As time progressed and the buzz around last generation’s systems died down, the ‘big three’ were quick in starting development for the next generation of platforms. The first of these to be released was the Xbox 360 on Nov. 22 of 2005, just four years after the release of Microsoft’s initial entry to the gaming world, the Xbox. Learning from their past mistakes, Microsoft made the Xbox 360 into a sleek, sexy gaming machine. The system itself is a curvy mass of matte plastic with a metallic disc tray, customizable faceplate, component outputs and an interchangeable hard drive. But the 360 didn’t just look like a next-generation system, it felt like one. With its high-definition capabilities, games on the 360 looked better than ever before. And with Xbox Live seamlessly integrated into the system’s interface, Microsoft gave online gaming on consoles the final push it needed to become a standard. Simply put, the Xbox 360, as is the case with the entire current generation of consoles, is likely here to stay for a while. But for now, it’s time to check out my top picks from this point in the Xbox 360’s lifespan!
If you’d like one sentence to describe what “Crackdown” is in a nutshell, here it is: it’s like “Grand Theft Auto,” except you’re a cop. Yes, “Crackdown” is an interesting take on the sandbox gameplay of titles like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Saint’s Row” in that, for once, your job is to uphold the law instead of break it. However, you’ll quickly learn that if you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs. In “Crackdown,” you’re a genetically enhanced super-soldier for an organization known as The Agency. As an agent, you must go into the fictional Pacific City and eliminate the figureheads of the three major crime syndicates that have overtaken the city. The only way to do this, of course, is to hunt down each figurehead’s hangout spot of choice and serve them a cold plate of justice in the flavor of your liking. The game allows you to enhance your five main abilities up to five levels through exercising them – defeating enemies with the use of firearms increases your shooting skill, running over enemies in a car increases your driving skill, beating up enemies with your bare fists increases your strength skill, using explosives against enemies increases your explosives skill and collecting special orbs above rooftops increases your agility skill. This leveling mechanic helps to establish the sense of progression you feel as you play through the game. But, like most sandbox games, the heart of “Crackdown’s” appeal is in the ability to just explore the city and screw around. All in all, “Crackdown” is the kind of game that’s great to bust out and kill some time with.
This one is just downright creepy – not scary, but creepy. The game takes place in the year 1960. At the start of it, the main character, Jack, is aboard an airplane that goes down over the Atlantic Ocean. The only survivor, Jack swims to a nearby lighthouse, where he uncovers a bathysphere. Entering the bathysphere, Jack uncovers an underwater city known as Rapture. Created to be a utopia, Rapture is now in shambles, and the remaining inhabitants are psychotic and murderous. The overall goal of the game is to find your way out Rapture, but the more captivating goal is to find out what happened to this underwater city and caused it to break down. Oh yeah, and did I mention that there are superpowers? The scientists of Rapture managed to create genetically engineered superpowers, which you of course can’t help but partake in. Like “Metroid Prime,” “BioShock” is more than just your standard first-person shooter – it’s an experience. The city of Rapture is filled with so much detail and backstory that it’s tough to not get caught up in all of it as you play. And like any good mystery novel, “BioShock” teases you with tidbits of clues and details that all lead up to one big revelation near the end. In other words, BioShock is kind of like the thriller of the video game world. The genre, not the Michael Jackson song.
3. Halo 3
What can I say about “Halo 3” that I haven’t already said about “Halo”? The game is just awesome. The game’s single-player mode continues the story from where the absurd cliff-hanger of the second game left off, and it wraps things up in a logical and exciting manner. Playing through the single-player campaign for the first time feels like a special occasion as you discover the slew of new enemies, items, weapons, and vehicles that the game has to offer, kind of like that feeling you used to get when opening up your Christmas presents as a child. Yes, “Halo 3” has enough new offerings to keep the experience fresh and fun, but that doesn’t just go for the in-game doodads either. “Halo 3”’s multiplayer modes, coupled with the game’s brilliant online integration, distinguishes itself from others with the most cutting-edge of features. A special mode known as Forge allows you to redesign any of the game’s multiplayer maps as you see fit. On top of that, Theater mode lets you go back and watch your most recent matches, snap pictures, and even take videos of your own highlights. What’s more, the game allows you to share and download all of these – maps, pictures, and videos – through both your Xbox 360 and your computer. Tack these features onto the already-addicting online multiplayer of “Halo 3” and it’s no wonder why thousands of people are still playing the game online to this day, almost exactly two years after its release. Sure, there are plenty of other competitive shooters that put your skill to the test, but when it comes to plain old fun factor, “Halo 3” can’t be beat.
2. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
Wait, “Banjo-Kazooie” on a Microsoft platform? What happened here? If you come into this game expecting a classic platforming romp through the Isle O’ Hags, prepare to be sorely disappointed. However, if you come into the game with an open mind and appreciation for everything the series is about minus the gameplay, then you’re in for a treat. The story behind “Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts” is so crazy that I’m not even going to explain it, but the game, like those before it, basically tasks you with earning as many jigsaw pieces as you can. The only way to do is, though, is by completing challenges offered by the game’s supporting cast in the multiple worlds you traverse. And the only way to complete these challenges is with the use of vehicles, which is the true focus of the game. No, “Nuts & Bolts” isn’t a racing game by any means, it’s still very much a platform game – it’s just a platform game with an all-encompassing twist that gives it a whole different feel. The game offers building blocks and gadgets that you must put together to make a machine suited for each task at hand. The process of building a machine can be time-consuming indeed, but the reward is two-fold in that not only did you achieve your intended goal, but you get to feel the victory of building a machine that works. It’s like your very own Lego set in a world where all the pieces come to life. Then you’ve got the game’s beautifully orchestrated soundtrack –catchy as always— vibrant visuals that, while they may not be the best on the 360, continue to dazzle me to this day, and the style of humor that made the series popular in the first place, with an added dash of satire. Truly, “Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts” is more than a worthy entry in one of my favorite series of platformers – just remember to keep an open mind.
1. Dead Rising
If you’re still reading at this point, you deserve to know a little secret: I used to be deathly afraid of zombies as a child. This is primarily the reason why I stayed away from the “Resident Evil” series, but with “Dead Rising,” Capcom takes that fear and throws it out the window. Though you can’t really call it a parody, Dead Rising isn’t exactly an ordinary zombie game either. As expert photojournalist Frank West, you must find out why the National Guard has blocked off the fictional town of Willamette. Landing on the helipad of town mall, you quickly find out that the town is the epicenter of a zombie outbreak, and the zombies have broken into the mall. Much like in “BioShock,” the ultimate goal is to survive for three days when the helicopter pilot agreed to come back and pick you up, but the focus of the plot revolves around investigating how and why the zombie outbreak occurred. Along the way, you’ll run into innocent civilians who need to be saved, deranged psychopaths who need to be put down, and of course hundreds upon thousands of zombies. “Dead Rising” is more action than it is horror, and the mall serves as the perfect backdrop for the story to take place. In your battle against the hordes of zombies, you’re generally forced to use what’s available to you, proving for some classic situations. You’ve got your standard firearms, chainsaws, gardening equipment (including a lawnmower), toy swords, mannequins, shopping carts, umbrellas, diamonds, hunks of flesh and anything else that may be at your disposal. And I didn’t even get into the photography feature that allows you to take pictures and have them graded and assigned a genre of horror, outtakes, drama, or… erotica… yeah. Then there’s the experience mechanic where taking pictures and killing zombies levels you up and rewards you with more health, more inventory slots, or new techniques. “Dead Rising” is pretty much everything you could ever want in a zombie game. So go on, have your cake and eat it too. Or throw it at a zombie.
It’s uncertain where the future of the Xbox 360 will lead to, but we can at least revel in the enjoyment of these classic titles left in its path. Next week, we’ll get into how Sony may have dropped the ball this generation and how they’re slowly gaining lost ground. Stick around for when we check out the PlayStation 3!