Xbox Reviews D

Dark Summit
Grade: F
Publisher: THQ (2001)
Reviewed: 2011/2/4
Rating: Teen (comic mischief, bad language)


screenshotThis misguided title takes the carefree sport of snowboarding and saddles it with paranoid undertones and espionage themes. You'll see references to undercover operatives, shadow organizations, and military conspiracies. Are we bored yet? (Yeah!) The premise of this game makes the "new Coke" look like a good idea by comparison.

You play a lanky red-haired chick in disjointed missions that have you snowboarding through a combination ski resort/toxic waste dump. There are oozing green pits to jump over, fallen towers to grind, and exploding mines to avoid along the narrow, closed-in trails. The graphics aren't bad but the track designs are unappealing with their piles of rusty junk, mud bogs, and train tracks to get stuck on.

Performing mid-air acrobatics is an exercise in button mashing, and your character doesn't immediately respond to your commands (hello face plant!). Grinding is especially unsatisfying because it's simplistic (hold X) and there are no audio effects to go along with it. The courses contain branching paths that let you explore new areas, but they tend to be monotonous and too long. Completing the mini-missions to make progress is an absolute chore.

The challenges are described by cryptic text, so figuring out what you need to do is half the battle. Typically you're asked to perform a series of tricks, but sometimes you'll need to do odd tasks like knock a turkey off a picnic table. I'm not sure what the designers were smoking, but someone at THQ should have had their head examined for giving this dud the green light. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Darkwatch
Grade: B
Publisher: Capcom (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/3/12
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual themes)

screenshotAlthough Darkwatch boasts a western theme, this first-person shooter appealed to me more for its winter scenery and occult content. You play the part of Jericho, an outlaw who's slowly becoming a vampire after being attacked by a bloodsucker during a train robbery. Your goal is to hunt down the head vampire Lazarus, but first you'll need to blast hundreds of his skeletal minions back to hell. Darkwatch's graphics look terrific, especially in high definition.

The action is fast and fluid, and the degree of detail in the scenery is commendable. One of the early stages takes place in a graveyard outside of a church, and it looks magnificent under the eerie moonlight. As you journey through trains, graveyards, mineshafts, and snow-covered forts, you'll blast rampaging skeletal warriors, undead cowboy sharpshooters, and levitating barmaids with glowing red eyes and hoop skirts. These chicks look especially creepy as they swoop down from above and unleash bloodcurdling screams.

Darkwatch is brimming with style, which compensates for its by-the-numbers gameplay. The weapon selection is pretty standard, but at least the crossbow is unique, firing exploding arrows! I love how the skeletal creeps panic when they realize they have one of these things embedded in their chest. You can blast off the limbs of approaching creatures, and it's especially satisfying to detonate the explosive barrels they like to carry around. Throughout the game you'll toss dynamite, man turrets, and drive a jeep mounted with twin gatling guns. During horseback stages you can turn 360-degrees to attack demonic horsemen.

At certain points in the game you're prompted to make a moral decision, and this affects what powers you'll acquire and what enemies you'll face. Another neat feature is your "blood vision", which highlights enemies and items of interest. This is initiated by pushing in the right thumbstick, and I often triggered it accidentally during the more frenetic parts of the game. Darkwatch is generally entertaining, but some stages are better than others. You can get lost in the pitch-black mineshafts, and the aptly named "torture maze" truly lives up to its name.

The four-player split screen game is a nice bonus, but for some reason the two-player split screen doesn't include a scanner, and that stinks when you consider how huge these battlefields are. At its core, Darkwatch may be just another first-person shooter, but it has a certain polish and style few can match. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Dead Or Alive 3
Grade: A-
Publisher: Tecmo (2001)
Reviewed: 2006/7/6
Rating: Teen (mature sexual themes, violence)

screenshotI must confess that I underrated this game the first time around. Dead or Alive 3 is easy to dismiss as pure eye candy, but in retrospect its gameplay is outstanding. This game looks astounding on my high definition television. The character animation is silky smooth, and the fights unfold like well-choreographed martial arts flicks. The controls are precise and success depends on a balanced combination of offensive barrages, defensive maneuvers, and pure luck. Juggling moves are the order of the day, allowing you to deliver several extra licks after tossing your opponent into the air. It's a bit shallow, but fun as long as you're not on the receiving end.

Despite the rich visuals, the game has practically zero load times. Each character sports a distinctive fighting style, and while most are male, it's the beautiful females that steal the show (they kick high). Perhaps even more eye-catching than the babes are the scenic, multi-tiered stages. These locations are so phenomenal that you'll want to pause just to look around. Many feature uneven terrain, along with surfaces covered with water puddles, ice, or powdery snow. You'll battle in lush autumn woods, a sunny tropical beach, a high-tech aquarium, and a snow-encrusted forest. The skyline in the glass building stage is absolutely stunning.

