Usually, when you get a new-to-you console, you can usually find or remember the major games to check out. But what happens when you need something different to play? This is where the “Hidden Gems” come in.
Read More About My Criteria For Hidden Gems
See All The Hidden Gems Articles
Not only are all these games great additions for an original XBox game library, but many of them are playable on the XBox 360 as well. If you are fortunate enough to have a 360, I have marked the backwards-compatible titles with this icon .
Sonic the Hedgehog, Spyro, Blinx, Conker: Live & Reloaded
Featured Game: Psychonauts
“Psychonauts is, at its core, a platformer. However, unlike the typical platformers of the current generation, this is a free-roaming adventure that removes almost every restriction. The camp grounds in which Raz can explore are large and there are a number of hard to reach areas which will challenge your platforming acumen. And if you hope to collect everything in Psychonauts, you’ll need to explore every inch of the campgrounds. And there’s a lot to collect…
As much fun as I had with the gameplay, it’s the humor of Psychonauts that really makes it worthwhile. The first half of Psychonauts is unbelievably funny… The only problem with making a funny game is that the minute it stops being funny, it becomes glaringly obvious. The last few hours of Psychonauts, while dotted wth some humorous moments, just isn’t as off-the-wall laugh-so-loud-you-wake-up-your-girlfriend funny as the earlier moments.
Actually, Psychonauts is an attractive game, even if it’s best described as having “a lot of personality.” Though some of the texture work isn’t that hot and Raz isn’t exactly overflowing with sly animations, the environments are vivid and original. Though I miss the boring gray walls of endless buildings and rehashed environments in every first-person shooter, I just love the look of Psychonauts. Each level is so unique that there’s little that could be re-used from one level to the next. There’s absolutely no sense of repetition here and each environment perfectly fits the situation. Art is about more than hi-res textures and specular highlighting — it’s also about design and Psychonauts has design out the wazoo.
IGN’s Review of Psychonauts
Find Psychonauts: eBay / Amazon)
Featured Game: Voodoo Vince
“Voodoo Vince is a fun-loving and solidly built action/platform game in search of a little magic. You guide a cute little voodoo doll who’s on a quest to rescue his creator from an evil magic man and restore order to the secret world of magic in New Orleans. The Big Easy locales help the cartoon visuals score major style points, and they set the stage for some great Dixieland-style jazz licks in the audio score, too.
The game plays like an homage to the platform action made popular by a shipload of titles before it, including Donkey Kong. But so much of it is familiar that it walks a tightrope between being fresh and being too derivative.
Vince, however, features one-of-a-kind combat action in keeping with his voodoo-doll origins. Beat him up in all manner of goofy, insane ways, and you don’t hurt him, but you will damage his enemies. For instance, summoning a magic anvil smashes Vince, but his foes wind up flatter than yesterday’s pancakes! The 30 voodoo attacks are a little masochistic but they’re a ton of fun. The controls do a masterful job of keeping that voodoo you do in order, too. Vehicle races with mini-jets and fanboats, and a nice array of mini-games round out Vince’s challenges.”
GamePro’s Review of Voodoo Vince
Find Voodoo Vince: eBay / Amazon)
Ninja Gaiden, Spiderman, Star Wars, MechAssault, Advent Rising, More
Featured Game: Jet Set Radio Future
“The gameplay in Jet Set Radio Future, much like the story, mixes old and new elements. While the game’s core gameplay is unchanged–you’ll still get around the streets with magnetically charged skates and collect spray paint cans that you’ll use to spray graffiti on your surroundings–some of the mechanics and control have been tweaked. You’ll find the same basic control layout as in Jet Grind Radio, but with a few more control options. The left analog stick gives you analog control over your skater’s speed. Pressing down on the stick also lets you perform a controlled grind that is useful when tagging….
