Please note this is not a “Top 10″Â³ list highlighting what I consider the absolute best games available on the original Xbox. Rather, this is a look at ten games that have had a strong cult following since they were released on the Xbox, even if they are obscure or unheard of by the mainstream or casual gamer. This list will only include games that were Xbox console exclusives. This means no remakes, no cross-console titles, and no titles that have been re-released on XBLA as a digital download. I’ve also tried to make sure the games are available for thirty dollars or less, so that any gamer can pick them up and see why these titles still hold up a decade later. There is one big exception to that rule though… These ten games will also be covered in alphabetical order, so as not to give the impression that one game is better than another. The unintended side effect of this is that we’ll be starting with the first Xbox game I ever reviewed and ending with the last. Odd coincidence, no? The goal of this piece is to inspire a combination of conversation amongst older gamers, nostalgia over titles both loved and forgotten, and hopefully exposing younger gamers to ten titles that might not have had the largest advertising but still have a loyal following due to their quality. Who knows? If you missed one (or more) of these ten games, perhaps this piece will inspire you to track them down and see why they hold a special place in the hearts of gamers who experienced them.
Game #1: Arx Fatalis
Developer: Arkane Studios
Genre: First Person Action RPG
Release Date: 11/23/2003
You might not recognize the name Arkane Studios, but they are the team behind the upcoming first person stealth game Dishonored (being published by Bethesda) and they did the art design for Bioshock 2. This little French development company got its start with this partially open source first person RPG that was originally intended to be Ultima Underworld III. Ultima Underworld might not be a familiar title to younger gamers, but mention it to someone who works in the industry and they’ll probably talk your ear off about it. The Elder Scrolls, Bioshock, Gears of War, Deus Ex, Half-Life 2, and World of Warcraft were all inspired by Ultima Underworld. It’s one of the most influential games ever and it saddens me to see how forgotten it is by the average gamer. Arx Fatalis was meant to be the third game in the series, but Electronic Arts decided not to give Arkane Studios the license or publish the game. A little retooling and rescripting later, and Arx Fatalis was born. Thank Cthulhu for that, as it ended up being one of the best RPGs for the Xbox.
Arx Fatalis takes place in another world – one where the sun is no more. All life on the planet now lives in a series of connected subterranean caverns built by the dwarves of a time long since past. Humans, trolls, goblins, wererats and more now live in these caves, using magic to grow crops and stay alive. The game begins long after the underearth has been settled. You begin by seeing your character enveloped in a blue light and learn he is an amnesiac who knows nothing of the world or its history. Cheesy and cliche, but an easy way to make you learn the history of Arx Fatalis. You are a prisoner of goblins. You escape. You wander around. You discover a Human outpost where everyone was slaughtered horribly. Then slowly a conspiracy unfolds itself…
There are two big things that make the game memorable. The first is the sheer level of detail. Straight out of old SSI AD&D games like Eye of the Beholder, you have to eat. Of course, you don’t want to eat raw food, so you not only half to kill your meat, but cook it too. You also have to mix ingredients to make anything from bread to potions. You’ll have to learn to repair armour, create a fishing pole and many other things in order to reach your ultimate goal – defeating an avatar of the god of destruction. The depth even extends into spell casting. Taking a page right out of 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, your character will need to trace runes in the air and in real time in order to cast a spell, so there aren’t any instantaneous fireballs here. I loved this back in 2003 and I still love it now. It simulates the time and precision needed to cast magic and forces you to consider timing and location rather than just button mashing. If this turned out to be too hard for a gamer, they had the option of memorizing a spell by doing the runes in a more peaceful situation and then pressing Y to memorize it for a quick release down the road. If even that wasn’t enough, you could turn on arcade magic, which just gave you a menu for quickly selecting spells. So no matter your skill level, you still could wield magic properly. I loved the attention to detail in this game, as including so many small things that most RPGs ignore or forget really helped the kingdom of Arx to come alive for me.
