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Xbox360 Madness

After not playing it at all for nearly two months, I eked out as much time on the Xbox360 as I could afford over these last few busy weeks. The gaming sessions did wonders for keeping my morale up, and I also got to experience a whole ton of new games via the downloadable demos offered by Xbox Live Marketplace. A couple of the demos were so good, in fact, that I went out and bought the full retail games afterwards — I’ll have complete details on those purchases in another entry. For now, here are my impressions of the demos I played.

Saint’s Row

In this game, you play a random noname guy (who never speaks) living in the inner city, who one day nearly gets his ass blown away in a gang war drive-by. He is saved by the smooth-talking leader of yet another gang, a gang whose purpose is apparently to clean up the streets and restore order to the city. (It’s clear, though, that this gang just wants to do that by blowing away all the other gangs, so I guess their mission is not really any different than their rivals.) You get drafted into this gang and start doing missions for them.

This is the 360’s Grand Theft Auto clone. It was almost like playing a bizarro GTA, in fact, because it looked stunning — like a copy of some upcoming GTA title sent from the future — but played like a boring Tiger handheld version of same. As pretty as Saint’s Row looks, it just isn’t fun. It comes off as awkwardly un-hip while trying very hard to be something extremely cool. Dialogue is hackneyed and the missions are chock full of gang stereotypes on steroids. GTA is over the top with cursing, strippers, violence and all that, but it manages to do so without being self-aware of its own controversial nature. Saint’s Row acts like a dude with a self esteem problem trying to pimp what a badass he is. It doesn’t work, and I’m not buying it.

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

On the surface, this looks like a nondescript arcade shooter. But for some reason I found myself having an absolute blast with this game. The story places you on an alien world that was colonized by humans, but which came under attack from both an outside force, as well as the dormant native creatures of the planet. The result is a frozen arctic wasteland full of creepy-crawlies reminiscent of the arachnids from Starship Troopers. Let me tell you, blowing those freaks away is all kinds of fun — better than any Starship Troopers game that was ever released.

The weapons are over-the-top with destructive power, the sound effects are phenomenal and the visuals are absolutely stunning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen explosions that look this good in a game. Gameplay is simple and arcade-like, but addictive, to the point where I found myself playing the demo for an extraordinarily long time. The full version will be out in early 2007, and I’m planning to pick up a copy.

Just Cause

To be honest, I’m not really sure what the story is here. The demo doesn’t really bother telling you, nor does the marketing from what I can tell. What I can glean is this: You play the role of some kind of…um, government operative? Mercenary soldier? Revolutionary? I dunno. You find yourself in Mexico, Central America or somewhere like that, and apparently you’re trying to start a revolution and unseat the local government. You also apparently have one day to accomplish this single-handedly.

The graphics are good, in a Pixar sort of oversaturated and cartoony way. The gameplay is fast, way too fast, with far too much stuff going on. I found myself with little idea of what I was looking for, who was shooting at me, where I was going, what was happening, et cetera. The controls were not very friendly either. In the end I quit out of the demo after about fifteen minutes of play and deleted it off my 360’s hard drive. No thanks.

Dead Rising

I’d seen the TV commercials for this, Capcom’s latest zombie-oriented game, by the time I downloaded the demo. You have probably seen them too. Plot: A lone guy in a mega-mall fends off thousands of zombies. That’s right, the whole game takes place in a zombie-infested mall. On the surface it sounded a bit too limited in scope — I mean, after all, a shopping mall was just one small piece of Postal 2 — so I was gonna give it a pass. Then I played the demo, and had an unbelievably fantastic time.

The sheer number of ways you can attack those hordes of zombies makes for a totally laugh-out-loud, frenetic experience. Break a flower pot over one zombie’s head, crush another one with a cash register, then bash a third one with a toolbox. The graphics and sound effects are top-notch, definitely worthy of the 360’s next-generation moniker, and the fun seems to never end. I was hooked, so I went down to EB Games and bought the full version.

I’ll have more about the full retail game in a future post, but suffice it to say there’s way more to this game than just smashing zombie heads. There’s a good story with a Resident Evil-like conspiracy element, tons of side quests involving rescuing other survivors in remote areas of the mall, and a pseudo-RPG system where your character levels up and gains new abilities as you score “Prestige Points.” It’s a hollerin’ good time, like a combination of Resident Evil and Postal 2, and certainly earns my full recommendation.

Test Drive Unlimited

I’ve saved the best for last. Really. I probably gushed about the TDU E3 demo a few months ago, but the full retail game landed in stores this past Wednesday, and it’s quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had placing a racing game. Ever. This might come as a surprise, given that the Test Drive series has sucked hardcore since, roughly, 1990.

Atari has done a lot to regain our trust in the name, and at least in my case, they have succeeded. TDU is a vast, free-form world of vehicular exploration that’s simply unrivaled, giving you the entire island of Oahu to drive around and explore, purchase cars, houses to keep them in, pick up hitchhikers and top models, take photos of your car anywhere and anytime, even run drugs for shady looking chaps. To get a feel for how big this is, imagine a game with the free explorative scope of the recent Grand Theft Autos, but focused purely on the driving aspect with beautifully-modeled cars and stunning, functional 3D interiors.

