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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Xbox 360 Reviews H-J

Halo 3
Grade: A-
Publisher: Microsoft (2007)
Posted: 2008/1/17
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, mild language, violence)

screenshotHalo 3 is exactly what I expected it to be - nothing more, nothing less. The Halo series has always offered top-quality first-person shooting action, and this third edition continues that tradition. Although certainly up to snuff graphics-wise, it doesn't rock the boat much with regard to gameplay. Playing Halo 3 is a lot like playing Halo 2, but there's more of everything.

The exciting campaign mode (played solo or cooperative) is briskly paced with frequent checkpoints and dramatic cut-scenes that typically run for several minutes. Some feature a hideous alien named Truth who has testicles hanging from his earlobes! That is not a good look for him! When playing the split-screen co-op mode, the second player assumes the role of the Arbiter, who unfortunately looks like every other freakin' alien in the game! I must have fired my rocket launcher directly into my friend Scott's face from point blank range about five times before realizing he was my partner! My bad!

The campaign has a surprising amount of backtracking, but at least the environments are more diverse than previous Halos, from lush jungles to bright beaches to snowy wastelands. Halo 3's controls are right on the money, providing precision aiming and excellent maneuverability. One new feature is your ability to deploy "equipment" such as bubble shields, cloaking devices, and trip mines. Personally, I'm not convinced these things were worth complicating the user interface for.

The weapons are well balanced, with the possible exception of the amazing new "war hammer", which makes the energy sword look like a Wiffle Ball bat by comparison. Some enemies now wear armor that can be blasted off. Halo 3 conveys an amazing sense of scale, especially when it comes to confrontations with the immense, spider-like "Scarabs". One minute you'll be firing at one of these mechanical beasts from high in the sky, and the next minute you're on the ground trying to infiltrate its outer shell.

Halo 3's fantastic musical score melds seamlessly with the action, although my friend Scott did mention that one bit of music sounded like the intro to Kim Wilde's "Keep Me Hangin' On". After that, five minutes couldn't go by without one of us belting out some cheesy lyrics ("why don't cha be a man about it...). Halo 3 is as polished as they come, and its endlessly configurable multiplayer modes provide unlimited replay value. The franchise has always been known for its superior on-line play, but the split-screen action is also terrific - especially on a high-definition television.

If I had to complain (and I do), I might mention the seriously long load screens and the confusing "semi-automatic" save system which is never sufficiently explained. There's nothing revolutionary about this game, but when you have a proven winner on your hands, you don't want to mess around with the basic formula too much. The first time I showed Halo 3 to my friend Steve and asked what he thought about it, all he could say was, "I think I need to get a [expletive] 360." © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Halo 3: ODST
Grade: C
Publisher: Microsoft (2009)
Posted: 2010/10/13
Rating: Mature (blood, violence, language)

screenshotI love Halo more than anything else in the whole wide world (except for Ray Lewis of course), but I still couldn't get into ODST. This is basically a Halo 3 expansion pack designed to keep the cash flowing until the next "real" Halo was released. ODST stands for Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, and its campaign is a series of side quests played through the eyes of several of these soldiers (instead of Master Chief).

A few things stand out about ODST. First, instead of a conventional health meter, the screen becomes red from the outer edges as you incur damage. As with all Halo games, if you remain out of harm's way for a few seconds this clears up. Pressing X places you in "VISR mode" which surrounds objects in colorful outlines, allowing you to find your way around in the dark. In addition, it also highlights enemies in bright red, making it very hard for them to hide. There's really no advantage to turning the VISR mode off, except you can't really enjoy the scenery.

The first few stages are set in futuristic urban settings that remind me of those in Blade Runner - only a lot more boring! The musical score is surprisingly mellow. ODST's gameplay is straight-up urban warfare as you shoot and duck behind the ubiquitous barriers. Although later levels open things up a bit, the monotonous early levels leave a bad impression. The combat is very much by the numbers, and it's not always apparent where to go or what to do. One new element is the ability to detach cannons and drag them around, but that's just borrowed from Gears of War.