The other great thing about Arx Fatalis was how open-ended the game was. You could kick ass and take names, try the diplomatic approach with other characters (including enemy races), or you could try and stealth your way through the game. There was no correct way to play Arx Fatalis and the choices you made in the game all lead to different consequences. Now this may not be a big deal in as we head into 2012, but eight years ago, this was insanely impressive and had people replaying the game multiple times to try different things in order to get a different outcome from their previous playthrough.
Although the Xbox version of the Arx Fatalis is superior (the PC version had mouse issues that hurt spellcasting), you can currently pick up the PC version on Steam for less than five bucks Arkane Studios even released a new patch for it and the source code for the game here. Either way, Arx Fatalis is a wonderful game that still holds up gameplay-wise today.
The old Dungeons & Dragonsfour player co-op arcade games by Capcom are greatly missed by anyone who played them. Sadly, the only console port they ever received was for the Sega Saturn – and even then only in Japan. Despite clamoring from fans, Capcom and Wizards of the Coast have never teamed up to bring these games back. The good news is that while we can’t experience Shadow of Mystara or Tower of Doom unless we know an arcade that has one (or, like me, you purchased one), you can still recapture the same feeling in one of the best hack and slash games for the Xbox – Dungeons & Dragons Heroes.
Much like the first D&D arcade game, you had a four player co-operative experience. You could play as a human warrior, dwarven cleric, elven magic or halfling thief. Unlike Capcom’s arcade games, which were a side-scrolling affairs, Dungeons & Dragons Heroes took its cue from the awesome Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance series and made this hack and slash affair a top-down one. Together with your friends or on your own, you battle your way through four VERY LONG chapters, slaughtering spiders, skeletons, beholders, yuan-ti and more until you achieve your ultimate goal – a showdown with the wizard Kaedin. The last time you met was 150 years ago and all four PCs and Kaedin died from it, so as you can imagine, there is a grudge to be had on both sides.
Dungeons & Dragons Heroes is one of the best four player co-op experiences you can find for the original Microsoft Xbox. It was an amazing amount of fun to get your friends together for a marathon session with this game. Yes, together, not online, as Dungeons & Dragons Heroes didn’t have online play. This was 2003 after all. I would love to see Atari slightly retool this for online multiplayer and release it as a digital download for the 360. That alone would tempt me to fire up the 360, which doesn’t get a lot of use in my household. The sheer amount of customization combinations in this game alone should make any western RPG fan giddy. If you’re a fan of hack and slash RPGs, co-op RPGs or button mashers in general, do yourself a favor and pick up Dungeons & Dragons Heroes. It’s insanely hard to put down and if you purchased Daggerdale, this will more than make up for that horrific experience.
Game #3: GunValkyrie
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Release Date: 11/18/2002
We have given Sega a lot of crap in the past for some insane business decisions and the long string of sub-par games they released for a while, but perhaps the decision that annoys me the most was the closure of Smilebit. This is the dev team that gave us Typing of the Dead, Jet Set Radio, PANZER DRAGON SAGA, Hundred Swords and several other games that are considered to be classics or even amongst the best games ever made. So, of course, as part of the Sammy/Sega merger, Smilebit was shut down and now they make the Mario and Sonic video games based around the Olympics. Oy. The loss of Smilebit and Amusement Vision was a blow to long time Sega fans and it still remains a bitter subject for some gamers. Unfortunately when we look back at Smilebit we often tend to forget about GunValkyrie due to people focusing on the Panzer Dragoon series. It’s unfortunate, because not only was GunValkyrie one of the more enjoyable titles released in the first year of the Xbox’s life, but the spastic full motion gameplay is something people either fell instantly in love with or outright hated.
The thing about GunValkyrie is that the game requires use of both analog sticks on the Xbox controller at the same time. This was a very different experience from how most third person shooters played back then, and even today, the game has a bit of a learning curve. The left stick controlled your movements, while the right trigger controlled your aim. The left stick also let you rotate while the right stick let you look side to side or up and down. Movement confused a lot of gamers that exclusively played consoles because the game played like the MechWarrior series for the PC. Still, if you were able to figure out the controls and the timing needed for them, you generally had a blast with GunValkyrie. It does make me wonder what the original control scheme for the game would have been like when it was first developed for the Sega Dreamcast (but never released). There the game had you use a controller and a light gun simultaneously. I have no idea how that would be plausible but I am morbidly curious about it.