If you’ve played Jet Grind Radio, you’ll notice several changes to the way the new game handles. Tagging has been simplified to a single press of the R trigger when you’re near tagging icons. Holding down the trigger will automatically tag the larger pieces of graffiti made up of multiple icons. The mechanics for dashing have also changed–the basic dash used in Jet Grind Radio has been replaced by the much more potent “boost dash.” Essentially a turbo boost that uses up 10 cans of paint, boost dashing can be useful in many situations. Aside from the obvious increase in speed, the boost dash will also serve as an offensive attack that’s vital to dealing with Rokkaku forces later in the game.
Jet Set Radio Future also includes a complete trick system that is actually integral to gameplay. Performing tricks will increase your speed when grinding, which is essential for making some of the seemingly impossible jumps you’ll have to make. Trick combos are also vital to your success in other ways, as they will often let you reach new areas… Visually, Jet Set Radio Future stands as one of the Xbox’s best-looking games yet, and that’s saying a lot. The game’s cel-shaded graphics and distinct art style are incredibly beautiful–a definite improvement upon those of the Dreamcast predecessor, which also looked spectacular for its time…. Jet Set Radio Future’s sound is almost as good as its graphics. In keeping with the game’s massive size, Smilebit has assembled a truly eclectic mix of music that mingles tunes by JGR Vets Hideki Naganuma and Richard Jacques with pieces from the Latch Brothers and Cibo Matto. The end result doesn’t provide quite as cohesive an auditory experience as that found in the original Jet Grind Radio, due to some dissonant and sometimes grating tunes that stick out, but the music still suits the action very well overall, and there’s plenty of it.
GameSpot’s Review of Jet Set Radio Future
Find Jet Set Radio Future: eBay / Amazon
Featured Game: GunValkyrie
“I have a deep appreciation for GUNVALKYRIE in the same way that a boxer respects an opponent that he just KO’d in the 12th round. It’s about respect. It’s a game that will test your skill as a gamer because it’s so unforgiving and requires you to learn its deep and sophisticated philosophies. If you come into GV thinking you know how to handle it, you’ll spend a lot of time spinning your wheels playing the same levels over and over again. I like how GUNVALKYRIE smacks you down time and time again if you don’t learn the proper techniques that it’s trying to teach you and then perfect them. That’s immersion in a game at its finest….I don’t want to be overly critical of GUNVALKYRIE’s steep learning curve because all of the answers are right there in front of you, somewhere, while you’re playing and it all makes sense once you get the hang of it. But, in fact, that is the game’s one shortcoming: just an overall feeling of making things difficult for you. Even though it’s done on purpose and with good reason, I can easily see how this can turn off many gamers these days. With so many easy choices out there and so many instant gratification games on all systems, gamers have no reason to bang their heads against this Xbox game.”
IGN’s Review of GunValkyrie
Find GunValkyrie: eBay / Amazon
Featured Game: Breakdown
“At the heart of Breakdown’s gameplay is the fantastic first-person perspective from which the action and story unfolds. The 3D, first-person view goes much further than a traditional FPS title. Instead of just using a first-person “camera,” Breakdown provides more of realistic viewpoint as seen through the eyes of Derrick himself. Beyond the viewpoint of Derrick, players will also experience various physical effects that he undergoes. When you are attacked, Derrick will lose his balance as he suffers the force of a hit or kick from a deadly T’lan warrior. As Derrick falls to the floor, or is flipped upside down, players will also suffer a distorted and blurred view before they must right themselves and regain their position. This makes for some tricky combat situations because often times an attack could come from behind, so on top of being blindsided on your ass, you will also have to pick Derrick back up as well as turn to face the attacker to prevent a second ass beating.
It’s the subtle attention to detail that makes Breakdown such a fresh look at the first-person genre while also adding a more realistic experience than you may expect. For instance, as Derrick moves, he will grow tired, and as he runs he will breathe more heavily. This will make his body move slightly up and down as he breathes, which will be noticed by the first-person view. During the initial training exercises players will notice that even simple moves like climbing a ladder or traversing side to side while dangling from a ledge require a good deal more effort than expected. Most games simply require the player to look up and push forward to move up a ladder, but Breakdown deliberately incorporates the various steps actually taken to do so. Players will have to first reach their hand out with the action button and again hit the action button to grab the first rung of the ladder. Then as Derrick begins making his way up or down the ladder, the viewpoint can be controlled to look to the sides and up and down while moving. Rather than just shimmying up or down, players will watch as Derrick grabs each rung and makes his way along each step of the ladder, no matter how tall or short it may be.”
