The original Xbox is one of my favorite systems. It's an unfortunate victim of big business, but a great console nonetheless, with hardware that brought games to the next level, and great software, if you could track it down, that is.
The Xbox, in my opinion, had more underrated or underappreciated games than any other console in history, at least in proportion to how many games on Xbox were actually played and considering the system only had a 4 year lifespan cycle.
When Xbox fanboys, the stupid ones, go off on how the Xbox was better than PS2, they usually only cite one or two games that were really awesome, as opposed to mentioning all the great hidden treasures on the Xbox that really did make it a great system.
So, for the purpose of this article, I'm not gonna talk about Halo, which I love, or any of the other really popular Xbox games, mostly shooters, racing games and sports games. Instead, I'm gonna talk about the games I feel nobody ever paid real attention to, or were my personal favorite of the cult classics, or games that were talked about in their day but aren't really anymore.
I'm gonna start with my personal favorite Xbox game. That would be The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Now I know, Oblivion is a superior game, but "best" and "favorite" are two different things, and of the two, I've played Oblivion, but I prefer Morrowind. Reason being, pretty much anyone can enjoy Oblivion, but to enjoy Morrowind to its fullest, you have to be both a hardcore gamer, and have a good imagination. As well as attention span, and love big adventures in games. In other words, it's basically a game made just for me. Sure, the combat sucks, but it's still technically an RPG, and combat in RPGs always sucks, especially turn-based. While Morrowind's combat is in real time, it's actually more like turn-based because to win in Morrowind, the combat requires about 40% preparation, 40% weapons/equipment, 15% luck and only 5% skill. Everything else about the game is incredible though. There's literally nothing like it on the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube generation of games, the environments are insanely interactive, you can do pretty much anything you want. Along with that, there's such a huge number of side missions and secrets that it can literally take years to beat the game 100%. It's unfortunately not backward compatible on the 360, but if you still own an original Xbox, and haven't gotten the chance to play this, buy it used at Gamestop or EB NOW! It's only 6 dollars used. For such a huge game, that's an insane price. You can get the "game of the year" edition for about $10, and it includes even more levels, missions and characters. The game has flaws, the graphics are dated and it's definitely not for everybody, but it's my favorite game on the Xbox.
Another one of my favorite games is Jet Set Radio Future, or JSRF. It's another highly original game, and highly inexpensive. A whopping 2 dollars used along with Sega GT 2002 in the 2-pack. But that isn't backward compatible with the 360. The stand-alone game is backward compatible though, but it's about 6 dollars. Still, that's a great price for such a great game. It's a cross between an action-sports game and an action-adventure game. The characters all ride on roller skates, and there are simple tricks, but make no mistake, this isn't Tony Hawk or Aggressive Inline. It's an objective-based adventure game. The cel-shaded graphics still look great by today's standards, and it's a very fun game to play. It's probably one of the more frustrated games I've played though. It's not difficult per se, but it's frustrating. The controls and camera can cause some problems occasionally, sometimes resulting in death. Also, the music is bad. It's this techno rap stuff. You can't shut the music off. It'd be fine if there were more variety, but what happens is, the game starts with a 3 song playlist, and replays the same songs over and over until you get to the next chapter, at which point there are 3 new songs, and those replay over and over. Why the entire soundtrack couldn't have been available from the get-go is beyond me. Also, all of the music follows that same genre of music, so there's no variety anyway. The music fits the theme of the game, but it's not for everybody. This would've been a great game to add custom soundtrack support to, but unfortunately, that option is not available. The music is probably my biggest complaint about the game though. Still, it's a very good game and I reccomend it to anyone. If you like the music, you'll like the game even more. If you don't, well that's what the mute button on your TV is for.
Continuing in the Sega universe, Shenmue II. this game was heavily hyped in it's day, but sales in America were disappointing. The graphics were some of the worst on Xbox due to the game being a slightly cleaned up Dreamcast port. But you know me, I don't care about graphics. And if you let Shenmue II's bad graphics stop you from playing, well, sucks to be you. Because Shenmue II is an adventure you simply cannot afford to miss. Gameplay-wise, it's a fantastic adventure. It can almost be compared to a detective game in a way, because the main story involves looking for evidence and tracking down people. In fact, if the CSI game on the Xbox were like this, instead of a crappy point and click adventure game, that'd be awesome. There's a ton of minigames including Yu Suzuki arcade games Hang On, Outrun, Afterburner 2 and Space Harrier. Even though the majority of these games used a special controller in their arcade cabinet, be it a motorcycle for Hang On, a cockpit for Afterburner, a steering wheel and pedals for Outrun, each of these games works really well with a standard controller as well. Shenmue II also has a fighting mode, similar to Virtua Fighter, which is fun but would be better if the camera was better. Shenmue is also one of the first games to have "Quick Time Events", which are the timed button press events that would later be copied in games like Resident Evil 4.
