Enough ranting to embattled Zenmeister Peter Moore about the Xbox games that don't work on our 360s. What about the ones that do? It's not as though Microsoft's "emulation ninjas" haven't already managed to get a whole bundle of them working, and with that in mind we've cheered up a bit since yesterday and started working through the "compatible" list and had some fun sorting the wheat from the chaff.
Over the next few pages you'll no doubt come across a few titles you've overlooked, or maybe ones you've bought and never got around to finishing. Or maybe you're just one of those lucky sods that has endless amounts of time to spare and can justify playing through them all over again. If that's you, we hate you with every fibre of our being and will be coming around your house soon to steal your toys.
Ok, that's probably not legal, but you might find yourself out of pocket once you've perused all these fabulous titles you need in your life [that'll teach 'em - Ed]. It's not as if there's much being released on the 360 for a few months.
The best backwards-compatible games, then
The fact that Microsoft 'forced' [kill me now - Ed] this to work on the 360 this week is a serious cause for celebration. Not only is it one of the most charming games released in recent times, it's probably the best use of the Star Wars license ever. Bram-solo reckons it's "simultaneously the most elegant franchise crossover and the best children's game I've ever played". The game varies in pace and style, switching emphasis from "mostly platform puzzling action and pod racing to dropship combat and even space combat". His only complaint was that it was a bit short ("a handful of hours") thanks to its kid-friendly infinite lives and occasionally unhelpful camera angles, but it has got a super-cool co-op mode where a buddy can jump in and out of on the action at any time. And those graphics. Cuuute.
If, like me, you're a Star Wars fan wondering where the magic went, he suggests for us cynics to "look no further". At the pocket-friendly price that it's currently going for, that sounds like a damned fine idea.
Another game added to Microsoft's growing list of compatible games, and certainly one of the most high profile offerings to join the list in a while. Not many people would have backed Vicarious Visions to pull off a faithful port - after all, we're talking about a next-gen PC game that was designed as a showcase for id's latest technology.
As Bram-hell admitted in his review, Doom III was "very difficult to evangelise convincingly". And how right he is for this most Marmite of games that people either loved to bits or spent long laborious hours ripping to shreds. As a next-gen FPS, many people weren't happy with respawning demons popping out from behind you and going "boo!" repeatedly, and stupid design decisions like not being able to wield a weapon and a torch/flashlight at the same time. Nor were they happy with the slow-ish pace to begin with, or the tight corridors, and many gave up before the game really got going. They wanted dozens of hell demons and manic shooting thrills from the off, not some brooding survival horror wannabe with latex monsters.
But it gets sooooo much better than the opening few hours suggests, with the rampant hell-and-beyond levels every bit as intense and manic as the 'classic' Dooms ever were. And frankly Vicarious Visions didn't get nearly enough credit for making this look as faithful to the PC as it does. Cranked up to 720p it looks even better, and looks bloody brilliant on a big HDTV. Plus this version's got co-op - so there's no excuse. Doom-well wrestled with both schools of thought about Doom III, but it's perhaps best summed up when he said "it prompts far more blasphemous exclamation of the 'Jesus Christ' variety than virtually any other FPS level in living memory". Yes. Yes, it does, and while it might not be the most revolutionary game of its type on many levels, any game that gets you this worked up deserves further examination.
Now here's a rarity - an Xbox game released this year that's compatible with the 360. It's also Criterion's first ever attempt at an FPS, meaning that extreme destruction was always going to be high on the agenda, and it instantly impressed by being among the most exciting FPSs ever seen on a console. Full of blistering set-pieces and an incredible bodycount, there's barely a moment when the needle's not fully in the red. Technically, also, it was yet another example of Criterion's "otherworldly" ability to push the capabilities of whatever machine it turns its hands to. The sheer volume of dust, noise and detail with barely a frame rate stutter in sight makes this an absolute must for those into the more action-oriented shooters.
On the other hand, there were justifiable moans about the game's longevity, with just eight levels (and similar number of hours) to wade through and no multiplayer. Some also took issue with the distinct lack of enemy variety, and some iffy design decisions that gave a distinctly unfinished feel to (admittedly very small) sections of the game. When something as polished as Black comes along, it's easy to spot the cracks, but overall it was a great debut for a team previously schooled in crashing cars. On 360 it's by no means outclassed - in fact, play this after Perfect Dark Zero and you'll see what we mean.