TeamXBox’s Review of Breakdown
Find Breakdown: eBay / Amazon
More Great Games:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (eBay / Amazon)
American McGee Presents Scrapland (eBay / Amazon)
Otogi (eBay / Amazon)
Otogi 2 (eBay / Amazon)
Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without A Pulse (eBay / Amazon)
Rogue Trooper (eBay / Amazon)
I-Ninja (eBay / Amazon)
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (eBay / Amazon)
Armed and Dangerous (eBay / Amazon)
Robotech: Battlecry (eBay / Amazon)
Spartan: Total Warrior (eBay / Amazon)
Red Dead Revolver (eBay / Amazon)
Phantom Crash (eBay / Amazon)
Nightcaster (eBay / Amazon)
Featured Game: Panzer Dragoon Orta
“A shooter with a solid storyline, stunning graphics, and great sound, Panzer Dragoon Orta looks to carry on the tradition of its predecessors. For many, this will be their first real introduction to the series. But don’t worry, Panzer novices can still enjoy the game and those who played the earlier versions will almost certainly be pleased. Panzer Dragoon Orta is the perfect way to start the new year and is the best rail shooter of all time. Period…
Panzer is heavy on shooting. In fact, you’ll have trouble finding many games where you do as much shooting as you do here. But unlike most shooters, where you must always kill to survive, many of the enemies in Orta don’t have to be shot in order to progress. The point of Panzer isn’t simply to beat a level or beat the game. It’s partly about experiencing the sights of Panzer’s world and partly about replaying levels to attain better rankings. There are plenty of creatures in Orta you won’t have to kill. But if you want a good rating (and you will want one, if this game is going to appeal to you), you’ll need to shoot down as many enemies as possible.
That’s, perhaps, what makes the Panzer formula so addictive. For all of its beauty and dazzle, the gameplay is pretty simple. You destroy and you try to avoid dying. There are no pits to leap over, no puzzles to solve. Your goal is to shoot down as many enemies as possible. Orta is, essentially, a throwback to old school gaming when a game only took a few hours to pass, but the gameplay was so addictive that you played it again and again. Like Frogger, Ms. Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., Contra, or the original Sonic, Panzer Dragoon Orta has an intangible extra that makes it worth playing again and again.
Old school gamers and fans of that brand of gameplay and feel will probably be able to enjoy Orta a bit more. Anyone who expects to get total control of a dragon, who wants to fly about like they’re playing Crimson Skies may be disappointed at first. This is a shooter on rails, not a dragon flight sim. It’s a fantastic game and as long as you go in knowing that the game is about multiple play-throughs, beating your own rankings, and enjoying a well-crafted world, then you should be able to enjoy and love Panzer Dragoon Orta.”
IGN’s Review of Panzer Dragoon Orta
Find Panzer Dragoon Orta: eBay / Amazon
Featured Game: House of the Dead III
“Actual gameplay is very engaging and a whole gaggle of fun. Immediately after entering the house, zombies, bats, and other creatures waste no time lunging at you with their claws. The heads-up-display is overly simplified and gives information like how many bullets you have left in your chamber and your current health. As you blast away at the screen, you need to continually “reload” your chamber by shooting off-screen. If you take a hit, your health meter goes down by one. You have a certain number of lives until you need to use a continue. You’ll have to keep an eye on how many continues are left, as they are limited too. When two players are playing, the game makes up for the easier difficulty by splitting the continues between the two players..
Branching paths depending on your shooting accuracy are more plentiful in HotDIII. The truth is very simply that the game is NOT very different from its predecessors. However, it is important to note some very important changes developer WOW Entertainment has implemented.
