Xbox Live Unplugged Vol. 1
A handy compilation. But for whose hands?
A compilation of Xbox Live Arcade games! Excellent idea. Just the thing that people who can't get their 360s onto the Internet might need. Although, hang about - two of the games are virtually reliant upon multiplayer, you can't unlock the full versions of the bundled demos without connecting to the Internet (at all), and the free month of Xbox Live Gold access just sort of rubs the lack of connectivity in your unused ethernet port's face.
Still, a compilation of Xbox Live Arcade games! Excellent idea. Just the thing that people with Xbox Live Silver accounts might need. Although, hang about - free Silver accounts allow you to access Live Arcade for demos anyway, and the quality of these games is inconsistent, so you'll probably want to try them first rather than spending 25 quid to grab them all at once.
Still, a compilation of Xbox Live Arcade games! Excellent idea. Here's what you get:
With the disc in the drive (sadly it won't copy the games to your hard disk), your Xbox Live Arcade menu is suddenly alive with the following titles: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, Bejeweled 2, Wik: Fable of Souls, Outpost Kaloki X, Hardwood Backgammon and Texas Hold 'Em. You also get demos of Marble Blast Ultra, Feeding Frenzy and UNO, which saves you about 30 minutes of downloads, along with a month's subscription to Xbox Live Gold. Bought individually, the full games would amount to £34 worth of downloads, so the pack obviously represents good value for anybody sitting at home with those precise titles on their wish list. The question is whether or not you'll get your money's worth out of the content if you're just happening upon them for the first time.
At the top of the bill, there's Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, a game that for shoot-'em-up aficionados and dilettantes alike represents superb value when bought online for a paltry £3.40. Based on the Robotron scheme of old, you direct a little spaceship-sort-of-thing around a play-area with the left analogue stick and fire off your current weapon in whichever direction you point the right stick, with a limited number of shoulder-button smartbombs used to detonate every enemy on the screen.
Attacks come in waves, and the game's subtleties are such that you can still be getting better at it several months after you begin playing. Hitting 500,000 is an impressive enough milestone, but doing it on one life, or getting over 1,000,000, or further, will test your resolve and your ability to build and execute strategies in such a high-tempo environment. As a mixture of seat-of-the-pants action gaming and high-end shmup strategy it's dazzling - and its fluid backdrop is mesmerising for observers.
Even the initial frustration of dying quite often is offset somewhat by the way the game continually changes up its approach as you ascend the levels and score-multipliers, and devotees will enjoy picking away at its more trying unlockable achievements along with the bundled version of the original Geometry Wars game, which is by no means the same.
On Xbox Live Arcade, it doesn't really get much better than Geometry Wars, and so it proves elsewhere on the Unplugged disc. Wik: Fable of Souls represents good value - a slow-burner of a platform-puzzle game that becomes more enticing the further you get, it's about leaping and slingshotting around environments trying to feed little grubs to a meandering creature at the bottom of the screen. It's a bit too stunted and repetitious to be universally appealing, but the levels you unlock later on are much more interesting, so it's worth persisting with for a few hours at least.
The same's true of Outpost Kaloki X, but for different reasons. Kaloki's a strategy game that involves building up little bases in space, balancing the needs of the surrounding system against cashflow to try and reach level-specific goals. It's very different to everything else on Live Arcade, and sufficiently well put together to keep you going for a few hours, but as with Wik the repetition soon sets in as you pick leaves off the same tech-tree and get tired of surveying the same gauges and counters on the right edge of the screen for impetus.
Bejeweled 2 stops the rot, but only temporarily. Aeons old and much better when Success derived Zoo Keeper from it on the DS, it's a game of swapping tiles to vanish lines of three jewels, and here it is again with a handful of variations. You can't really criticise the conversion too much, and the core gameplay remains hopelessly addictive, but anybody with a DS Lite can buy a much better version, and anybody with a PC can achieve the same results there. For real this time, as the 360 interface isn't a great improvement on the mouse control of the freeware efforts.
All of which leaves Texas Hold 'Em and Hardwood Backgammon. Both offer a decent grounding in their respective games, and you can go online and play against other people too. Probably best you do, since certainly in the poker game's case the single-player AI isn't exactly in the running for its own late-night TV series. Once you are hooked up, you'll be able to either learn a bit more about the game or engage with your friends. Except if you can go online, you probably already downloaded Texas Hold 'Em during the first two days after its release, when it was available for free. And if you didn't, you might as well just download the demo.
That's the problem with Unplugged really. The best game on the disc didn't cost very much to start with, and the others you'll probably want to pick and choose from, or play online. If you are in the extreme minority of connected 360 owners who haven't bothered with Live Arcade at all yet, we'd suggest investigating the demos rather than spending money on this, and if you're stranded offline we'd suggest that you bring your 360 to work or wherever it is you're reading this and do the same. There's certainly a lot of gaming to be had here, and if the best four appeal and you fancy a month's trial of Gold access, Unplugged is fairly decent value. For most though, I'd say you're better off putting the money toward a full-price game.