I didn't care much for the campaign mode, but the game redeems itself a bit with the new "fire fight" mode. Like the "horde" mode in Gears of War, you cooperate against never-ending waves of increasingly mean foes. A scoring system gives the action an old-school flair, and I like how you can compete against your partner or go for the highest combined score. Naturally there are a slew of other multiplayer modes and the complete set of Halo 3 maps is included. ODST might give Halo fans something extra to chew on, but I found this half-hearted effort to be a bit of a turn-off. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Halo 4
Grade: B
Publisher: Microsoft (2012)
Posted: 2012/12/22
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood, violence)

screenshotThere was a lot of buzz surrounding this game because it marked the transition of the Halo development team from Bungie studios to 343 Industries. Some expected Halo 4 to adopt an entirely new look and feel, but that's not the case. No, this feels exactly like the Halo of old, save for some refined visuals, minor tweaks, and a few new enemies.

Halo 4 begins with an exciting escape sequence that helps you get familiar with the controls. Once again you are Master Chief, and he looks pretty much the same except the color of his suit is slightly different. He still engages in the same cat-and-mouse gunplay with covenant forces, although there are several new enemies including metallic dogs and teleporting dudes with skull faces. More powerful enemies have shields, and they might require about 20 shots to kill. You also have a shield, and you can move with it but not fire.

As the story unfolds you discover that your holographic guide, Cortana, is rapidly deteriorating and must get home to be repaired. Her virtual figure is gorgeous, so it's urgent you save her! Halo 4 graphics are terrific, and the high-tech structures incorporate a lot of glass floors and "light paths". Watch your step, because sometimes you think you're stepping onto a glass platform only to plunge into the abyss. The visuals look extremely sharp, but the craggy planet surfaces and sleek fortresses do get a little repetitive. Checkpoints are well placed and you can save your progress at any time.

I enjoyed the single-player action (also available in coop) but a resumed campaign takes forever to load. To enable the multiplayer you'll need to install the contents of the second disc, which is also incredibly time consuming. I like how you can commandeer vehicles in multiplayer, but I hate how weapon icons tend to clutter up the scenery. Halo 4 is a polished shooter, but its by-the-numbers style doesn't really bring anything new to the table. Frankly I was expecting more. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Halo Reach
Grade: A
Publisher: Microsoft (2010)
Posted: 2010/10/13
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)

screenshotIt's hardly a radical departure for the series, but Reach effectively ups the ante by honing the familiar Halo sights, controls, and audio to blood-splattering perfection. So what's it all about? Well, Reach is the Spartan headquarters which has fallen under attack by the largest Covenant fleet ever witnessed. Whatever! When it comes to Halo, the story is inconsequential, and if anything the dialogue-heavy cut-scenes slow the game's momentum.

Unlike the disappointing ODST which had heavily constrained environments, Reach offers an expansive, diverse shooting experience. The mountainous landscapes provide plenty of options for tactical maneuvering, and you'll witness beautiful panoramic views like a flaming space freighter embedded in the side of a mountain. There's even some sporadic wildlife (are those ostriches?).

The controls feel extra crisp, and new "armor abilities" offer a slew of new swappable gadgets to toy around with. The "drop shield" is a throwback to Halo 3, but there are a half-dozen other items that allow you to do things like initiate active camouflage or send a decoy out ahead. There's even a freakin' jet pack, and if you think the idea of soaring over a battlefield is exciting, well, you're right!

New weapons include a "target locator" that rains destruction from above - much like the "Hammer of Dawn" in Gears of War. There's also a new "gravity hammer" that makes the energy sword look wimpy by comparison. There are even spaceship shooting stages similar to Rogue Squadron on the N64. The health meter has been revamped so it now has several levels instead of a single rechargeable bar.