All right, I’ll admit it. I spent almost fifty dollars on HotD was in the arcades. The game is just TOO much fun. It really gives the sensation of an adrenaline rush as you play this game. The fast-paced combat and somewhat interesting story manage to keep your attention for the time until this game is over. Overall, an extremely exciting and fun (and sometimes homework push-offing) title from Sega rejuvenates the series with the fresh twists it needed. I recommend this game for any fan of the series or the genre alike—there is just too much nostalgia to pass up.”
TeamXBox’s Review of House of the Dead III
Find House of the Dead III: eBay / Amazon
First-Person & Third Person Shooters
Halo, Half-Life 2, DOOM 3, Far Cry, Timesplitters etc
Featured Game: Metal Arms: Glitch in the System
“Metal Arms has a welcomed style and color to it. There are some genuinely funny lines in the cinematics, some of which are littered with unexpected, bleeped profanity. This character carries over into the play scenarios too. Glitch encounters robots that sell him weapons and gadgets along his quest and they’re always full of comic one-liners. After completing an intermediate level, Glitch seems proud of himself until his commander comments, “Let’s not break out the joy lube just yet.” Meanwhile, when the hero shoots at enemy droids they will run around as if on fire and scream in sheer terror. The delivery is well done. The game has many play elements to it, but the core revolves around fast and furious gunfights. Glitch can carry an impressive arsenal of different weapons from laser fire to automatics, shotguns and rockets, slingshots and grenades, sniper rifles and more, and all of them are entertaining and serve their purpose in battle. (He can also arm either hand with these weapons and use R and L to shoot/throw/sling them simultaneously, which just feels fantastic.) So Glitch explores the large, open 3D environments the game dishes out, enemies run out, and mini-wars ensue. And this is the meat and potatoes of the experience.
It’s solid and refreshingly fun. Each of the game’s 40 areas is presented with different goals and objectives in mind and there are a wide variety of scripted events that bring the sequences together. Glitch is usually accompanied by friendly droids in his infantry, who fight and die — in canned, but nonetheless dazzling routines — all around him. The geography of levels is saturated with realistic physics, semi-dynamic and constantly changing — it crumbles, explodes and can occasionally be blown apart by Glitch’s weapons. The world has a tangible layer of interactivity to it, which is a feat that few competing developers can claim to have also achieved. And because structures fall apart and explode as droids are blasted to bits and bombs erupting, the levels are convincingly intense.”
IGN’s Review of Metal Arms: Glich in the System
Find Metal Arms: eBay / Amazon
Prince of Persia, Spinter Cell, Grand Theft Auto, etc
Featured Game: Beyond Good & Evil
” In one sense, it’s easy to describe Beyond Good & Evil, the latest game from Rayman creator Michel Ancel. Its core game play is very similar to recent Zelda titles, especially the generally excellent The Wind Waker, with puzzle-laden “dungeons,” vehicular transport to different parts of the game world, an intuitive combat system, and even heart containers. Add to this plenty of stealth levels, hovercraft racing, classic shooting sequences, and even some platformer-style elements (though somehow without the frustrating jumping). Then wrap it all up with a sophisticated story involving rich characters in a vivid, beautifully realized game world. Quick summary? It’s Zelda for grown-ups, without the annoying fetch-quests….
It’s easy enough to tally up Beyond Good & Evil’s accomplishments in game play, level design, and outright eye candy, and declare it a success. But there’s something more here to which all of these technical and design accomplishments are only a means to and end. You see, BG&E is one of those rare games that shines from all points with an unmistakable quality of intelligence and personality. It’s in the sharp writing and excellent voice acting. It’s in the constantly inventive yet believable world of Hyllis and in the story’s intriguing twists and emotional impact. Or in little details, wonderfully presented: Pey’j and Jade leaping into an embrace after a big fight, or Jade’s face registering pity and horror with the subtlest change of expression. It’s one thing to create a game full of pretty graphics and big action; it’s something else to give us a story worth caring about involving characters we believe in.Ultimately, for all its similarities to Zelda, this is where Beyond Good & Evil finds its own ground. Not only does it avoid many of the frustrations of the games it draws from (and yes, that includes Zelda’s flat story and tedious item-chasing), but it is pierced throughout with humor, intelligence, and humanity. While it’s over a bit before you’d want it to be, Beyond Good & Evil tells its story with amazing pizzazz and polish. Even better, it’s a story well worth telling.”
