Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Set to be remembered as one of the scariest game on Xbox, but few people seem to realise it thanks to an unheralded release and a complete absence of a marketing or PR push. In fact, dig a little deeper into the story behind the game's developer Headfirst, and it's a tragic tale of a troubled developer eventually put out of business in tortured circumstances. But now's not the time to lament that - instead, fans of survival horror games should do their level best to pick up what is an - at times - astonishing experience. Uneven difficulty makes it tough going, but the inspired atmosphere that oozes out of every part of the game drags you through. And when you reach your destination, it's always worth it to find out what happens next. Brilliant.
What did we think? 8/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? It's your lucky day.
You'll like it if: You want to be immersed in one of the most sinister gaming scenarios ever - serious fans of survival horror and Lovecraft in particular will wonder why the game slipped under the radar.
A word of warning: It's tough. Some sections are nightmarish to get through, but in a way that's part of its charm.
Jet Set Radio Future
It always seemed a bit of a shame that both JSR games (the original being a Dreamcast game, remember) flopped rather alarmingly, but it's a game that people who actually bought it loved a great deal. Smilebit was - yet again - pressed into Xbox exclusive action with a quickfire follow-up to the game that had you racing around levels on skates tagging for fun - with delightfully in-vogue cel shading adding an appreciable degree of charm to the game. After making a too-hard original, the sequel was regarded as a "great game" but ultimately slapped down by our Tom for some slowdown and being way too easy - though you'll note he complains about it taking "only" 12 hours to finish - something that's pretty normal these days...
What did we think? 6/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? Invalid command.
You'll like it if: You wanted a Jet Radio that was actually playable by mortals.
A word of warning: Deemed a little on the easy side, and some slowdown.
Midtown Madness 3
Can you guess the score that DICE's long-forgotten arcade racer was awarded in the long hot summer of 2003? Tom rated it as "staggeringly entertaining" and slapped a big fat nine on the game. Sadly not that many of you were motivated to go out and buy it, and it has become one of a long line of half-remembered Xbox titles that warrants revisiting. On the surface, at least, it wasn't the visual tour-de-force that would have got more admiring glances, but the gameplay won Tom over with a great deal of variety - especially online where it got a particularly enthusiastic response.
What did we think? 9/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? No dice. Madness.
You'll like it if: You want one of the Xbox's best arcade driving games - and enjoy online gaming.
A word of warning: The visuals might be initially offputting - especially given it's an Xbox exclusive.
Ok, it's an Xbox port of a late period Dreamcast title, but given that particular machine died a death around the time of the 'handover' period between DC and Xbox, we thought we'd give this one a little plug to remind people. At the time, Shenmue was undoubtedly a groundbreaking title at a point when the very concept of wandering around a living breathing urban environment seemed amazing, and it's follow-up was a direct continuation of the story. Handily, Sega sidestepped the issue by making sure the entire story was recapped for the benefit of Xbox owners via an accopanying DVD, but it's arguably worth experiencing the original game if you've got any real intention of experiencing AM2's big budget action adventure. At times it erred more on the side of adventure than action, and the beginning of part two can seem painfully slow going - but it's a quest that's well worth investing time in, and an absolutely enormous one that has built up a loyal following for good reason. One day AM2 may be persuaded to make a sequel, but until then, hunt this down and enjoy one of the most ambitious game series ever attempted.
What did we think? 9/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? Nope.
You'll like it if: You're into deep, involving RPG adventures with incredible depth.
A word of warning: It's a serious undertaking.
Otogi: Myth of Demons
Sega racked up an impressive list of commercial flops on the Xbox that most of us have long forgotten about - but From Software's Otogi was undoubtedly a truly outstanding use of the hardware, and a firm favourite with many fans of hack and slash titles steeped in Japanese mythology. Admittedly our review wasn't completely sold on the button mashing involved, the slightly drunken camera system and having to repeat levels over and over, but it definitely did have a memorable charm and atmosphere that went a long way to overlooking some of its technical hitches. Definitely one for the Onimusha/Devil May Cry mob to check out if they missed out - and the sequel.
What did we think? 6/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? No. Demonic.
