Fearing The X

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XSux"XLax"X-anything derogatory. Until last week this has been my opinion about Microsoft’s black and green monster. I had my reasons to feel this way too. The initial presentation at E3 couldn’t be described as anything but disappointing. In addition, the fact that Microsoft originally forced stores to bundle their systems with extra junk was not a turn-on to me. Sega’s final betrayal of Dreamcast owners by making Shenmue II an Xbox exclusive didn’t help either. (Although now DC owners can be lucky enough to import a European copy to play here) Not to mention the fact that I was being poisoned by super columnist Ken Urben and his anti-fanboy rhetoric towards Microsoft. Hell it got so bad that I am actually playing Final Fantasy X, and am actually enjoying it (though I still have to deal with those damn cheap attacks)

I guess my opinion about the Xbox could be considered just, but stranger things have happened this year: The New York Yankee monopoly failed to win the World Series (way to go D-Backs!), Jagr becomes a Cap (and he IS scoring, so screw you too ESPN!), Vince McMahon now owns both WCW and ECW, and the most unthinkable"I OWN AN XBOX!

I know it sounds crazy, but when I received two copies of Max Payne, one for the PS2 and one for the Xbox, I was thinking of handing it off to Chris Richards to review, but after a few minutes of playing the PS2 version, I had to change my mind. Don’t get me wrong though, the PS2 version is good, but there were tons of framerate issues and many features missing that are included in the PC and Xbox versions. That, and the fact that my PS2 was having trouble reading DVDs (which I have noticed is becoming common these days), and since my PC display isn’t really an acceptable substitute, the chances of me purchasing an Xbox was increasing in my favor.

The other main source behind my purchase was my recent disappointment of the Nintendo GameCube. Don’t get me wrong, the little purple (or black, in my case) box is a powerful little device. But aside from Rogue Leader and Smash Brothers, and to a lesser extent, Pikmin (though I couldn’t really get into it), there was not much that would garner my attention. Either they were titles that didn’t pique my interest, or they were already available on either the PS2 or the Xbox. I know I went through this last year with the PlayStation 2, and since then a lot of titles were released to change my opinion, but I still want to live in the now. Metroid Prime, Mario Sunshine, and Zelda (with that scary new look) are still slated for late next year, and only E3 2K2 will provide an answer, but it’s still way too far away.

Both Max Payne and the need for a working DVD player brought me to the conclusion to purchase the Xbox, and so I did, along with Dead or Alive 3, Project Gotham Racing, Halo, and a DVD remote. Once again, it was a bundle of MY own choice, not one forced upon me, and from that moment I have been nothing but pleased with what I have seen so far.

To start off, I will admit that Dead or Alive 3 is a little below expectations compared to the other titles, but then again, DOA 2 was also pretty shallow to begin with, with very little to unlock as opposed to the Tekken series, Marvel/Capcom 2, and several other recent brawlers. It is however, drop dead gorgeous, and I’m not saying it in the same way the DOA3 commercial says. After all, there is no better way to turn off consumer than to have some dork saying "She kicks high." Unlike those two dorks, I actually have a girlfriend. I only wish the game had a little more depth to it, but it still is an impressive fighter, and warrants a rating of 4 GiN Gems of 5 as a result.

As for the change of consoles for playing Max Payne, I can see the effort has been greatly improved. The bullet time effect can now be seen in full, as rounds whiz by me non-stop (which surprisingly was nonexistent on the PS2). The frame rate also is very smooth now, running between 30 and 60, where it would sometimes chug to a stop on the PS2, and surprisingly controls well on the Xbox despite that tank of a controller. I would end up giving Payne 4 1/2 GiN Gems for the Xbox version, where the PS2 version would probably only get 3 gems because of its limitations. You really need the power of the Xbox to enjoy this title.

Project Gotham Racing and I have a small history. Considering how much I loved its predecessor, Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast, I was a little skeptical about how it would be on the Xbox. In those same three words that I keep using in this little commentary, I was wrong.

The game runs great. We now have a new city to race in (New York), a smoother frame rate (60 as opposed to 30 from before), more challenging racer AI, and an improved Kudos system. I can now see how many Kudos I receive for a trick as opposed to seeing them tallied up at the end. I can now see the strategic aspect of the game that was mentioned in past reviews. I will also give my own personal kudos to the ability to play your own music with the CD-ripping feature that the Xbox has.

Nothing beats listening to Black Sabbath’s "Paranoid" while racing through San Francisco (come to think of it, I still have yet to race through Sony’s Metreon. Maybe the Extended Play staff is still hiding from my threats last year.). Just as I gave MSR 5 Gems last year, Project Gotham would receive the same 5 Gems from me for being just as good, if not better.

Lastly, I gave Halo a try. Yes, this is the same Halo that I trashed at E3 for running too slow. If I remember, I called it the second coming of Perfect Dark because of its horrid framerate. How times have changed.

The game runs smoothly now, even when playing in four-player splitscreen mode. That same splitscreen feature went further when last month I had a couple of friends linked together with four Xboxes to create a massive 16-PLAYER massacre. We’re talking 16 players with close to zero lag, and that in itself is amazing. But still, the single player game is just as impressive as well. I may have been wrong about it being the second coming of Perfect Dark, more like the second coming of Goldeneye and Half-Life combined. It’s a tremendous mix of multiplayer combat combined with a killer single player experience with the most advanced ally and enemy AI known to man.

Just as Rogue Leader was the reason to buy a GameCube, Halo is definitely the reason to buy an Xbox, and 5 Gems is not enough for this pinnacle of shooters. It certainly deserves more.

My last test of the Xbox involved the DVD capabilities. As I said earlier, I was having problems with my PlayStation 2’s DVD capability. Whether it was using the default drivers (1.10U) or the new drivers enclosed with Sony’s remote (2.10), some DVDs skipped on a regular basis. Others cut off in the middle of playing with a message saying "Unable to read disc," and some didn’t even read at all. Not so with the Xbox. All the DVDs I had trouble with before, ran fine. The main test involved Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

On the PlayStation2, it would skip madly at the start of Chapter 7, and eventually stop playing. On the other hand, the Xbox handled FF:TSW without any hiccups at all. The only anomaly that I noticed involves some minor stuttering, but it’s just a glitch between video fields. A quick press of stop and play seemed to fix it, but it only occurred once in a great while anyway. The remote also includes some impressive features that the PS2 equivalent doesn’t have. Smooth video scan for speeds up to 32 times normal, a digital zoom of up to 10X, plus an on-screen menu which is easier to navigate are all lovely. I was impressed with how the Xbox can handle DVDs, but having to purchase a $30 remote brings the impression down a bit.

Nonetheless, when I purchased my Xbox, I was already receiving insults and threats by my so-called friends. They call me a traitor, a Microsoft fanboy and a Bill Gates’ spindoctor. You name it, I was called it. But I look at it this way. I now own all three systems, four if you include the Game Boy Advance, so when new titles come out it will be a win-win-win-win situation for me.

While I will be playing titles exclusive for the Xbox, Nintendo fanboys (some of which have given me the previous slurs) will be S.O.L. Some of these fanboys are already regretting not being able to play Halo, as they should. They are missing out. So keep bashing the Xbox if you want, and I’ll keep playing some of the best games out for any console system.

So once again I realize that I was wrong about how the Xbox would be. I am impressed with what I have seen so far. I only hope it will continue. Some of the titles coming out in the near future (Raw is War, UFC Tapout, etc) should easily impress me. We’ll just have to wait a few weeks and find out.

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