Interactive environments allow you to pin your opponent against a wall or tree, or toss them through walls and windows. When a fighter is thrown off an elevated platform, the other character leaps down to rejoin the battle, and it's as exhilarating as it is ridiculous. The slick user interface offers options galore, including story, tag-team, and practice modes. Dead or Alive 3 has long been the premier fighter for the Xbox console, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball
Grade: B-
Publisher: Tecmo (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/4/2
Rating: Mature (Sexual themes, gambling, nudity)

screenshotFor those who find this game's title somewhat perplexing, it's actually an offshoot of the Dead or Alive (DOA) fighting game series featuring some sexy, well-rounded babes. Based on graphics alone, DOA Volleyball deserves an A+. My friends were absolutely mesmerized by the curvaceous ladies in this game, and the opening video alone was enough to make our jaws hit the floor. Yes, DOA Volleyball really plays up the cheesecake angle, with plenty of cut scenes showing the players "warming up" in various positions.

Likewise the tropical island scenery is also pleasing to the eye, with sunny beaches, private coves, and lush jungles. The volleyball action seems almost secondary, but it's still pretty good, and DOA Volleyball somehow manages to forgo all the meters we saw in Beach Spikers for the Gamecube. All you see here are the girls in action, and while it's fun to watch, the swinging camera does make it hard to position your players.

Still, the fluid animation and realistic physics make up for some of that. The game is fun and easy to play, with only two buttons used. It takes practice to time your hits effectively, and the volleys tend to go on for too long. Outstanding background music features bouncy, catchy pop tunes that fit the beach environment perfectly. But what's the deal with the voices? The players sound like little Japanese girls, and it's annoying.

The one-player mode is not what you would expect. It's played in virtual "days", and before you can play volleyball you'll need to win over a partner by buying her an appropriate gift. You earn money for gifts by gambling in the casino at night, which offers several betting games that are fun in their own right. While maintaining relationships, shopping, and receiving gifts is certainly an original concept, it wasn't what I had in mind when I bought the game, and it didn't hold my interest. The two-player mode is better, but for some reason both players can't be on the same team! What's up with that? And where's the four player mode? Are they saving it for a sequel? © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Defender
Grade: D
Publisher: Midway (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/2/17
Rating: Teen (violence)


screenshotIn recent years, remakes of classic early-80's arcade games have proliferated rapidly. Although their snazzy 3D visuals are a huge step up in terms of graphics, the gameplay usually languishes in mediocrity. Defender is a typical example. While it's great to view, the frenzied, relentless gameplay of the original game is nowhere to be found.

The graphics are not at fault. The awesome interplanetary skylines are splashed with color, the explosions are remarkable, and the smooth framerate makes it a pleasure to fly around. You view the action from just behind your ship, just like Rogue Leader (Gamecube). Also like Rogue Leader, your missions usually involve protecting, escorting, or evacuating people. You can also pick up and place cannons strategically to help your cause.

It's a shame that Midway took this hackneying "mission" approach instead of trying to use the gameplay of the original Defender. This game isn't very fun. A fundamental flaw is the difficulty in shooting anything - the crosshairs are way too sensitive, and aiming is frustrating. Actually, this new Defender bears little resemblance to the original. Only a fleeting sound effect here and there will remind you that you're playing Defender. I did enjoy the "Historical Perspective" documentary included on this DVD, but a better bonus would have been the inclusion of the original Defender. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Demon Stone
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (2004)
Reviewed: 2010/1/9
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)


screenshotThis game is eerily similar to the Lord of the Rings titles based on the film trilogy. Those games were good, but not great. Since the same developers were responsible for Demon Stone, you can understand why I'm lukewarm on this hack-n-slash dungeon adventure. Demon Stone's opening stage introduces the three main characters: a fighter (strength), rogue (stealth), and a sorcerer (ranged attacks). You toggle between them via the directional pad, and this adds variety to its otherwise conventional gameplay. The trio battle their way through mines, towers, war-torn countrysides, and other locales that look like they were plucked from Lord of the Rings. Heck, even the soundtrack sounds as if it was lifted from the films.

Demon Stone's core gameplay involves hacking up demons and goblins while mixing in occasional spells. I normally don't mind button-mashing fighters, but Demon Stone's brand of slicing and dicing is less satisfying than it should be. There's minimal blood, and the weak sound effects really understate the thrill of slicing through raw flesh. It's almost as if sound effects are missing from the game!