Shenmue is one of the most realistic games I've played. I only wish it were more interactive, because you can do things in this game that no other game allows you to do. Also, the main story pretty much gets boring after you play through once. I usually find that games with good stories and good gameplay are fun to play through a second time just for the fun of it, but that's not the case for Shenmue II. Even still, it's only 6 dollars, and that's arguably worth it just for the Yu Suzuki arcade games. In case you don't know who Yu Suzuki is, he created the arcade games I mentioned above as well as Virtua Fighter and Shenmue. He's one of the true pioneers of video games and I can't wait until his next game comes out. Hopefully we'll see a Shenmue III in the near future as well. But for now, you aughta check out Shenmue II if you have an Xbox or 360 and haven't played it yet. The included DVD "Shenmue the movie" gets you up to speed on the story of the series if you missed out on the Dreamcast version, and the game is good enough that it really shouldn't be missed.
Then there's Deathrow. My favorite sports game on the Xbox. It's a very mature game. Lots of swearing, blood and violence. But it's a lot of fun to play too. It involves a disk that you basically throw through a hoop to score a point. To win, you either have to have the most points at the end of the game, or beat up your opponents enough that all four of your opponents are KOed at the end. "Deathrow" refers to a move where you charge up the disk until it turns green, then throw it. If one of your opponents or teammates gets caught in it's line of fire, they get knocked down. It's a great way to knock out goalies, retrieve the disk quickly, and score. The stock music is crap, though. Now only is it generic and bad, it doesn't fit the theme of the game. But, if you have some hard rock on CDs, you're in luck, because the custom soundtrack is supported. The teams and players are all unique and original. It's just a fun, original game overall. It's like a cross between a sports game and a fighting game. And it's only 5 bucks used. And it's backward compatible on the 360. Hell yeah! Lol.
What's next? Well, going back to Sega, Panzer Dragoon Orta. I didn't get to play of the Panzer Dragoon games on Sega Saturn (I believe there were two of them, each are still selling for upwards of $100 or more on auction sites or Amazon). But I sure do love Orta. It's a rail shooter where you ride on a dragon. It's a beautful game graphics-wise as far as the art style, although it is from the earlier Xbox days. Even though it is just a rail shooter, it's surprisingly deep and very fun to play. It's only 8 bucks used at Gamestop or EB, which is a great price needless to say. I think it's backward compatible too. Definitely one of the great hidden treasures on the Xbox, and you should definitely check it out if you get the chance.
Freedom Fighters. This one's multi-platform. So if you have a PS2 or, I think it's on Gamecube too, not totally sure. But anyway, Freedom Fighters is incredible. I would say it's definitely THE most underappreciated game in the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube generation. It's a third person shooter, but it's sort of squad-based. The AI is incredible, some of the best in any shooter. When I said sort of squad based, I meant, well it's not like SOCOM or Killzone, it's basically, if you've played GTA: San Andreas, and you know the whole recruiting Grove Street Families members and having them fight alongside you, that system was basically a copy of Freedom Fighters. It works better in Freedom Fighters as well, as there are more options for controlling your squad, and your squad members are smarter and better at defending themselves. Freedom Fighters is a very atmospheric game as well, and the guns feel very powerful. It's a rather short game though. In fact, that's why I think it didn't sell very well, because people rented it instead of buying it. But if you've never played it before, it's only 5 bucks on Xbox, and 10 bucks on the PS2, so it's definitely worth a buy if you're even remotely into shooters. In my opinion it's the best third person shooter on the PS2 and Xbox, and one of the best shooters overall on those systems, at least in the top 5. I'm pretty sure it's backward compatible on both PS3 and 360 as well. So unless shooters aren't your cup of tea, you have no excuse not to check it out.
I'm gonna finish up with a very surprising choice in my opinion, Starsky and Hutch. Sure, the single player is not great I mean it's okay, but that's not why I like this game. I like it because of the 2-player mode. Sure, that's not too great either, if you play it the way it was meant to be played. The 2-player game is designed for the light gun and steering wheel. The concept is one player drives and the other shoots. When the game is played like this, it's a tired gimmick that pretty much sucks. But, when you play it with only one player, with one hand on the wheel and the other hand on the gun shooting, well then you've got a highly original, pretty fun game. Good for me too, because when I bought my Xbox, it had the light gun included, which admittedly isn't the best light gun and is scarsely supported on the Xbox. It's tough to master, but it's like a really good arcade game in a way. Not the best game of course, but definitely a fun gameplay experiance that's worth playing if you have the light gun sitting around, a racing wheel, and 5 dollars for the game. The single player is more like an extra feature to me that just adds a little bit of value to the game, where the main draw is playing the 2-player mode by oneself. Definitely very cool.
Okay, so that was my bargain shopping list for hidden gems on Xbox. These gems are what made Xbox a great system in my opinion, not the Halos Knights of the Old Republics, the Project Gothams, Forzas, Top Spins, Mech Assaults or Crimson Skies. Those games were awesome, don't get me wrong, but the hidden gems were what made the system in my eyes. The prices of these games are as such that there's really no excuse not to check them out. So if you read this article, I hope you check out at least one of these games. Trust me, you won't be disappointed. That's all for now. Hope you enjoyed this. Thanks and bye.