GunValkyrie boasted an amazing soundtrack, incredible graphics for its day, a weird but fun story and unique controls that made it a cult favorite back in the day. Even today it still has a loyal following who clamor for a sequel. Sadly, that will probably never happen. For those into Steampunk, the visuals and character designs here are sure to interest you, as it is done in the style of “electri-punk,” which is all about electricity being harnessed, but in very different ways from what was done in the real world. The blend of mechanics and organics in GunValkyrie were very striking and it was quite easy to forget that this was set in an alternate 1906 where the British Empire’s rule stretched into the cosmos instead of bits and pieces of our own planet. With a facelift and digital re-release on Xbox Live, GunValkyrie might find a whole new audience to appreciate it. You can find it for pennies these days, so snatch it up if you can. Just remember you’re going to need patience to figure it out.
Game #4: Hunter: The Reckoning – Redeemer
Developer: High Voltage
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Genre: Hack and Slash
Release Date: 10/28/2003
Man, I love the Hunter: The Reckoning series. Hell, everyone here at Diehard GameFAN that has played any of the games in the trilogy has enjoyed them. We even gushed over the series as a whole back in February of 2010. The problem with the series is that High Voltage scattered the games across systems without any real sense. The first game was for the Game Cube, Playstation 2 and the Xbox, but it played best on Nintendo’s system oddly enough. The second game (and weakest in the series) was a PS2 exclusive, while the third and final game was an Xbox Exclusive. Crazy, huh? It gets weirder. All three games features the same characters and have an extremely tight continuity story-wise, and so, to get the full value of the games you needed to own at least two systems and flip between them. Redeemer was an odd duck in that you couldn’t play the game online, but it could connect to Xbox Live and net you some new costumes and a new playable character. Why High Voltage would do that and not make the game playable online just adds to the confusion surrounding the series as a whole.
The good news is that Hunter: The Reckoning – Redeemer is a truly fun game. You could sit down with three of your friends and engage in a whirlwind adventure of vampire and werewolf wholesale slaughter. Want more than just the five playable characters you start with? Besides the downloadable character (which is no longer obtainable), there are four unlockable player characters including a werewolf! The mix and match potential with all these characters ensures that no two playthroughs would feel the same. It also wouldn’t be a RPG without leveling up and as your character does so, you can choose to improve an Edge (powers in the game) you already have, or get a new one. There were also twenty different weapons in the game so you could mow down a pack of Garou with a chain gun, slice them up with a chainsaw or just hurl grenades at them. Factor in the sheer fun of an (up to) four player co-operative action RPG and you have a game that pretty much anyone could enjoy. It was the best part of third person shooters combined with the customization and leveling up of a RPG along with some pretty intense and/or difficult battles. I’m still amazed at the sheer amount of content and unlockables that are in Redeemer, even when compared to some current generation titles.
The story of Redeemer is very enjoyable and if you are a fan of White Wolf’s original World of Darkness line of tabletop RPGs (Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: the Apocalypse, etc.), then you’ll love this game even more as there are constant references to that universe, right down to battles with Black Spiral Dancers and the Genefex Corporations. The two things that stick out most in my mind from Redeemer are the Christmas battle against a demonic Santa Claus and a boss from the first Hunter: The Reckoning, along with the game’s ending and the death of one of the four original Hunters. It was very sad, but a great way to end the series. Hunter: The Reckoning – Redeemer is unfortunately one of the games that the 360 is not backwards compatible with. It’s a shame too, as it’s a really fun game that I still love to play from time to time. The action is nonstop, the story is well done and the voice acting cast is top notch (including Ron Perlman and Lucius!). Get some friends together and take back the night from the supernatural.
