This is the fourth 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 BEST AND THE WORST
Like any console, there are bound to be ups and downs over the course of its lifespan. This was their first time out with a radically different console than had ever been seen in the space before and Microsoft Studios’ own switch to provide console games as well as PC games was a bit of a switch as well. Microsoft didn’t get everything right off the bat, but they did bring plenty of cool ideas to the table. Here were some of the best and worst ones they brought us.
The Controller S
While many of us got used to the girth of the original “Duke” controller, it was certainly a stopping point for many potential Xbox owners used to the size and feel of the PlayStation 2 controller. The Controller S was designed specifically for the Japanese market, but upon closer inspection, it appeared that the shape and size also appealed to many Americans as well. I wasn’t a big fan to start, but it carried the same ergonomic curves of the original (rather than the angular juts of Sony’s controller) and they eventually won me over with a blue-shelled version that became my go-to controller. The S would eventually become the foundation for the Xbox 360’s controller and that was pretty fine to me.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Developed by Bioware / Published by LucasArts
Trust me, I love some Star Wars for real. In all my years growing up on LucasArts games, they’d tackled shooters, space sims, and action games, but never once did they touch the Role-Playing Game space. And who better to bring this to the world than the masters over at Bioware, who brought us Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Nights (and would later bring us Mass Effect)? And what better time to set it than four thousand years before the events of the already thoroughly-covered movies, during the time of the Old Republic? Featuring a deftly told story (with one of the best twists in a video game ever) with imaginative settings and a cool ship to scuttle across the galaxy in, KOTOR, along with Morrowind, made the Xbox home to some of the most sophisticated and rewarding RPGs on the console.
Developed by Bungie / Published by Microsoft
Now now, before we get into any arguments, there’s some definite contention about this game in the annals of history. I thought it was a fine enough game with a story that was a bit too heady and level designs that weren’t very memorable, but Halo 2 brought three huge components to the lineup: the first killer Xbox Live title, a huge marketing blitz that would bring people to the Xbox fold, and a reason to stop playing Halo (for the most part). The story goes that Bungie got a year into the game’s development and crippled with the task of producing a worth heir to the Halo throne, ended up scrapping everything and starting over. When the game finally released in the fall of 2004, everyone knew about it. Microsoft had blitzed the entire world with its arrival and the game ended up becoming the biggest entertainment product launch of all time. While we may remember it for its somewhat pretentious story, the millions of hours logged in the game’s multiplayer told an even greater story and when the Xbox 360 launched a year later, seamlessly brought people to a new standard in online integration.
Developed and Published by Microsoft
While the Xbox already had a strong first-party racing title in Project Gotham Racing 2, Microsoft wanted a contender for the Gran Turismo crown. By using the vast power advantage against them, the group that would become Turn 10 crafted an exquisite and ultra-realistic racing game that performed thousands of calculations per second and gave you the low-down afterward. While not as gorgeous as PGR, it made up for it in sheer worldliness. Aftermarket parts you could purchase in the game were genuine to their real-world components. You were granted the ability to create incredible paint schemes for your car, making each one unique, especially as you raced online. It wasn’t flawless: the presentation was an afterthought and the lack of courses hurt after a time. Unfortunately, while Forza kept getting more and more of Microsoft’s attention (eventually eclipsing the Gran Turismo series over the years as Polyphony Digital devoted far too much time to detail) PGR would slowly and surely be shown the door.