A game you either loved or hated, depending on your willingness to tolerate an unweildy control system that had many gamers throwing their pads across the room in despair - but given how many people rated Sega's Xbox exclusive (yep, another one) as an absolutely must-have title, who are we to kick it off the list? Like Panzer Dragoon Orta (another beautiful looking game with slightly wonky controls), it was developed by Smilebit and demands that you shoot rather a lot of insect-like aliens. This one, though, had a slightly odd Victorian setting where space travel has been invented - thus explaining why you're "rocket hopping around like a crazed gazelle" according to our Tom (back in the olden days of summer 2002). The old school shooter ethos certainly works, the story's great, and the visuals are typically spectacular - but unless you're prepared to invest a lot of hours in working out how the thing controls you might be best off looking at the pretty pictures.
What did we think? 4/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? Access denied.
You'll like it if: You like old school shooters with great storylines and beautiful visuals.
A word of warning: The controls are almost unforgivably tough to get used to - and tracking it down these days might prove tough.
Armed & Dangerous
Planet Moon had a happy knack of making interesting, off the wall third person shooters (MDK and Giants: Citizen Kabuto being the other ones) that don't take themselves too seriously, but a sorry habit of making games that few people actually wanted to go out and spend money on. Shame, because this LucasArts published game deserved much better. Released at the tail end of 2003, it distinguished itself with its crude humour and the fact that you're accompanied by a Scottish mole miner with a tiny penis and a tea loving robot. Seriously, who couldn't warm to that? Sure, it didn't exactly cover itself in glory in the AI department - but somehow managed to be impossibly fun in the process and is worth checking out for the warped story and demented action. And because it's so bizarre. It reminds us of the (weeps) good old days.
What did we think? Not reviewed! Oddly.
Compatible with Xbox 360? No danger.
You'll like it if: You have a warped sense of humour and like your shooters to be slightly mental.
A word of warning: The buddy AI is beyond dim.
Deathrow: Underground Team Combat
Arguably one of the most acclaimed Xbox games we never got around to reviewing for whatever reason, scooping 9s and 8s pretty much across the board in late 2002. Ubisoft basically conjured a super-violent future team sport (think Speedball), where you must throw a 'Blitz' disc through an opponent's goal, beat competitors to a bloody pulp with kicks, punches, stomps all considered fair game. And, if that's not enough you can curse their mother for good measure. It sounds absolutely ace, and looks rather pretty too. We're on our way to tracking down a copy right now, in fact.
What did we think? We didn't. (Steady.)
Compatible with Xbox 360? Yes.
You'll like it if: Speedball was your thing, and super violent team disc throwing sounds up your alley.
A word of warning: It's really tough to track down.
The last time we did an Xbox Bluffer's guide over two years ago, we managed to miss this forgotten gem out - but not this time. Scoring a highly respectable 7/10, this flight combat game pits you as some sort of airborne Duke Nukem, flying around absolutely gorgeous futuristic environments shooting the crap out of everything and being cocky about it. In summer 2003 it really did show off what the Xbox was capable in technical terms, and had a great "futuristic airborne GTA" feel about it. But it ultimately fell just short of true greatness thanks to some perilously tricky missions later on in the game that had poor Martin spitting fury amongst the praise. A flawed gem, if you will.
What did we think? 7/10
Compatible with Xbox 360?
You'll like it if: You had a soft spot for Jedi Starfighter and admire pretty visuals.
A word of warning: Difficulty spike ahoy! Gets needlessly frustrating later on.
Not - by any definition - a classic, but certainly a real cult curiosity for anyone interested in what Toby Gard (the original Tomb Raider designer, no less) and Confounding Factor did for seven whole years of their lives between 1997 and 2004. The result is - at times - thrilling, and for fans of action adventures it can be a treat to play. The characterisation is superb, the puzzles intelligent, and the lavishness of the unique visual style are well worth checking out: you'll really want it to be good. But then the bonkers one stick control system sabotages the game's playability, while the action element of the game knocks it down several notches. If Galleon had have emerged in 2000, we'd have been raving about it, but in 2004 it was charming but flawed. Well worth a few quid, anyway - and remember, this was eventually only released on Xbox.
What did we think? 6/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? No.
You'll like it if: You're tolerant and like games with a rich emphasis on puzzling and style.
A word of warning: The experimental one stick control system that maps movement and camera control to the same stick is bizarre. Jeepers.
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