The enemy AI has been upgraded but I'm not so sure that's a good thing! It's a lot harder to target enemies as they are constantly scrambling and ducking for cover. The game's diverse musical score is absolutely sensational. Edgy guitar sections with pounding drums really get your adrenaline flowing while the lush orchestrated sections elevate the game to epic proportions. The only time Reach let me down was when I struggled to control the vehicles. To be honest, my difficulties with those date all the way back to the original Halo!

The excellent campaign mode has a nice "save and quit" option, which is a welcome upgrade from the ambiguous save systems of past Halos. The mode and customization options are vast, and I loved the split-screen modes with their gorgeous maps and competitive action. Halo Reach is a spectacular first-person shooter, and there's little doubt in my mind that this is the best one I've ever played. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Hydro Thunder Hurricane
Grade: A

screenshotMy friends and I always held Hydro Thunder (Dreamcast, 1999) in high esteem, so there was no resisting this sequel, despite the fact that it's only available via download. This stylish boat racer is pure arcade fun. The undulating waves, colorful boats, and spectacular tracks will absolutely bombard your senses.

There's a nice sense of speed and I love the sensation of going over giant waterfalls. Explosions jolt your boat and collapsing cliffs create surging tidal waves. I love how the water sprays your windshield - you can almost feel the mist! The stormy Norwegian track features a giant Thor who looms over the action and attacks with his hammer.

Your boat glides smoothly through the water and touching canisters fills your turbo meter. Turbo not only allows you to surge ahead, but also jump to reach hidden shortcuts and power-ups. It's easy to unlock new tracks and modes, and this will provide enough incentive to keep you playing for hours on end.

In addition to on-line competition you can play your friends via four-player split-screen (sweet). Extra modes include "rings" slalom courses and a gauntlet mode where you need to avoid explosive barrels. The rings mode is a little tedious but I like how it reveals many of the hidden shortcuts. Getting to know the tracks is crucial, especially since many feature narrow canals and sharp turns.

You don't see many pick-up-and-play games like Hydro Thunder Hurricane anymore and that's a shame. It's also too bad it was delegated to download status, because I would cherish a copy of this on disk. With its eye-popping graphics and non-stop action, Hydro Thunder Hurricane has earned the title of "new summer classic." © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Injustice: Gods Among Us
Grade: B-
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2013)
Posted: 2013/5/19
Rating: Teen (blood, language, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotI guess it was about time for a new superhero game, but could they have come up with a more grandiose title? Injustice: Gods Among Us recycles the fighting engine from Mortal Kombat (Xbox 360, 2011) to pit DC Comics heroes against their arch villains. You get a lot of big names like Batman, Cat Woman, Superman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Lex Luthor, and the Joker. My friends were pleased to see characters like Shazam, Black Adam, Sinestro, Deathstroke, Raven, and Solomon Grundy in the mix.

The head-to-head action is frantic fun, but Injustice left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. I went back and played Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe (Xbox 360, 2008) as a basis of comparison, and Injustice is superior in some areas but worse in others. Its character models are extremely bulky, which doesn't flatter the female characters at all. Wonder Woman in particular has such a broad chest she could pass as a transvestite!

The fighting action is solid as you would expect, but it has that mechanical, Mortal Kombat feel. The battles feel somewhat herky jerky, lacking a sense of flow. One unnecessary new feature is the "wager clashes" which are rock-paper-scissors contests that interrupt the fight. The level of violence is less than Mortal Kombat (of course), but the elaborate super attacks are outrageous. Batman's super attack culminates with the victim getting run over by the Batmobile!

The basic controls are simple but the tutorial reveals a lot of subtle techniques. Unfortunately the next time you play you'll have forgotten everything, and there's no manual to refresh your memory (although there is a product catalog). The detailed but uninteresting stage locations include the Bat Cave, a space station, and Atlantis. The best aspect of the game is how you can interact with the scenery by kicking your opponent into electrified wires, swinging on a chandelier, or aiming a nearby laser cannon.