IGN’s Review of Beyond Good & Evil
Find Beyond Good & Evil: eBay / Amazon
Featured Game: Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath
“Oddworld Inhabitants, the creator of the Oddworld universe, has turned out a few fairly different types of games set in the same unique universe… The Oddworld series now sees its most drastic change yet with the release of Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath. The new game’s emphasis on action and its attempt to combine third-person platforming and first-person shooting means that this new Oddworld has little to do with previous games to bear the name, but regardless of its place in the franchise, Stranger’s Wrath is a great game that brings together a few styles of gameplay startlingly well.
Stranger’s Wrath may take place in Oddworld, but it also starts out with an Old West theme. You play as Stranger, a bounty hunter of unknown origins. You seem to be the only one of your kind around, and you’ll spend most of the game taking on outlaws who are terrorizing various towns full of chicken-men. Why? To pay for your operation, of course… The game’s plot, conveyed through the occasional cutscene, is definitely one of its strong points. It starts slow, but the gradual buildup pays off at the end of the game’s roughly 15-hour adventure, which makes up for a lack of extras or alternate modes of play.
Stranger’s Wrath combines a few different methods of control for a nice hybridization of multiple styles. The game’s third-person perspective is where you’ll do most of your jumping and rope climbing. It’s also where you’ll execute your melee attacks. Stranger can ram foes with a head-butt maneuver or knock them around with a Crash Bandicoot-like spin punch. You can also drop into a first-person view by pushing in the right analog stick. While it’s nothing new for third-person games to allow you to get into first-person for a more-controllable view, Stranger’s first-person view essentially turns the game into a full-fledged first-person shooter. You can still double-jump while in this view, but you’ll move a bit slower, too…
There are a lot of great things going on in Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath. The game manages to combine its third-person and first-person viewpoints extremely well, and the little things, like using bugs and rodents for ammo, really give the game a unique flavor. It’s always interesting to see new twists on old action formulas, and it’s even better when the new twists pay off and combine to form something that’s better than the sum of its parts. While the disappointing voice work gets in the way fairly often, it’s still minor in the grand scheme of things. If you’re looking for an exciting action game with a unique sense of style, then Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath is a perfect fit. ”
GameSpot’s Review of Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath
Find Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath: eBay / Amazon
Pirates!, Myst IV, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee
Featured Game: Indigo Prophecy
“From the moment you turn the game on, you’ll probably realize that this game more resembles an indie film than your typical game, which is probably why it’s called “interactive cinema”. In fact, the game reminds me more of movies such as Se7en, Memento and certain David Lynch movies, than it does most other games. You’re presented with a narrative from Lucas Kane, the main character of the game and soon you’ll find out why. This game takes a seemingly real-life experience and adds a surreal twist to it. The game begins with Lucas sitting in a bathroom stall in a diner on a chilly January day. Instead of your typical bathroom business, we watch Lucas carving into his wrists while apparently in a trance. Lucas Kane emerges from the stall and walks over to a man washing his hands, surprises him and then stabs him to death. How’s that for an introduction? After killing a total stranger in the restroom for no apparent reason, you awaken from your trance and are now in control of Lucas…
This is an adventure game, but there sure is a hell of a lot of tense moments that rival or surpass many action games, so for those who think adventure = boring, you’re dead wrong. The gameplay has a focus on exploration, investigation, intrigue and most of all, choice. Indigo Prophecy puts you in the shoes of Lucas Kane with a vast immersion factor. You, the gamer, know only what Lucas knows; you just killed a total stranger in cold blood for no reason, only “you” really didn’t do it. There is a huge amount of interaction from the get-go, what do you choose to do now? If you’ve ever read one of those choose your own adventure books, you’ll find Indigo Prophecy to be somewhat similar, as you get to choose your actions. Each choice you make affects the outcome of the game. Interacting in the game couldn’t be easier, because when you can perform an action, an icon pops up indicating the direction of the right thumbstick that you push in order to interact with the object. Some decisions to make include: do you walk Lucas over to the sink to clean yourself up; do you try and hide the body; how about mopping up the blood; and what about the bloody knife you used as a murder weapon?’