Game #5: Myst IV: Revelation
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 09/28/2004
It’s a bit odd referring to a Myst game as something the average gamer might have missed. I grew up during the time period where Myst was THE game. It sold like hot cakes and won damn near every award out there. It’s almost impossible to describe was a critical and financial success this was unless you lived it. Hell, Mysterium (the fan convention just for the series) has been going on strong since 2000. Sadly the original game hasn’t done very well. The PSP and two different Nintendo DS ports of Myst sold terribly. It didn’t help that they were poorly done in the first place. The sequel did well both in terms of sales and critical reception, but the third game and theUru spin-off were noticeably less so. Myst IV went back to the things that made Myst and Riven so popular and as such, it was a return to greatness. It also became an Xbox exclusive, which was a change from previous Myst titles that appeared on every system they could.
Myst IV features some of the best visuals of its era. Digital video was combined with not only pre-rendered graphics, but with real time 3D effects. The end result was gorgeous and it still holds up nicely seven years later. Don’t believe me? Click on the above video. That is ALL in-game footage. That’s amazing and even in 2011, we’d be saying nice things about Myst IV‘s visuals. The original score is over sixty-five minutes long and Peter Gabriel even contributed a song to it. Gameplay is done in the same style as most point and click adventure games. You use the mouse akin to a keyboard mouse (which makes sense as this was originally a PC game) to click on items to pick up, people to interactive with and puzzles to solve. A great change was that Myst IV let your rapid cross through locations you had already completed or finished instead of slowly backtracking through locations. As a long time adventure game fan, I can’t tell you how happy this made me.
The story of Myst IV is an odd one. A man known as Atrus has imprisoned his sons for crimes they committed two decades ago. He asks you, the protagonist to find them and judge whether one or both have repented for their crimes. Shortly thereafter, Artus’ daughter is kidnapped and you know have to save her as well. What follows is a twisted web of puzzles and intrigue. There are multiple endings, but only one of which can be considered a “good” one. Even then, it’s pretty dark.
Myst IV is a wonderful game, even if you’re not a fan of adventure titles or puzzle games. The game boasts almost an hour and a half of video and the ALIVE engine animates things that, until that point, were not thought of or simply taken for granted. Trees swaying from a gentle breeze, water rippling and even clouds moving realistically through the sky were exceptionally done here. The game was universally loved by critics and showed that Myst not only had a lot of life left in it, but that fans would still clamor for a well made game in the series. Unfortunately, like nearly every game on this list, Myst IV is not backward compatible on the 360. Why, Microsoft, why?
Game #6: Otogi: Myth of Demons
Developer: From Software
Genre: Hack and Slash
Release Date: 08/27/2003
Although I wasn’t a very big fan of Demon’s Souls or 3D Dot Game Heroes, I am a big fan of From Software. King’s Field and Armored Core were fun series and the Lost Kingdoms titles are some of the best Game Cube exclusives (and some of the best RPGs for the system) out there. There’s also the Echo Night series, which is one of my favorite horror series of all time. From Software has always made incredible but under the radar games. Even with Sega publishing Otogi, the same patterned continues, and if you missed out on this game, you missed on one of the best (and hardest) games of 2003.
Otogi is an odd action game, especially for its era, which is probably why it stands out so much in my head. It had twenty-nine stages and nearly everything in the environment could be destroyed. These two things make it one of the longer hack and slash titles out there (ten hours – quite long for 2003)and that length would increase and gamers would giddily see what they could reduce to rubble around them. The camera was a little odd as you’d spend a bit of time with both analog sticks repositioning it, but after a while it would feel almost natural. The game was a bit challenging (no surprise as it is a From Software game), but you’ll quickly discover which combos make short work of enemies and stick to them almost exclusively. Otogi is also a nice mix of swordplay and sorcery, and it’s a lot of fun to kill demons with Raikoh (the protagonist).
Perhaps the best aspects of the game come from the visuals. I know From Software hasn’t always been known for jaw dropping graphics, but Otogi was gorgeous beyond belief when it came out and it still looks good for what it is today. The lighting, the mist, the enemy designs and the level layouts were simply stunning and the graphics alone should have made Otogi a mainstream hit, but unfortunately, it languished in obscurity. Add in a really fun soundtrack and some great voice acting, and you have a game that should have fared far better than it actually did. If you come across a copy of this, pick it up and see why I consider Demon’s Souls to actually be one of the weaker From Software titles.