The graphics aren't bad, but dark, murky visuals sometimes make it hard to discern what's happening during the chaotic battles. I like how each fighter has his own style, but I find it odd how the rogue needs to walk through blue glowing "glint" in order to become invisible. What is that stuff?? Demon Stone falls victim to many annoying cliches including invisible walls, regenerating monsters, linear structure, and bosses that take forever to kill. It was a nice change of pace however when I was able to control the hulking "shield guardian" knight who swats away orcs like flies.

Your game ends abruptly upon any character's demise, but frequent checkpoints ensure you won't have to retrace your steps too far upon continuing. Cut-scenes cannot be skipped however, which is a major no-no in my book. Between levels you save your progress and upgrade your characters. The upgrade screens are pretty involved, and while I was relieved to see an "auto-buy" option, it confused the hell out of me. Demon Stone isn't a bad effort, but if you've played any of the Lord of the Rings games, this one may feel a bit recycled. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Dino Crisis 3
Grade: D
Publisher: Capcom (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/3/5
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)


screenshotHaving thoroughly enjoyed the first two Dino Crisis games, I was anxious to "complete the trilogy" of this exciting action/adventure series. Dino Crisis 3 took me a bit by surprise, because it's a radical departure from the first two games. Instead of Jurassic Park-inspired storylines, this takes place in the year 2548 on an abandoned space freighter crawling with genetically mutated dinosaurs.

The fresh premise allows for some intriguing possibilities, and the developers took advantage of this to come up with some terrifying creations like you've never seen before. The production values for Dino Crisis 3 are excellent, with smooth, lifelike graphics, and a lavishly orchestrated musical score. The opening cut-scenes are positively jaw dropping, and had me convinced that I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

But despite such a promising start, Dino Crisis 3 turned out to be a confusing mess. Let's start with the horrendous camera scheme that you have absolutely no control over. Not only does it often give you the worst possible angle, but when you move it swings randomly, which is completely disorienting. You can't even see where you're going half the time! Adding to the confusion is the fact that the large, wide-open rooms all tend to look the same. Dinosaurs regenerate constantly, and literally appear out of thin air.

Add in a bunch of uninteresting key puzzles and the need to constantly backtrack, and it soon becomes apparent why this game sucks so much. On the bright side, auto-targeting helps you pick off targets, and you can employ floating robots to fight alongside you. But overall Dino Crisis 3 is a major disappointment, and it's probably not worth your time. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Doom 3
Grade: B+
Publisher: Id Software (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/7/3
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)

screenshotI've been anxiously awaiting Doom 3 since it was released for the PC last summer (2004). I even purchased the Xbox "special edition" which contains Doom I and II. If only its tin gray box didn't look so butt ugly. And while I'm on that subject, there's something fishy about the fact that the "extras" are included on the same disk as the game. If they don't require an extra disk, why not let everyone have them? Oh, because then they couldn't charge an extra ten bucks!

Doom 3's claustrophobically dark environments offer an experience that's like nothing else I've played. You can use a weapon or a flashlight - but not both at the same time. This "feature" has been subject to much controversy, and I still can't decide if it's idiotic or brilliant. Obviously it would be easier to use both at once, but it could be argued that this limitation heightens the tension and encourages a more careful, deliberate approach.

The game is set in an industrial complex on Mars where all hell breaks loose - literally - as demons begin spawning from portals. Is the game scary? Hells' yes! When the lights go out suddenly and you hear a loud crash, you can't help but jump out of your seat. Weird noises that emanate from rooms ahead will make you think twice before entering. Besides the hideous monsters, eerie sights include corpses that suddenly levitate and float out of the room.

Doom 3's controls are crisp and responsive to the highest degree, and I love how the D-pad is used to quickly switch weapons. The weapons themselves are similar to those in past Dooms (chain gun, shotgun, plasma gun, B.F.G.) but their reload times are considerably longer. Doom 3 offers a few "find the key" and interactive puzzles, but for the most part it's either "kill or be killed". One element I'm not crazy about are the "PDAs" you collect from dead soldiers, containing both emails and voice clips. It's tedious to examine their contents, but sometimes necessary to uncover critical clues like lock combinations.

Doom 3's graphics are as good as I've seen in a first-person shooter - even better than Halo 2. I couldn't help but notice some slight pixelation when you're right "up on" the scenery, but the texture mapping and lighting is fantastic. The environments are detailed to an almost photo realistic degree, but there's not much variety. You'll spend most of your time wandering the dark, narrow hallways of industrial facilities with steam pipes and control panels all over the place.