This game puts a unique twist on the adventure genre, a genre that has needed a breath of fresh air like this one for a long time. Its gameplay is innovative, unique and fun. I do wish that the QTEs happened before-hand, because sometimes youl’l miss out on some great scenes, but that’s really a fairly minor complaint. The graphics are highly detailed and the motion captured animation is superb. I can’t say enough about the impeccable audio and while it doesn’t control perfectly, it has a considerable amount of replay value for a single player adventure game. I really liked how a surreal twist was put on reality, it really added to the intrigue and mystery of an already suspenseful game, which compelled me to play nonstop. The characters are memorable and the storyline is great, even if it gets a bit “out there” towards the end. It’s games like this that deserve to be called art, instead of just “games”.”
TalkXBox’s Review of Indigo Prophecy
Find Indigo Prophecy: eBay / Amazon
Featured Game: Syberia II
“Truth be told, the whole game is beautiful. Subzero conditions have never been so gorgeous. Sure, stills make up most of the environments, but who really cares when they look this good? Plus, the developers employed a variety of graphical touches that turn each still into a living postcard. You’ll often see animals scurry about frozen ponds, or watch birds and white owls dart around the screen.
Trees sway in the freezing wind and snow lazily drifts on top of hills and buildings. Character animation looks equally impressive. As Kate Walker makes her way across the landscape, she’ll leave footprints in the snow. Leave her alone for too long, and she’ll shudder and cough. All characters, regardless of importance, appear to have been animated with utmost care. With a story populated with well-written characters, it would have been a damn shame to have them look bland and lifeless.
Through its faults, Syberia II conjures a little bit of that magic common during the golden days of adventure games. It has a great, albeit short, storyline that grips you from the get-go. Plus, the story’s sense of urgency does a nice job balancing the languid pace of its gameplay. It’s a bit too slow-paced for consoles, enough that it may frustrate some gamers. Superb graphics, sound and music push Syberia II above being good, and just short of being great. During an adventure game drought though, Syberia II is a real winner — a refreshing game rich in narrative, gameplay and style.”
IGN’s Review of Syberia II
Find Syberia: eBay / Amazon
More Great Games:
Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon (eBay / Amazon)
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (eBay / Amazon)
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (eBay / Amazon)
Still Life (eBay / Amazon)
Silent Hill, Fatal Frame
Featured Game: Obscure
“Though the idea certainly isn’t new, the heart of Obscure’s innovation is its two-person co-op gameplay. But unlike past titles that have tried to benefit from a leapfrog system when approaching the concept of two-player survival, Obscure goes a more practical route by making everything simultaneous. In this adventure, Character A won’t have to stand on the secret switch while Character B acquires the Sacred Gem of Amara — they’ll have to decide what to do together and just go out and do it. This simultaneous “one-screen system” works a bit like a buddy cop movie: with one protagonist providing backup and another one trying to complete an objective at the same time. The end result is a pretty fluid and fast-paced escapade that can quickly turn into a great two-person party game…
ome additional bits of gameplay have pushed the envelope as well. In a nod to DOOM 3 players that were begging for a feature just like it, for example, users can tape flashlights to their weapons so that they don’t have to switch between illumination and firearm to see what they’re killing before pulling the trigger. The dated and frustrating typewriter save system made popular by the Resident Evil series has been nixed too, in favor of a much handier ‘save anywhere’ system that’s only limited to the number of discs that you find to use it. Other little details, like the more realistic recovery items (first aid kids, energy drinks) and an interesting light boost feature (a way to attack a swarming cloud of darkness with your flashlight to keep enemies away), add a distinctive flavor to the game that I haven’t really seen anywhere else. There’s even a handy quick-select menu system that allows players to bring up weapons and items independently on the fly (no need for sloppy menus anymore). When coupled with the cool co-op goodies mentioned above, you could see why Obscure could be a compelling pick-up for horror fans.”
