After loving my PS1 and noticing every one in the world had a PS2, the contrarian-futurist in me decided to take a chance on Microsoft’s big black Xbox. I loved the sci-fi dashboard, weird sounds, four controller ports, and the promise of cutting-edge console games.
Better listen to this while reading (although it gets a bit terrifying later on)
Although the PS2 won the generation with its brilliantly-timed DVD player, affordable package, GTA III, PS1 backwards compatibility, and large library, the Xbox still had some epic highlights.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
One of Bioware and Star Wars finest games. KOTOR created a brand new world that felt as Star Wars as an earless-Gundar. An epic adventure had you hypering across the galaxy, exploring planets, cities, caves, and Jedi Temples. Using the classic amnesia opening, you slowly discover your Jedi powers and decide which path to follow. The strategic combat looked great, the cast was memorable and likeable, and the writing was superb. The twist at the end is so magnificent I still won’t spoil it now.
This game alone made me incredibly happy to have an Xbox over a PS2.
Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
I stumbled across this one and it blew my mind. I had never (on a console) felt such immersion in a first-person shooter. Entering the infamous Butcher Bay was truly intimidating. The first-person melee was visceral and exhilirating. The visuals and design were ahead of their time.
A true gem.
Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Oblivion caught the interest of the mainstream and set Skyrim up to knock it out of the park, but Morrowind was a special nugget of PC RPG epicness I had never experienced before.
Awakening as a slave in the opening scene and emerging to drink in the vistas of this strange and beautiful land is still one of my favorite moments in gaming. At the time, I couldn’t get over how great the water looked, and I still love looking at gaming water today.
I was lucky enough to have a girlfriend into gaming and I was happy to let her take over and farm potions for days (not the annoying slang usage of ‘days’, but actual days).
Deus Ex II: Invisible War
One of my favorite pieces of music from this generation
Invisible War had the impossible task of following the genre-defining original. It took a few misteps and pissed off many PC fans that felt including an Xbox port hampered the game’s scope. Universal ammo, streamlined RPG mechanics, and claustrophobic level design felt like a step back.
For me however, it was my first Deus Ex and I loved it! The multiple factions asking for different mission resolutions with no clear good or bad was very impressive. Sure the levels felt small, but this was still a time when imagination filled in the gaps, especially since I had nothing better to compare it to.
After my initial disappointment with Mankind Divided, I created a playlist where I alternately played MD and IW in a battle for worst spot. Here’s the Invisible War playlist if you’d like to see how it holds up.
I don’t quite understand the ridiculous enthusiasm for Shenmue 3. Like Half-Life, the first two in both series were revolutionary for the time but a third released today won’t be able to break the mould in the same way.
Shenmue’s story was above average and I’m interested to see the conclusion, but what I loved about the first games were how silly they were. Ryo talking to a cat in a box, discussing how similar they were and then brushing off his girlfriend after she interrupts his cat talk. Taking a full minute to watch an animation of Ryo enjoying the hell out of can of soda. Getting a trophy at work for being the fastest forklift driver. And of course, asking everyone if they knew where sailors hung out. Ryo really wanted to talk to sailors ( yes I know everything I mentioned is from the first game).
I feel I’ve been too negative, let’s talk about what Shenmue II did well. The ridiculous amount of NPCs and fleshed out worlds made me feel like I was really exploring China. The QTE events with branching paths were an engaging way to see the story, recovering the backpack and beating up a gang were highlights. From the moment you step off the boat and are accosted by the pushy photographer you feel the danger of the new city.
Oh crap now I’m really excited for Shenmue 3 again (FULL DISCLOSURE ME PAY MONEY FOR PRE-ORDER).
Let me know which Xbox titles were big events for you. Myself and Matthew Owen will post a video chat about our Top 7 Xbox games in the near future.