Gods Among Us has a dark story mode, but its narrative is incomprehensible. You're constantly being whisked between locations, and the dialogue makes no sense. You have duplicate versions of the heros and weird alliances are formed with the villains. Battles like "Superman versus Superman" are confusing as hell. Additional single-player modes are available, but they are awful. I'd much prefer an arcade-style scoring mode to the "experience ladder" system which rewards you for playing longer but not better. Injustice: Gods Among Us is a decent fighter, but it's not nearly as epic as its name would imply. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Iron Man 2
Grade: D-
Publisher: Sega (2010)
Posted: 2010/5/29
Rating: Teen (mild language, violence)

screenshotI try to maintain a positive attitude going into each review, but Iron Man 2 is a mess. The storyline is convoluted, the controls are confusing, and the graphics are substandard. Since Ironman can fly, most stages take place in expansive outdoor areas, but the industrial facilities and mountain ranges offer little to see. While indoors it's easy to become disoriented as you become caught up on scenery and stuck in dark corners. Typically the camera is positioned over your shoulder, but it's prone to swinging every which way.

Blowing up advancing helicopters, cannons, and robots is moderately fun, especially since you can fire two separate weapons by squeezing both triggers. The targeting system is quirky however and some weapons take too long to reload. In addition to locking on and firing missiles like a madman, you can go fisticuffs with flying robots. Unfortunately, crazy camera angles make it really hard to tell what the [expletive] is going on during these battles. In fact, when Iron Man is wearing a gray suit, it's pretty much impossible to tell him from the bad guys!

The missions are action-packed but monotonous, and bosses repeat early and often. In one mission I had to escort a hulking mechanical creature and the damn thing kept stepping on me! Some objectives are nebulous at best. Get the data spine core? Locate the Tesla reactor? Huh?? The graphics exhibit frequent glitches like objects that magically appear in a person's hand, and even the cut-scenes are unimpressive. Robert Downy Jr. looks like he's Chinese for Pete's sake!

Between levels you'll return to your "headquarters", which is a complex myriad of configuration screens that let you "invent" new items and customize your outfit. It's confusing as hell, and sometimes you'll go through a lot of trouble only to be told, "the next mission uses a preconfigured suit". Wonderful. At least the soundtrack kicks ass, with a relentless, driving score that seems to have been lifted from the film itself. It's one of the few highlights of an exceptionally mediocre action title. Games like Iron Man 2 could give movie tie-ins a bad name. Oh wait... © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Jurassic Park: The Game
Grade: C+
Publisher: Telltale (2011)
Posted: 2012/7/14
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)

screenshotI haven't seen any magazines or web sites review this game, presumably because it's not a military shooter and hence irrelevant to the mainstream media. It's a shame because titles like this provide a welcome change of pace. Describing Jurassic Park as an interactive movie isn't unfair, but it's not as derogatory as it sounds.

This game owes a lot to the critically acclaimed Heavy Rain (PS3, 2010), and it isn't just another adventure with a license slapped on it. No, the story picks up where the first movie left off, reusing locations, vehicles, and facilities. The layout of the visitor center looks about right, and I love those colorful green tour jeeps. The dialogue is a little predictable but the game has an appealing cinematic quality.

In some areas you just pan around and explore your surroundings, like a point-and-click adventure. You're often presented with dialogue options, but trying them all can be tedious. There are bits of humor sprinkled throughout, like when I tried to tell a lady "you need rest" in Spanish, and it came out as "you eat pencil".

The action scenes are where the game gets some serious traction. These intense sequences prompt you to press keys quickly - not unlike the "quick time" segments in games like Shenmue (Dreamcast, 2000). It's exciting as you frantically try to fight off or escape from a dinosaur. In one memorable scene I found myself caught up in a battle between a T-Rex and a Triceratops. Each failed prompt reduces your score, and too many miscues are fatal.

The worst aspect of the game is scouring a scene for clues, which can be time-consuming and boring. Still, Jurassic Park fans will like the idea of being able to revisit the original island and play a part in their own movie. Even if it's never clear how much impact you're having on events, it's a fun ride all the same. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Amazon.com, Xbox Marketplace, YouTube, Amazon.com, Moby Games