IGN’s Review of Obscure
Find Obscure: eBay / Amazon
Featured Game: Cold Fear
For what it is–a glossy update on Resident Evil 4–Cold Fear is remarkably effective. For one, the setting is unique. You begin on a storm-drenched whaling ship that lurches to and fro endlessly. This swaying heightens the tension by limiting your vision (as well as your aiming abilities). Same goes for the curtains of pounding rain; Aside from being a wonderfully atmospheric visual effect, the constant downpour jacks up the suspense by concealing your foes. And what foes they are…Cold Fear’s jaw-dropping visuals steal the show, oozing high-res malevolence at every turn. It’s enough to make you wonder why Sony and Microsoft are so obsessed with hurrying expensive new consoles to market–these amazing graphics will do just fine, thanks. The rusted-out derelict whaling ship boasts so many disturbing details and dark corners that it’s practically a character unto itself.
That said, the Xbox version offers the superior visual experience. Its advanced lighting system casts advanced real-time shadows (much like Doom 3), a high-tech feature the PS2 hardware simply can’t match. Cold Fear also looks great on the PS2, but its comparatively primitive lighting (the flashlight and shadows look far simpler) can’t inspire the same level of primal dread. The freaky sounds help pick up the slack, pumping out dynamic music that reacts to the action.
Cold Fear is an impressive achievement, and the first game to offer a serious alternative to the venerable Resident Evil series. Resident Evil 4’s massive arsenal gives it an edge, but Cold Fear’s maneuverable controls are a huge advantage.
GamePro’s Review of Cold Fear
Find Cold Fear: eBay / Amazon
Fable, X-Men Legends, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Baldur’s Gate
Featured Game: Phantom Dust
“Phantom Dust was… a unique blend of RPG, action, and collectibility struck a chord with Japanese gamers, and it managed to build up a respectable following overseas… It’s hard to classify Phantom Dust‘s gameplay. It’s part role-playing, part third-person shooter, part strategy, and part collectible card game. No matter how you slice it though, it all adds up to a lot of addictive fun. The majority of the game consists of squaring off against a group of enemies within the confines of the rubble of the surface world. Players will enter combat armed only with some quick reflexes and a customized collection of psionic powers.
Powers from a player’s arsenal will appear randomly on the battlefield as a colored orb or energy. Up to four powers can be equipped at one time by running up to an orb and assigning it to any of the four face buttons. This made for even more frantic gameplay, as there were times that I found myself unarmed, outgunned, and across the room from my next available power. Early in the game, I found myself on the receiving end of a beatdown fairly often, due to Phantom Dust‘s unusual controls. After some practice, I started to get the hang of things and the controls felt a lot more natural, though I still can’t stand having to click the left thumbstick to jump.
After playing Phantom Dust‘s single player mode for a while, I was already sold on the game’s value. However, once I signed on to Xbox Live, I was floored by the number of options available for players. It’s easy to tell that Microsoft had really gone out of its way to create a solid online community for the game. From Phantom Dust‘s online lobby, I was able to buy, sell, and trade any number of available powers to tweak out my arsenal. Once I built what I thought was a respectable arsenal I took it for a test run online, where I quickly learned that my arsenal needed more of an overhaul than I thought. Still, I can honestly say I can’t remember a time I’ve had that much fun losing a game. And thanks to Phantom Dust‘s downloadable content, the possibilities for expansion are endless.
After my time spent with Phantom Dust, I can safely say it would have been a shame if American gamers never had a chance to experience it. There is so much packed into this game that it’s a steal at twice the price. Phantom Dust is a unique “must-have” title that should be a part of any Xbox owner’s library.”