Game #7: Panzer Dragoon Orta
Genre: Rails Shooter
Release Date: 01/14/2003
Oh hey, look at that. A second Smilebit game and a third Sega title. It’s hard to believe there was a time when Sega published titles were almost guaranteed to be excellent, but it is in fact so. Panzer Dragoon Orta wasn’t just the best game Sega put out on the Microsoft Xbox; it was our 2003 Xbox Game of the Year – and deservedly so. Due to how video games are released (with the vast bulk of titles hitting between September and November), it’s a rare January release that is remembered by the time it’s award seasons. Panzer Dragoon Orta was one of those rare games. This final game in the Panzer Dragoon quadrilogy is not only a beloved classic, but a sore spot with longtime Sega fans who not only lament the loss of Smilebit, but the loss of the Panzer Dragoon series as well.
Panzer Dragoon first started on the Sega Saturn, but due to Sammy Sega’s unwillingness to admit the console ever existed DESPITE having some of the best video games of all time, Orta is the only PD you can play on a current system (unless you have a PAL 360). Even the unlockable version of Panzer Dragoon on Orta is the PC version rather than the Saturn version. This is a shame as the Panzer Dragoon is one of Sega’s most popular series of all time. During the 32 bit era, Panzer Dragoon eclipsed their mascot Sonic in popularity and in Japan, Microsoft and Sega teamed up to make a limited edition Panzer Dragoon white Xbox which still remains the most popular and sought after version of the system by collectors and is ofted cited as the prettiest Xbox as well.
So what made Panzer Dragoon Orta so awesome? Well, it’s one of the best rail shooters ever made. I know a lot of gamers think of things like House of the Dead or Dead Space: Extraction as rail shooters, but the Panzer Dragoon series turned the genre on the head. Instead of a first person viewpoint with a light gun, this series took you into a third person perspective and you (and your dragon) could dodge. The on-rails part was simply the basic path that you travelled in. Simply put, it was awesome. Orta had enemies attack in a full 360 degree environment too, so you would truly be playing in all three dimensions instead things charging directly at you. Positioning, especially with boss fights was critical to not only surviving, but getting a high rank on each stage. This is also true of your dragon’s ability to morph into one of three forms. Even better, each dragon form could gain experience and would level up independently of each other. This meant you could focus on say, leveling up the Base Wing form exclusively until you maxed out at level five and then move on to something else, or you could balance things out. The fact you could customize your play experience that much made Panzer Dragoon Orta all the more awesome.
Then there is the story, or rather two stories. The main game tells the story of Orta, a young girl who has spent much of life her trapped in a tower until she is freed by a mysterious dragon. The game ties in directly with previous Panzer Dragoon titles (mostly Saga) and the story is as beautiful as it is heart breaking. It’s a very sad and the fates of some classic PD characters will no doubt shock you. It’s a wonderfully story though and it wraps up the series wonderfully. Of course, there’s also the unlockable side missions known as Iva’s Story. Holy crap, is THIS depressing. It’s honestly one of the saddest stories I’ve ever encountered in gaming and I’ve played through Valkyria Chronicles several times.
Panzer Dragoon Orta is honestly the single best game for the Microsoft Xbox, at least in my opinion. It does everything wonderfully and I can’t think of a bad thing to say about the game. It was our runner-up for our 2003 Game of the Year award (Disgaea won by a landslide though) and our 2003 Xbox Game of the Year Winner. Even as we approaching the ninth anniversary of the game, it’s still one that every gamer should experience because you are almost guaranteed to fall in love with this. Buy it. Do whatever it takes, but go buy it.