Produced under tumultuous circumstances that eventually contributed to Headfirst's sad demise recently, this was one of last year's hidden gems that was slipped under the radar by Take-Two with barely a whisper about its arrival. But Lovecraft fans and those who need a bit of horror in their lives were mightily impressed with the hideous atmosphere that seems to emanate from every doom-laden location in the game.
With a dark and grainy visual style that lends itself perfectly to the psychotic state that private investigator Jack Walters finds himself afflicted with, the sense of panic and terror is palpable. Some of the sections are extremely tricky, so don't expect an easy ride, and admittedly the game lacks a certain amount of polish and forgiveness stood next to most game releases these days. That said, devoted fans of the genre would be well advised to track the game down while you can - with its limited release having long since passed, you may well struggle to get hold of it if you don't snap it up. With the extra degree of visual crispness on the 360, this is well worth it for under £20.
Update: this title only works if you switch to PAL 50, therefore won't work if you're using a VGA cable.
If GRAW was your introduction to the Ghost Recon series, then you'd be well advised to check out Ubi's curiously unheralded follow-on to Ghost Recon 2. Superior in every way to GR2, this cut-price standalone 'expansion' came out to zero fanfare in September 2005 and built up a hefty following with those in the know.
Using the same squad-based formula that we're all familiar with, it's nevertheless a much more open version of GR, and righted some of the wrongs that fans vented about GR2. If you preferred the more experimental feel to Island Thunder, then Summit Strike will fit the bill nicely - though be warned that some AI respawn glitches take the shine off the game a little. As ever, Ubi adds exceptional value with some top-notch Xbox Live modes and some of the best visuals we've ever seen from the now-humble Xboxen. For the price it's going for these days, it'd be rude to pass up on this rather under-rated title.
Back in the day, good old Gestalt felt giddy enough to award this a whopping (and extremely rare) 10/10, remarking that it was "stupendous" and "the shining star in the Xbox launch line-up". Better than Halo? Swankier than Gotham? Apparently so. Personal preferences aside, the buying public didn't share his opinion, and sales of this still-credible game limped along in comparison, to the extent that this has probably become the forgotten game of the 'good' early Xbox games.
Having been made compatible this week as part of Microsoft's 21-strong US list, we fired it up and gave it a spin to see how it shapes up these days and came away mightily impressed. Ok, it doesn't quite have the convincing handling of Colin McRae or the simulation appeal of Richard Burns, but as an arcade take on the genre it's absolutely superb. Thanks to DICE's mastery of the technical abilities of the Xbox, it has barely dated in the slightest, and seeing the game run in 720p is a real eye-opener. Unlike most of the early Xbox games, it's actually better than we remember. Having said that, Microsoft really needs to make the superior sequel work with the 360 too. Playing this again has only whetted out appetite to get back to playing that...
Missing the point somewhat, I remarked that this was "the shortest game ever" but wisely gave the game two scores based on what price you could pick it up for. Having observed that it took longer to write the review than complete the flippin' game, it's hard not to be a little exasperated by the lack of content, but given that it was a basic port of an arcade light-gun game, it does exactly what it intended to.
You could say they don't make 'em like this anymore, and as far as brainless RSI-inducing on-rails blasters go, this is right up there with the best of them. With more gore than your average video nasty and some of the hammiest lines you've ever heard in a game, it's the archetypal B-Movie videogame - therefore a cast-iron cult classic, especially with the awesome HOTD2 featuring as an unlockable. Quite how you're supposed to play them with a light-gun on a 360, though, is a moot point, but it plays just fine with the pad, so don't worry.
If you're one of the unfortunate FPS fans that missed out on this on the PC (or just couldn't be arsed with all the Steam shenanigans) then it might be well worth checking out Valve's masterpiece on your shiny new 360. Of course, Valve hasn't confirmed plans to port this to the 360 (yet), and may never, so if you fancy playing around with gravity guns and slicing zombies in half with saw blades then firing up the Xbox version on the 360 is still well worth it.
Fair enough, you won't get the staggering visual opulence that's a standard part of the PC experience, but this incredible port still managed to push the Xbox hardware harder than probably any other game on the system, though Valve needs its wrists slapped for omitting multiplayer from the package. However, given how big the game is (15-20 hours) there's more than enough to keep you going for long enough to make it worth your while, and more than enough variety to make it worth pushing on through a generally top-notch experience. Watch out, though. Microsoft still hasn't quite nailed the emulation of this title, with some frame rate issues noticeably slowing down the game at times. As long as MS sticks to its side of the bargain, this definitely deserves its place as a must-have Xbox title on 360.