GameSpy’s Review of Phantom Dust
Find Phantom Dust: eBay / Amazon
Featured Game: Shenmue II
“Shenmue II is not a terribly difficult game, but it requires a certain amount of hours to play through. Some segments later on are nearly 100% cut scene, which cannot be skipped or sped up in any way. When it’s all done, Shenmue II leaves you hanging even more so than part I, and right up until that point, you’ll feel like the game is just finally starting to pick up pace. Overall, the game while much larger than the original, should take just a little bit longer to play through. Assuming of course, the little extras don’t suck up too much free time.
At heart, Shenmue II is really just a jazzed up next-generation, graphical adventure. There is plenty to see and do, and Ryo’s quest is captivating, interesting, and even occasionally educational. While the Xbox version is more polished than the Dreamcast original, as mentioned earlier, I definitely would have preferred to play this game a year ago on inferior hardware if it meant Shenmue III would be released in the more immediate future. Dreamcast gamers who played the Japanese import game still could benefit from the English localization, but may be disappointed to find the game essentially the same. Regardless of whether you experienced the first Shenmue, Xbox owners who are craving a good, epic adventure game should absolutely grab a copy of Shenmue II. It has a few annoying flaws, but overall, it’s my pick as the best Xbox adventure game of the year. ”
Gaming Age’s Review of Shenmue II
Find Shenmue II: eBay / Amazon
Dead or Alive 3, Soul Calibur II, Street Fighter Series, Guilty Gear X
Featured Game: Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus
“Tobias has long wanted to implement his full vision of a fighting game, but never had the console or the backing to do so. With Tao Feng he has both. So what was this vision? A more open fighting game, with large environments, rewards for aggressive play, removal of the traditional “round” system, and a heavy reliance on combos. And, for the most part, Tao Feng is a smashing success.Gamers who choose to pick up Tao Feng and give it a whirl will find a tough fighter (really, about as hard as they come) that does its best to counter many of the cheese moves fighting experts have come to rely on the past decade. While Tao Feng doesn’t necessarily look like the next evolution of fighting games, it’s certainly a good start. Once you get used to leaping off walls when you’re backed into a corner, it’s hard to hop back to another fighting game that leaves you trapped and at the mercy of your buddy’s cheese moves.
Using the environment to swing off poles and beams, utilizing your Chi powers to wreak powerful (and easy to perform) attacks on your enemies, and staying aggressive to wear down your opponent’s defenses and eventually break their limbs creates a unique and new fighting gameplay experience. And so does a lack of timer or official rounds. Tack on the graphical successes and more voice over dialogue than I’ve remember hearing in a fighting game, and you’re on the road to something fresh and exciting. And Tao Feng is certainly that.”
IGN’s Review of Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus
Find Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus: eBay / Amazon
More Great Games:
Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee (eBay / Amazon)
Barbarian (eBay / Amazon)
Madden, NBA Live, 2K Sports, etc
Featured Game: Sega Soccer Slam
“Those who were always tempted by sports games, but never had the patience for endless menus and realistic nitpickings, will find Soccer Slam to be an addictive, fast-paced blast. Even punters of the GameCube version will find a host of new options in this Xbox incarnation, most notably extra players and multiplayer games.
A great deal of Slam’s appeal is its simplicity. Playing three-on-three, the controls are easy to learn and include flashy slow-motion power shots, dekes, and passes. You can even hit other players in an endless contest to possess the ball. At times, the game resembles more of a surreal slugfest, where a ball happens to be on the field, than an actual soccer game. Additional multiplayer contests?including a free-for-all brawl and hot potato game?add some diversity, but they become stale after a few plays.
Slam’s graphics shine. The visual highlight is the cartoonish players, which look as if they just clawed their way out of Tex Avery’s reject bin, complete with distinctive theme music and victory chants. Smooth controls keep the gameplay consistently exciting, the sole hitch is a clumsy passing system, the control stick that moves your player also directs your pass.
In Soccer Slam, it’s more gratifying to kick an opponent in the head than the ball into the goal, so if you?re expecting a sim-heavy, FIFA-style approach, look elsewhere. Sports games like this are much more exciting when reality stays out of the way.
GamePro’s Review of Sega Soccer Slam
Find Sega Soccer Slam: eBay / Amazon