Game #8: Steel Battalion
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4/Nude Maker
Genre: Mech Simulation
Release Date: 11/21/2002
Steel Battalion is one of those games every gamer worth their salt has heard of, but that very few have played. Less than 16,000 copies exist in Japan and roughly that is in the US as well. This was a very low print game, but due to the high cost of the title, Capcom actually broke even on it. What made this game so expensive? Well, if you’re a younger gamer that didn’t remember the insanity around this game, it’s because Steel Battalion had a massive controller with two control sticks, three PEDALS, and forty buttons. The game plus controller clocked in at about $200, but god damn, it was worth every penny. The game not only looked amazing, but playing it was about as close as one will ever get to actually driving a mech. MechWarrior 2? Awesome game, but it was nothing compared to the immersive experience that was Steel Battalion. I wanted this thing so badly when it first came out but unfortunately I was a) living in England at the time and b) only brought my GameCube with when I moved there (What? It was tiny and portable. Remember how much the Xbox WEIGHED?). Eventually I managed to buy this for about a hundred dollars and my god, was it worth every penny. Look, I loved giant robots as a kid. Robotech, Transformers and Voltron I were my cartoons of choice. Giant robots that smashed things. As a small child my profession of choice was going to be Veritech Pilot. Unfortunately as I grew up, no one actually made any.
Steel Battalion offers a first person perspective, which made for one unique experience. You had to start up the mech properly with your controller which could frustrate gamers brand new to fiddling with all the buttons, sticks and pedals. There were three types of “Vertical Tanks,” which the mechs were known as. You had Light (for mobility), Medium (balanced), and Heavy (massive firepower but they moved at a snail’s pace). As the game went on you would unlock new models of each VT type. Each type of VT and each passing generation had their own startup sequence and operating system, so you’d have to learn to drive not one, but nine different mechs with the massive Steel Battalion controller if you wanted to master the game. This might sound like a lot of work, or even a headache to some gamers, but I loved this thing.
I loved the realism in this game. Your windshield could get covered with mud and dust, so you’d have to clean it in the thick of battle. Your mech could tip over or heat up. If your character didn’t eject before the mech explodes, they would die permanently. Yes, that means your saved game would be wiped. That’s intense my friends. It reminds me of a few roguelikes for the PC in terms of sheer cruelty to the game. Regardless of how hard things could be (especially for casual or younger gamers), it was hard not to love this thing simply for being so different from the average game. Steel Battalion was easily the most original and unique game for the Microsoft Xbox, as well as the most immersive. Sure it’ll never be one of the most popular titles, but it will always stand out simply as an example of what could be done.
Nude Maker AKA the remnants of Human (Clock Tower/Fire Pro Wrestling) developed Steel Battalion for Capcom and they did an excellent job. The second game, Line of Contact was online only and thus is completely useless and worthless to have in this day and age. For some reason though, From Software is developing the third game in the series, which will be using the Kinect sensor instead of a behemoth of a controller. As a fan of From Software I’m looking forward to Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour, but I wish Nude Maker had gotten to be a part of it. They don’t have anything else going on right now. Maybe Capcom can give them the Clock Tower license to play with.
Game #9: Still Life
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: 06/06/2005
Still Life is an odd game for many reasons. For starters, it is the second game in a trilogy where the first and third games are PC exclusive. As well, the third game in the series is made by a completely different development team from the first two games (Post Mortem and Still Life) and is nothing like what the original team wanted the game to be like. The original plans for Still Life 2 were to have it be a direct sequel to Still Life (the game ends on a semi cliffhanger). Instead Still Life 2 has a completely different story with the same characters (albeit it with totally different personalities) and it ignores everything from the first two games. It’s terrible. Don’t play it. Now with that out of the way, let’s talk about why Still Life is so amazing.
I realize a lot of console gamers neither like nor are exposed to classic adventure games, but this is such an amazing game, it’s sure to change your mind in the same way titles like Sam & Max or Monkey Island consistently win people over. Unlike those comedy oriented games, Still Life is a very dark thriller about a serial killer from 1920s Prague and how his madness is still being felt today in modern era Chicago. Still Life was a huge influence on another French developed adventure game, Heavy Rain. I actually prefer Still Life and I consider it to be one of the best “spooky” games of its generation. The story is creepy, the puzzles are tough but beatable, and the characters are wonderful. You’ll be switching back and forth between the two time periods as the game progresses in hopes of discovering who the serial killers in both time periods are. The character models and background designs are especially gorgeous compared to a lot of other titles for the Xbox, and even today the game looks pretty nice compared to other modern adventure game releases. It’s very much a point and click game, but one that adapted itself extremely well to a console environment. The ambience and the atmosphere in this game is a big part of why Still Life was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic (PC form mostly), but also why the game is considered a classic amongst adventure game fans.