N.B. - this title will only run in PAL 50 currently.
After years as one of the best reasons to own a GameCube, its belated transition to the Xbox didn't quite get the fanfare it perhaps deserved, but our resident simian sympathiser Tomonkey Bramwell still gave the thumbs up to this 'definitive' version of the two SMB titles. Featuring all the levels and mini-games from both, plus some new ones, the Xbox version was by some distance the better of the two 'ports' - even though the Xbox pad held it back from being the best version overall.
However, the 360 compatibility sheds new light on this debate, with the wondrous 360 wireless pad making it a more enjoyable experience than ever. Tom still insists the more sensitive 'dead zone' of the Cube pad still hasn't been beaten, but one thing that's not in doubt is the incredible visual quality that the 360 provides for this version - in upscaled 720p it's an absolute treat, and gives weight to Tom's assertion that this is "something you need to own", especially with all levels and mini-games collected in one package. Black mark for SEGA for ignoring Xbox Live Leaderboards. Maybe next time...
Given that Xbox owners either have to pick up the double pack or triple pack or San Andreas on its own, it's not all that straightforward for us to recommend one specific GTA game for Xbox. All you really need to know is that the Xbox versions are a wee bit better than their PS2 dads, with sharper, smoother visuals and shorter load times - and on 360 the added presence of 720p upscaling sweetens the deal even more.
Having said that, GTA has never been a game known for pushing the visual quality, but for its trademark sandbox gameplay, wicked humour, and vast, expansive environments that can take months on end to fully explore (if true completion is your thing). Thinking back, GTA 3 had the most impact and got the balance right in terms of giving an environment that didn't overwhelm in terms of scale (unlike the bloated San Andreas, which is effectively three games in one), but Vice City had the feel-good factor of the 80s and a stonking soundtrack that blew us away.
San Andreas had plenty going for it, and is definitely one of our all-time favourite games, but it's not an everyman's game. It has some truly hideous missions that spoil the flow, and simply goes on way too long for all but the most dedicated gamer. It saddens me to think that so many people didn't get to experience the best that this game had to offer, but you can't blame them either. Whatever your preferences, you should own at least one GTA title on the 360 - it's a landmark series and no mistake.
The best flight combat game on Xbox? Maybe not (that honour goes to the wonderful Secret Weapons Over Normandy), but it's still a damned fine game in its own right, offering "instant and constant entertainment from the moment it hits the disk tray". With polished visuals, a great selection of missions and Live play, you could do a lot worse.
"The most ambitious stealth game ever made, while also perhaps the most accessible" was our lofty assessment of Ion Storm's under appreciated effort. Using a far more fluid level design, the kind of freedom we yearn for in games was there in abundance in Deadly Shadows. "Pleasantly honed" we reckoned, and for under a tenner you can forgive the fact that it creaks a little in the frame rate department - but never to the detriment of this already slow-moving title.
Going for a song on Play, this is arguably the finest Rainbow Six of the lot. Admittedly, the game "does nothing new whatsoever" but it still impressed us enough to award it 8/10. With some great set-pieces and a crafted selection of levels, the excellent mechanics at the core of game made this "repeat prescription" "just what the doctor ordered" [thunk]. Oh, and the Xbox Live modes were superb, too.
Our Rob still has a soft spot for Lost Toys' mech 'em up. Almost completely overlooked at the time of its release in February 2003, it was pitched as "a hardcore shooter with the added depth of a full-scale war going on around you in real-time". Mr Fahey certainly enjoyed himself, praising the freeform level design, awarding it a respectable 8/10 and observing that, "you keep on finding cool new things to do". It's not a title without its flaws (steep learning curve being one of them), but it's nevertheless a title that demands to be rescued from bargain bin hell.
"You've never played a game that's simultaneously as gorgeous, entertaining, inviting and downright hardcore as Ninja Gaiden," bellowed an excitable Tom when Tecmo's action opus hit the Xbox in Spring 2004. Simply put, "it's one of the finest action games ever made," said he, with uncharacteristic simplicity. And you know what? The person writing this article still hasn't bothered to play it. Sometimes, we deserve physical pain.
Don't make the same mistake - it's available for under a tenner and works on 360!
"There's no getting away from the fact that Forza is a sublime achievement," was our opening gambit in our 9/10 assessment of Microsoft's long-awaited answer to GT. Better still, we reckoned, "In many ways, this is Microsoft's finest achievement on Xbox." Blimey.
