This is the second of a five-part series in which N reflects on the definity of Microsoft’s Xbox, released a decade ago. We hope you’ll join us this week in remembering those first bright, moments of Duke controllers, Halo LAN parties, and your first moments screaming at other players online.
THE FIRST GAMES
Before the Xbox released, I played most games with either a mouse (Command & Conquer, StarCraft) or a joystick (TIE Fighter, Interstate ’76, Jedi Knight) as I’d been exclusively a PC gamer at the time. When the console released, I was open to a brand new universe of games I’d never touched, or even contemplated, before. Here are those first games that made an impression on me.
Note: The vast majority of the cover arts displayed here were found in printable resolutions at CoverGalaxy.com.
Developed by Bungie / Published by Microsoft
There’s an entire internet of literature out there praising Halo in its millions of iterations and billions of hours of gameplay, but being one of the first people coming home with this was something special. On my 27″ tube TV with vivid color, it made an incredible impression. Flashlights worked realistically, surfaces reflected accurately, levels (like the iconic Silent Cartographer) were massive, and don’t get me started on the moment you step out from your escape pod at the beginning of the game. You play the recently-awakened Master Chief super soldier, battling (alone or with a friend) across the habitable inner surface of massive space ring that’s far more than what it seems. When the Flood are introduced half-way through, you’re in for a shock as bright, cinematic vistas give away to horror as swarms of squid-like mutants lunge at you. Perhaps an even greater addition was system link play over a network, which encouraged many late nights in the college apartments, long before Halo 2 would bring us Xbox Live play. This game brought us (for better or worse) regenerating health, vehicles in a shooter done right, and was easily the first truly great shooter on a console (sorry, GoldenEye). Halo was the killer app for the console and a necessary title for any Xbox owner’s collection.
Project Gotham Racing
Developed by Bizarre Creations / Published by Microsoft
The game that sold me on the console in the first place ended up being (aside from Morrowind) the game that got played the most as well. Sure, I’d played racing games before, but they were either full sims (like Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing) or were open-world games like Microsoft’s own Midtown Madness. A perfect blend of arcade-y gameplay with a somewhat sim-like feel, PGR had everything I wanted in an urban racing title. From time trials to races and cone challenges, this was Tony Hawk with cars, forcing you to not only be first, but to also be stylish with your handling with the built-in Kudos point system. Unique cities, coupled with radio hosts and a lot of cool licensed music made this an instant hit, although the difficulty ramped up later on.
Airforce Delta Storm
Developed and Published by Konami
Up front, this seemed like a natural pick for me coming from the PC. The videos for the game were beautiful, showing off a variety of contemporary planes in various missions. While this game was a nice retreat from learning a bunch of keyboard commands, its quirky Japanese idiosyncrasies meant I never fell in love with it. While the planes had a sim-like handling, the entire game was set up like an arcade game. You traveled to various missions across a world map, unlocking various planes as you completed them. The missions varied from sorties to scripted story dog fights against weird enemy fighters, missiles en route to nuke a city, and flights inside a giant mechanical pyramid. Yes. The game is still one of the most bizarre I ever bought for the system, aside from maybe Sneakers.
Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding
Developed and Published by Microsoft
Not only did not really have access to sports games to this point, but I didn’t really care to, either. All of that changed with Amped, an open-mountain snowboarding game. Instead of funneling you down ‘tracks’, the console’s hard drive allowed for the game to give you a chunk of mountain and let you loose to find your own ideal paths. Starting out, your character sucks. You can’t grind well, you can’t spin much, and you definitely can’t land any good combos. But as you progress, you begin to upgrade your boarder’s skills and find better routes down the mountain for your new skills. Stunts weren’t performed by pressing sequences of buttons, instead your controls manipulated tilts, grabs, and leans, allowing for more natural tricks and moves. For me, this was a breath of fresh air; that is, until…