If you’re anything like me (Gods be good, you’re not), you spent most of your time during the sixth generation of consoles on a PlayStation 2 with an occasional, but welcome, experience on the GameCube. The Microsoft Xbox almost completely passed me by, and aside from my brother owning one for the sole purpose of a console version of Championship Manager 01/02, I had zero play history outside of the retro-active obligatory play-throughs of Halo and Halo 2 on my Xbox 360. I had wanted to play Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic since I’m a sucker for Mass Effect and then decided I would also dedicate some time to perhaps some other original Xbox gems that I missed. Maybe for good measure I could even use the opportunity to go through games that weren’t specifically exclusive on Xbox but I had missed out on none-the-less.
For this adventure into the realm of Spartans and over-sized joy pads, I acquired an original Xbox from a fellow editor and began the laborious task of acquiring games. An upgraded HDD, a chinese knock-off controller S from ebay and several tutorials later I was ready to take the “Black” … *cough*… and green.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x (2001)
Developer: Neversoft (Ported by Treyarch)
I adored the first two Tony Hawk games on the original PlayStation, and whilst I was aware of ports to the N64 and Dreamcast, I scoffed at the nature of playing those games on anything other than that glorious pre-rumble masterpiece that was the original PlayStation controller. THPS2X was a launch title for the system and was never released outside of North America. So imagine me, blown away by easily the best version of one of my favourite games of all time. Out of the gate, THPS2X looks much nicer. Lacking the actual numbers, I can only guess the actual FPS of THPS2X but the game unsurprisingly runs much smoother than its PSX counterpart. Less jaggies and less jarring textures give it a really nice feel, not to mention the grind balance meter from THPS3.
The biggest feature which is still to this minute absolutely exciting me, is the inclusion of the all of the levels from the original Tony Hawk. Once completing the vanilla THPS2 career, you unlock the “2X” career, 5 new original levels exclusive to this version with their own specific goals created by those at the helm; Treyarch. If that wasn’t enough, I was floored to discover that after completing these levels I was greeted with the entire campaign of the original Tony Hawk, secret tapes and all that other good shit. This game was essentially the entire first two games spruced up for those who drank the Xbox kool-aid early and had nothing else to play except Halo. Granted if you’re as good as me (Gods be good, you are), you can rattle through a Tony Hawk career mode in less than a couple of hours but the sheer amount of content available (at least for a Tony Hawk game) is brilliant. Re-designed menus and such were a welcomed addition to a seasoned Activision skater but matter little. The only caveat of this game is that one would obviously have to play it with an Xbox controller, something I was not used to – but after a level or two became accustomed to. With the custom soundtracks feature, you could easily import the complete soundtrack from the original THPS if you so wished.
The upcoming Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD suddenly doesn’t look so enticing.
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
Developer: EA Redwood Shores (now Visceral Games)
When the Lord of the Rings was at it peak of popularity, EA did what EA do and secured the license to make games based on the movies. The Two Towers game on PlayStation 2 was really fun. I remember thinking my comparison to Golden Axe was one the most apt video game observations I had ever made. In reality I am almost certain playing it now would reveal it’s true form as a clunky mess, still even though that game covered the events of the first two films, I never got around to playing its sequel. The opening level takes place towards the end of the battle of Helms Deep, the ending of the second movie and gives you the reigns of Gandalf the White, packing his sword and staff smacking down orcs and uruk-hai. This was a great introduction to the game’s addition of the white wizard as a playable character and also seeing the end of the previous game from a different point of view.
From memory alone the game plays almost identical to its predecessor. The only change I would guess was that the controls may be a little tighter and the graphical presentation to be a little improved also. You play through levels based on scenes from the third film, killing enemies of Middle Earth and building your character. The combat isn’t particularly well polished, quick and strong attacks make it fairly simple and par for the hack and slash course. The lack of a block often makes the game incredibly frustrating until the art of parrying is mastered. A face button pressed constantly can avert damage received, building up power to go into “perfect mode” where attacks become stronger. This feels clunky and gives the impression of less control, failing hard in comparison to the fluid master strokes of Devil May Cry and God of War. After the opening level the campaign is split into three paths, one for Gandalf, one for Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, and one for the Hobbitts; Samwise and Frodo. All play largely the same but seemed to represent easy, medium and hard modes respectively, at least for me they did.
Performing combos and kills gives the standard experience used to purchase character specific of global character upgrades. This is really fun and is essential in progression as even on easy mode this game can become incredibly hard. I reserved no shame in reaching a plateau of difficulty and succumbing to the ever present method of time saving when playing games of times gone by is concerned: the cheat code. Adding experience to make Orlando Bloom stronger kept me entertained and prevented me from tearing the hair from my head. Still, powered up beyond recognition, the game’s escort missions and sometimes awful camera made hard work of my Fellowship.
The Return of the King is by no means an excellent game, it is fairly middling even for the often basic hack and slash action genre. But even a slight affinity for the movies will result in a fun time. I played this game whilst re-watching the extended trilogy (and do those films have some *sigh* problems) and felt rather engrossed. It is adequate fun and is a great example of a perfectly enjoyable movie-licensed game, if not solely for the accuracy Sean Astin’s running animation. Spot on.
The Xbox adventure will continue, be sure to check back for more impressions on staple titles from the black and green shed of a console, and remember to pipe up in the comments below.