Given that these words only date back a year, not much has happened in between to change our minds, and it stands to reason that if you're a driving game fan that this has to be right at the top of the list of Xbox games to take for a spin on the 360.
But why did we (and everyone else) love it quite so much? It's just a beardy racing sim, right? Wrong. Designed with breathtaking skill, it manages to unite all comers by ticking practically every box imaginable, being fun and accessible without lacking depth, and even manages to stretch the Xbox's technical capabilities to previously uncharted territory. Throw in brilliant online play and a vast array of single-player content and it's an absolute steal for under a tenner. Get it up and running on the 360 and start looking forward to the sequel, out this Christmas.
It's frankly hilarious that people still make references to that review over four years on, but it's hardly surprising. Love it or hate it, Halo was and is an iconic game for the Xbox, and probably made the difference between success and failure for Microsoft. There had been plenty of excellent sci-fi shooters on the PC stretching back years, but Halo was the first FPS to really drag the genre into the mainstream, and remains the number one selling game - not only in its category, but on the entire platform. More importantly, it finally disproved the theory that consoles were ill-suited to the genre and got an entire generation into a style of game and a control system that had struggled to make headway.
Part of the reason was, obviously, that the game was bloody good. Those first two levels are still indelibly etched in the memories of millions of gamers in a way that few games ever manage. Built on cunning AI, the "30 second of fun over and over" formula never got dull, with fire-fights that were among the most dynamic and believable ever seen; in fact most of Bungie's competitors still haven't caught up in this regard.
The other reason it did so well, of course, is that it looked bloody brilliant at the time of its late 2001 debut in the US. For the first time, here was a console capable of rendering a world to the kind of standard that PC gamers took for granted. The fact that millions of gamers bought the machine just to play this game says a lot. Funnily enough, it looks really dated these days, but there's still a lot to admire about this landmark title.
The sequel - as good as it is - was something of a letdown in terms of its curtailed single-player campaign. Online, though, it was a different story, helping to set the standard for Xbox Live in a way that still hasn't been matched - never mind beaten. With both available for under a tenner, there's little excuse not to add them to your collection if you've got a penchant for shooters.
Sickening and depraved, or another in-joke? Whatever your take on Rockstar North's controversial title, there's actually a semi-decent game in there somewhere, if you can look beyond the gratuitous close-up death animations and their incessant need to make the player feel as uncomfortable as possible. Putting a claw hammer in the back of someone's head is not exactly our idea of fun, but once you put yourself in the shoes of someone playing for their very survival, there's something curiously compelling about it all. God help us.
If you thought our 8/10 review of Halo was funny, the plot thickened with our 10/10 review of EA's finest WW2 shooter. Ok, it was good, but not that good, After the excitement of Allied Assault on PC, EA was on a roll, and the arrival of this in summer 2002 impressed everyone with its incredible opening Omaha beach sequence. Ok, so it tailed off after that, but it still remains EA's best attempt.
Little needs to be said about this apart from that it's still the best footy game around, it's still badly presented, still has awful music and commentary [the Japanese version excepted - Tom], still has terrible menus and is still lacking a widescreen option. But until Konami get around to doing its 360 version later this year, we've got this to keep us going.
While Sony was busy running the WipEout series into the ground on the PS2, the chaps behind the legendary original formed Curly Monsters and took the concept to new heights with the blistering Quantum Redshift. Shame, then, that Microsoft didn't really believe in the title enough to give it a proper push, and even greater shame that the studio imploded shortly after the game flopped dismally at retail. If you're hankering after a decent futuristic racer, look no further.
Any more for any more?
There are an absolute stack of other titles we'd also highly recommend if you missed out on them the first time around, or fancy reminding yourself of some old favourites. In no particular order, here are some of ours.
- Red Dead Revolver - 16:9/480p, Gamepage, Play.com page
- SSX 3 - Gamepage, Play.com page
- Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic - 480p, Gamepage, Play.com page
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 - Sith Lords - 480p, Gamepage, Play.com page
- Colin McRae Rally 04 - 16:9/480p, Gamepage, Play.com page
- Fable/Fable Lost Chapters - 480p, Gamepage, Play.com page
- Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell - 480p, Gamepage, Play.com page
- Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow - 480p, Gamepage, Play.com page
- Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 - 16:9/480p/720p, Gamepage, Play.com page
- XIII - 480p, Gamepage, Play.com page
- Amped - 16:9/480p, Gamepage, Play.com page
- Dead or Alive 3 - 16:9/480p, Gamepage, Play.com page