The human characters look good but not remarkable, and their pale skin makes them look like zombies even before they're dead. The surround sound is impressive; the crystal clear moans and footsteps build a sense of paranoia (are those footsteps mine?) There's no auto-save feature, but you can initiate a save at any point, and there's even a handy "quick save" button.

My biggest disappointment came when I attempted to play the much-ballyhooed two-player cooperative mode with a friend. Sadly, there's no split screen version, so you'll need two copies of the game. Otherwise, I really enjoy playing Doom 3. It may lack the variety and long-time play value of Halo, but you can't question Doom 3's sheer intensity and top-notch production values. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Dragon's Lair 3D
Grade: B-
Publisher: Ubi Soft (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/1/30
Rating: Teen (mild violence)

screenshotI was a huge fan of the original Dragon's Lair "laserdisc" arcade game in the early 80's. Although never any good at it, just watching that awesome animation was enough to keep me riveted. And with Dragon's Lair 3D (DL3D), I can freely explore that world of fascinating castle rooms, mysterious knights, and magical traps.

At its best, DL3D does a superb job of capturing the look and feel of the original game. At its worst, it feels like a Tomb Raider knock-off. The graphics are rendered with detailed backgrounds and cell-shaded characters. I was only disappointed with the "death" screen". In the original game, Dirk would gradually decay into a heap of bones, and it looked incredible. The new sequence looks plain and downright cheesy in comparison. The sound effects and music are absolutely first-rate, providing an intense, foreboding ambiance.

In the age-old storyline, Dirk needs to save Princess Daphne from an evil Wizard named Mordroc. Have you checked out Daphne? She is a certified hottie! Most of the rooms are short puzzles inspired from the original game, but a few require extensive platform jumping and switch pulling which can border on tedious. While the DL3D gameplay is certainly exciting, it can also be very frustrating. You have to sheath your sword before you grab ledges or ropes. Some of the key switches and escape routes are barely visible, and there are numerous bottomless pits - the bane of my existence.

The fighting aspect is clumsy and doesn't require much technique. The camera is a big issue too. The developers leave it to you to position it correctly, so you're constantly swinging it around frantically. You can save at any time, but even if you forget to save and die, the game thankfully restores you close to where you left off. Like most platform games, you acquire new items and abilities as you progress. Dragon's Lair is pretty good. Even with all my complaints I could play for hours on end. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Dungeons and Dragons Heroes
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (2003)
Reviewed: 2005/1/30
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, violence)


screenshotAs a teenager my friends and I loved playing the Dungeons and Dragons board game. Actually, come to think about it, we spent more time perusing those awesome hardback books (Monster Manual, Dungeon Masters Guide) than actually playing the game. What made D&D so fascinating was its extreme attention to detail, with literally thousands of meticulously described magic items and hundreds of fully conceived monsters.

Dungeons and Dragons Heroes tries to incorporate the richness of the board game, but it plays like a second-rate Baldur's Gate. As you explore caves, castles, and swamps, you'll collect treasure, flip switches, and hack up hordes of monsters. Your ability to perform special moves and throw projectiles like acid flasks adds some much needed variety. Does it get repetitive? Hell yeah! Especially when it takes five minutes to destroy a squid-headed Mind Flayer, and then you walk into the next room and there are five more!

Still, the controls include a terrific guard move and I love how you can hack up dozens of creatures at a time with no graphical slowdown. When surrounded, each swing of your sword can strike several enemies, with blood and hit points splattering all over the place. Hero's medieval graphics are superbly crafted, but some of the dungeon scenery can get repetitive. Fortunately, a handy on-screen map will keep you on track.

There are some minor annoyances, like the excessive number of "trapped" chests, and how you can pick up a huge pile of gold, only to discover it's just "3 GP". C'mon! The sound effects are outstanding, particularly if you have surround sound. I only wish the characters spoke with English accents - American accents sound odd in a game like this.

Dungeons and Dragons Heroes has only one major flaw, but it's a killer. The camera control is left completely to the player! And while the right joystick makes it easy to swing and zoom the camera, the fact that you have to wrestle with it constantly is deplorable. Making adjustments while exploring is one thing, but when you're battling a half-dozen trolls and inadvertently move behind a wall, there's no time to mess with the camera angle.

The disk states that the game is "best played together", but I beg to differ. With multiple characters, the camera pulls far back, making it hard to see what's going on in the dark scenery. If not for the camera issues, this might have been a winner, but as it is, Heroes falls into the average category. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 


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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, GameSpot, Xbox Addict, Playstation.com, Moby Games