What I've Played.

It’s been about a year since I bought that xbox. Here’s what I’ve learned.

This started out as a simple list of pithy generalizations. But, after looking around and noticing that many of my points had been made by others, I decided to focus on a few issues in the context of specific games that I have played.

Wage slave games

Project Gotham Racing 2 and Madden Football are nearly perfect games for the wage slave, with Gotham having the slight advantage. Aside from having excellent gameplay mechanics and creating a wonderful sense of place, the best thing about Gotham is that you can fire it up, get into a race and get out in less than ten minutes. But, if you like, you can also sit here and race for hours. Here are some things that Gotham does not require you to tolerate:

Along these lines, Madden Football almost reaches the same level, but its annoying menu screens put it just one notch below. Still, it’s easy to pick up Madden and play one week of the season and the put it away and go to bed. In terms of game play, Madden is at least as good if not better than Gotham. There is an almost perfect mix of arcade-like fun and just enough simulated reality to really make you feel, once in a while, like you’ve just read that defense perfectly or called just the right play to stuff the offense at the goal line. Competing football games are arguably prettier, but I don’t think any of them play as well as Madden, although it’s hard to put my finger on the specific issues that define playability.

Sneaky games

When i first got the xbox, a friend of mine gave me the first Splinter Cell. But I didn’t play it. There was something about the mechanics and the settings that I didn’t like. After xbox-live took over my life, I picked up Pandora Tomorrow for the multiplay, but actually spent more time with the single player. It’s one of the few single player games I’ve “beaten” (the other one being Halo).

Stealth games appeal because the pace is a bit slower and rewards a bit of strategy. Pandora Tomorrow in particular appealed because of the settings : the jungle was cool, Jerusalem was pretty, and the TGV train was just awesone. The game gets a raspberry for using cursed savepoints, but I survived.

Interest in stealth games leads one naturally to Thief and Metal Gear Solid. The new Thief game is basically Splinter Cell set in the past. I find it enjoyable, except for the ludicrously long load times. The lack of a stupid savepoint system almost makes up for it.

Metal Gear Solid 2 presents the player with several challenges that have nothing to do with the game:

On the up side, there are basically no load screens, the game is fast to start, and the game and story are mildly interesting. I played through the first part of the game. I’ll have to decide if I can put up with the camera and the lack of a decent save system.

The camera in this game brings up the obvious question, which is: why would any rational being deliberately design the camera so badly? Contrast this with Splinter Cell and Thief (and also the non sneaky games KOTOR and Beyond Good and Evil) which for the most part allow the user to park the camera anywhere he wants. All third person games should work this way. Like save points, fixed, non-controllable third person cameras are a relic that deserves to die.

Shooty Games

Counterstrike is the best multiplayer shooter in the world. It’s just perfect. Games are fast, the gameplay is simple and tight, the guns are cool, and playing with bots makes the team aspect more fun. I can play the same maps with the same bots and my same set of friends forever.

Halo is a nice FPS which suffers a bit for not really getting going until half the game is already done. But, the game redeems itself after it gives you the shotgun. An FPS is just not an FPS until you have the shotgun.


Here was an unexpected twist. I had never owned any Nintendo gaming hardware. But, a craving for a nice turn based strategy name led me to Advance Wars for the Gameboy Advance. An unfortunate incident with an emulator led me to the Mario and Luigi RPG (an offshoot of the Super Mario RPG for the SNES). These games are fabulous. They play fast, you can save and restart easily, the gameplay is simple but deep, and the games are full of great animation, sound effects and other flourishes. These are the perfect “wage slave” games, and they are insanely long. There are more levels in each game than I think I would ever finish in a year. How they get this much game into those tiny little cartridges is beyond my understanding.

Special Thanks

Here are some special people who helped.