Now add seamless multiplayer that’s integrated completely into the singleplayer experience. You might happen across anyone else in the world while driving around Oahu; if so, just flash your lights at them to challenge them to an instant race for whatever stakes you choose. You can get together with your like-minded buddies and go on a friendly cruise around the island (a full tour of the virtual Oahu can take over an hour to complete in real-time!). Start your own car clubs for your friends (there’s probably gonna be a LS2GTO club pretty soon), enjoy virtual cruise-ins at local diners, even buy, sell and trade cars through TDU‘s integrated online marketplace. This is big, folks — it’s really big!

And — are you ready for this? — it’s the cheapest Xbox360 game on the market at a mere $39.99! If you like driving games, there is absolutely no excuse not to buy this one — get it. I mean immediately.

I’ll have a full review posted of TDU shortly, but suffice it to say, this is my pick for Xbox360 game of the year. Absolutely no kidding.

5 thoughts to “Xbox360 Madness”

  1. I am so Test Drive’s bitch. I just picked it up yesterday and I’ve been playing it ever since. Of course, I had to pick me up a GTO…and a GT500….and a Stingray…and the Firebird (among other things). 🙂 I love this game. I’ve barely raced, either — I’ve either been crusing around or doing the model missions (and the car delivery ones…I love the fact you get over $100,000 for a perfect delivery job). I think I’m already rated an “expert” by the game.

    The cars are totally sweet — the interiors are easily the most detailed I’ve ever seen in a game. I like to use the in-cockpit camera, watching my character shift gears and what not (yeah, I know you can see the character shift gears in the rear-view mode, but I like the in-cockpit view the best). Best of all, the racing aspect is quite easy to pick up.

    And all the little things are sweet as well; buying clothes for your character, finding the little body and paint shops here and there, picking up hitch hikers…I love it.

  2. Glad to see you’re in on the action! I can’t get enough of this game either; I’m finding myself totally addicted. I’m currently at “Pro” level myself. I figured the GTO was going to be my workhorse, but I’ve actually been driving the Corvette Z06 nearly exclusively. It’s just so damn good at everything it does, and for so little money, too — and I haven’t even hit the tuner shop with it.

    I finally unlocked the luxury paint shop so I can go get my Super Duty Trans Am painted black. 😀 (It is supposed to be a ’73 SD-455 because the engine displacement reads out at 7.5 liters, but since Pontiac doesn’t really own the rights to the name “Trans Am” anymore they had to drop all such badging from the car).

    Oh hell yes, cockpit view is a must. I use that view exclusively, although sometimes I check out the other camera views just to screw around. I agree that the interiors are the best I’ve ever seen, and totally accurate too. I couldn’t believe the old Trans Am’s interior — they even got the machine-turned finish on the dash and all the instrumentation perfectly spot-on!

    I need to get myself a GT500 like right now. I spent the last hour of gameplay driving from dealership to dealership, trying to decide how to spend my remaining $260,000. Just bought a new house with a 6-car garage to keep some more rides in, but all the stuff I want is so damn expensive. I’m considering picking up a Ferrari F430 at this point, actually. But the Z06 is just so good, it’s like I want to buy cars from the slower classes (C and D) first so that I can enter more intermediate races!

    We need to get you a wireless Ethernet adapter and an Xbox Live Gold membership for you so we can go driving. I finally made the jump and just ordered a 13-month Gold membership card last night — there’s so much cool stuff that you just can’t do without one, even if you don’t race against other human players, like uploading photos to the web and trading cars online.

  3. I’ve been giving each of my cars some love. I currently own 9 cars (and two houses to store them in): the Trans Am, the GTO, a Viper SRT 10, an Audi TT, the GT500, the ’69 Stingray, a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, a Z06, and a Lotus Sport Exige 240R.

    I haven’t unlocked the luxury paint shop yet (though I know where it is), and I haven’t tuned anything up either — every time I pass by a tuner shop, my car’s “heritage” is wrong for that particular shop, then I forget about it.

    I actually got off my lazy ass and registered myself on Xbox Live yesterday (as I had to update my system in order to play Test Drive), but that was accomplished by physically moving the Xbox and hooking it up to the DSL modem itself (which is not in my room). As a result I think I have the free one month Gold membership. Woo. I suppose one of these years I’ll break down and buy that horrendously overpriced wireless adapter for the 360. Maybe buy an Xbox Live Gold membership and some of their stupid Microsoft points to “purchase” various themes and games and shizz, too, while I’m at it.

    I did, however, download the DOAX2 demo to have on the 360. 🙂

  4. Hahaha, good thing you amended that (about the DOAX2 teaser trailer) because I would have been like WHERE DEMO GIVE ME DEMO. Hee.

    I just got back from the Lotus dealership…got a brand new Gunmetal Metallic Esprit V8 in the garage! Oh yeah! That covers D-class…now I need to find a C-class car.

    So you’re an official Xbox Live registrant now, eh? I’ll have to look you up and add you to my friends list, in the eventuality that you ever get a network adapter. I’m almost ready to send you the details on the map icon project, so if you want to help out with that, you can easily score some cash for the adapter, I figure. 🙂 It is ridiculously overpriced, though.

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