Back in 2006, I actually worked with the remains of M2 to reveal the actual killer in Still Life in my “Top 30 Horror Games Countdown.” You see, the game never tells you who, but it gives you a whole host of possibilities. Again, the point was to reveal the killer in the next game, but M2 never had the chance and eventually Microids brought in a terrible team to make a terrible game. If you’ve ever played Still Life and you want to know FOR SURE who did it, or if you want to bookmark who the killer was meant to be after you get done playing this on either the Xbox or PC, click here. It’s pretty long and it won’t make sense unless you’ve played the game, but kudos to people like Tara Reed, Jean-Francois Pelletier and other members of The Adventure Company/MC2/Microids from back in 2006 who put up with me tracking them down and were kind enough to reveal the canon killer to me.
Xyanide is one of the most obscure games for the Xbox. It’s generally considered the last release for the system and it was by such a small company that most game stores never carried it. I remember having to drive 20 miles just to find a copy. It was that crazy. I’m glad I did though as, Xyanide might not be the best game for the Xbox, but it was a good way for the system to go out.
Xyanide followed the Panzer Dragoon Orta form of rail shooters, but went a step further by introducing the concept of branching level paths. The House of the Dead 3 is another rail shooter that did this, but not with as much depth or variance. The end result was a budget shooter that was well worth its $19.99 price tag, even if it had issues you wouldn’t find in higher priced titles.
One of the things I really enjoyed about Xyanide was the story. A lot of shoot ’em ups have little to no story, so to play one with full CGI cut scenes and an actual plot being thrown around was a real treat, especially for the last new Xbox release I’d ever purchase and/or review. You play as Drake, a warrior-pilot from the planet Mardar. It is your duty to escort a prison ship carry a young girl names Aguira out into space, and then make sure it is sent into a black hole. Sounds pretty bad. What the heck could a little kid have done to warrant punishment by “Maelstrom”Â as the inhabitants refer to the hole? Well it turns out she’s a serial genocidal maniac. Yes. She kills entire planets for kicks and tears apart babies with her bad hands. I’m sure the parents are to blame.
Everything goes smoothly with the escort mission until a meteor crashes through the prison ship. A meteor…made of XYANIDE! OH NO! Wait, what’s that? What’s Xyanide? Well, it is a substance that allows whoever touches it to manipulate reality. And evil bitch supreme Aguira has bits not embedded in her flesh. Not good for the universe says I. Drake sees Aguira creating worlds and strange enemies to protect her and he has only one option: Destroy these newly forming war-worlds and the fragments of Xyanide before Aguira uses it to do something truly hellish to all of reality as we know it.
The other neat thing about Xyanide was that your ship was techno-organic. Organic weapons had more of a spread, while mechanical weapons were slow but far more powerful powerful. Organic worked best when you were facing smaller enemies, because there tended to be a lot more of them and thus you could kill several at once, Mechanical on the other hand was better with bosses. The dual stick controls took some time to get used to, but it just added to the uniqueness of the title. Again, Xyanide probably won’t ever be acclaimed by anyone as a truly “must own” title for the Xbox, but for a $19.99 budget game and one of, if not the last new game for the system, it was fun and I’m glad I tracked it down back in the day.
So there we go. Here on the tenth anniversary of the Microsoft Xbox, we’ve looked at ten games that never really had their day in the sun with mainstream gamers. Here’s hoping some of you discovered titles you now want to experience firsthand, while others got to reminisce about some old favorites. Feel free to comment and let me know which games you’ve played, or if you have any under the radar suggestions that should be discussed as well.
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Alexander Lucard was the Editor-in-Chief of Diehard GameFAN and Director of Operations for the InsidePulse network. He has since retired from writing, but clearly shows up now and again. He has worked in video game journalism since 2002 and was also a paid consultant for Konami and The Pokemon Company. Alex has previously written for Tips N Tricks, Gamespot, White Wolf, TSR, Wizards of the Coast, Eden Studios, 411mania, Not a True Ending and more. His writing could also be found in the monthly periodicals Massive Online Gamer and Pokemon Collector Magazine.