox and could be played on Playstation 2 as well. In that respect, there is little point in doing an entire PS2 best games list because it would be so similar to the Xbox list. That being said, there were some titles for PS2 that were exclusive to the system and worthy of mention here. This is my top 6 games for PS2 list.
6. God of War (2005)
5. GTA San Andreas (2004)
4. Metal Gear Solid 2 (2001)
3. Resident Evil 4 (2005)
2. Metal Gear Solid 3 (2004)
1. Muppets Party Cruise (2003)
Muppets Party Cruise is arguably the best party game of all time. Some honourable mentions for both systems: State of Emergency, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy.