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

Xbox Reviews H

Grade: A-
Publisher: Microsoft (2001)
Posted: 2004/3/1
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotFew games have been as hyped and critically acclaimed as Halo, but this amazing first-person shooter (FPS) is deserving of the praise that's been bestowed upon it. Halo immerses you in a hostile, alien world with futuristic starships and organic natural landscapes. Even those who don't regard themselves as FPS fans are likely to be won over by this well-constructed game. The storyline is interesting, with some very dramatic moments and a few unexpected twists. The sharp graphics and smooth frame-rate make it easy to follow the action, even on the split-screen.

Actually the two-player split-screen cooperative mode is arguably the best feature of the game. You and a friend play through the entire game as a team, covering for each other and initiating some nasty crossfire. Halo's controls are perfectly suited to the Xbox controller, using one joystick to move, the other to aim, and triggers to fire weapons and throw grenades.

Your best all-around weapon is the rapid-fire assault rifle, yet the sniper rifle and rocket launcher have useful zoom features that make them ideal for scouting new areas. Grenades play a huge role, creating fantastic explosions that send bodies flying in all directions. Some grenades even "stick" to their targets - which is great as long as your target isn't running towards you!

Halo's realistic, desolate space environments convey genuine atmosphere and invoke an aura of foreboding. The sterile starships have plenty of claustrophobic corridors, and the expansive outdoor battles provide a completely different combat experience. Marauding airships can be shot down, and their crash landings are spectacular.

Another great feature is Halo's innovative health system, which fully restores your health if you can stay out of the fray for about ten seconds. Halo's audio quality is beyond reproach. From the creepy groans of monsters to the more subtle noise of howling winds, the sound effects play a huge role. Small aliens add humor by yelling "hit the deck!" with their high-pitched voices. Orchestrated music of epic magnitude also adds to the drama and intensity.

Despite its greatness, Halo does have a few flaws. First, it can be difficult to determine where you're supposed to go at times since many stages contain repeating areas that look almost exactly the same. Although you can commandeer vehicles, they tend to be very difficult to control. Still, Halo is a showcase title for the system and should be considered standard issue for all Xbox owners. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Halo 2
Grade: A
Publisher: Microsoft (2004)
Posted: 2005/1/30
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotLike the original Halo, this sequel offers extremely polished and highly immersive first-person shooting action. Surprisingly, Halo 2's graphics look pretty much the same, causing many to wonder why this game took three years to produce. The first stage is pure deja-vu as you blast aliens infiltrating a space station. As you progress through the game however, the scope expands to reveal fantastic new environments including a majestic city with towering skyscrapers.

Halo 2's battlegrounds are more varied and less repetitive than its predecessor, and I often had to pause just to gawk at the scenery. Halo 2's weapons are more balanced, and most are equipped with scopes. Wielding a gun in each hand is a blast, but it does sacrifice your ability to toss grenades. There are numerous opportunities to commandeer vehicles, and it's surprisingly easy to jump onto an enemy's ride and kick him off. With the jeep-like Warthogs, you have the option of being the driver, passenger, or gunner. Personally I prefer letting a CPU-controlled soldier drive me around as I man the turret. It's also possible to exchange weapons with non-player fellow foot soldiers.

Unlike the first Halo, you can save at any time, and regular checkpoints ensure you won't have to retrace long stretches. The highly-touted enemy AI is impressive, and is most apparent in the advanced stages. Enemies are especially skillful at avoiding grenades. Halo 2 packs plenty of surprises, including a sequence where you take down a massive, spider-shaped killing machine, or when you play the role of an alien character called "the Arbiter". I personally found the Arbiter stages to be a bit confusing, since it's hard to tell who you're supposed to shoot (both sides are aliens).

As fans would expect, Halo 2's audio is outstanding, with intelligent voice samples and a soaring musical score that sometimes borders on operatic. Unfortunately, the dialogue is often hard to make out over the loud music. On the downside, although I love the split-screen modes, some weapons take up too much screen real estate, and like the first Halo, it can be hard to determine where to go at times. The game also contains extensive on-line support. All in all, Halo 2 is everything it's advertised to be - a furiously entertaining shooter that squeezes every last bit of power out of the Xbox. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
Posted: 2023/2/12
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotUnlike previous Harry Potter games, Goblet of Fire effectively immerses you in the Hogwarts universe. If you've ever seen the film, you may recall it centers around a "tri-wizard" tournament. The game follows the basic storyline, albeit with the obligatory expansions and side quests.

You and up to two friends can control Harry, Hermoine, or Ron, with the CPU handling any unused characters. Together our heroes cast spells to destroy monsters and manipulate the environment to solve clever puzzles. If only those fixed camera angles didn't get in the way! Blimey!

Each stage oozes atmosphere and there's plenty to explore. It's a good thing because you'll need to replay each stage multiple times to uncover enough hidden shields to advance the story. Some of the more interesting locations feature cozy Hogwarts interiors, rainy rooftops, and lush herbology labs. Crank up the stereo because the sweeping musical score really gives this game a cinematic flair. The sound effects are fantastic, particularly the thunderstorms and crumbling ruins.

The game truly takes flight - literally - during the horned dragon stage. It's not so much a battle as a chase. You'll duck through the trees of the dark forest, weave around the towers of Hogwarts and swoop down over the Black Lake. It's a wild ride and the sensation of speed is exhilarating.

Solving puzzles as a team is one of the strengths of the game. I like how you can perform group spells to move large boulders which convey a true sense of mass. Fighting monsters is my least favorite aspect, as you need to repeatedly tap the A button to cast your jinx attacks on giant bugs, lizards, and scampering goblins.

One element that feels squandered are the character cards which augment certain spells, increase your stamina, or provide extra team benefits. You equip three cards per character, but I could never really understand how to select the ones I wanted. The auto-assign feature had to suffice.

Upon completing each stage you're showered with all sorts of bonuses and unlockables. There's a good sense of progression and the autosave is nice. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire remains true to the spirit of the film, which helps compensate for some of its more cookie-cutter stage designs. Fans can bump up the grade by a half letter. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 3 players 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Grade: D-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2004)
Posted: 2020/2/8
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI reviewed the first two Harry Potter games on my Playstation but Prisoner of Azkaban crossed over into the next generation of systems. I opted for the Xbox version assuming it would have the sharpest graphics. To be honest the game doesn't look so hot in HD. The character models have rough edges and the castle looks way too clean and sparse. I like the idea of freely navigating the Hogwarts School of Magic but it lacks that cozy, weathered look you see in the film.

The characters vaguely resemble the actors but the voice acting is suspect. Ron sounds believable but Snape does not. The animation is good and I find it interesting how Hermoine runs differently than the two boys. Each "day" offers a new mix of puzzles, exploration, and encounters with frightening creatures. The stages have little to do with the movie but cutscenes attempt to tie them in with the film.

The team-oriented gameplay lets you toggle between Harry, Ron, and Hermoine. Each has unique special abilities: Harry can jump far, Ron can move magic walls, and Hermoine can crawl through tight spaces. Taking a page from Zelda, Harry will automatically leap when running toward a gap. Occasionally you'll take control of an animal (like the owl Hedweg) and fly around. What makes the game annoying are its arbitrary rules. Sometimes only one particular kid can perform a simple task at a given time, like examining a box. The puzzles are run-of-the-mill with lots of mirrors and pressure panels.

The gameplay is forgiving but counter-intuitive. I need to sneak past motion-detecting knight guards using my dodge move? Casting spells lets you do things like freeze, knock back, or deflect. It sounds like fun to knock mischievous fairies out of the air but the freewheeling camera makes it hard to tell what's going on. When you adjust it using the right stick the camera moves the opposite way you'd expect. That, combined with touchy movement controls may induce feelings of nausea. Uninspired gameplay and bewildering visuals make Prisoner of Azkaban hard to stomach for any extended period. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

The Haunted Mansion
Grade: B+
Publisher: TDK (2003)
Posted: 2018/11/7
Rating: Teen (mild violence)

screenshotI've been fascinated with The Haunted Mansion since I got the Disney book-and-record set as a kid. It's my favorite theme park attraction by far, and this game nicely captures its macabre spirit and whimsical tone. While slightly watered down, it manages to incorporate many memorable rooms and characters from the ride. The Victorian mansion is set in the Louisiana bayou in all its dilapidated glory. Attention to detail is everything, and I love the ornate architecture, creepy portraits, and layers of cobwebs. Spiders climb the walls, rats scurrying across the floor, and lightning flashes illuminate the walls. The classical music is great and the sounds of creaks and moans will keep you on edge.

The gameplay is a combination of puzzles, shooting, and even some ghost-busting. The Haunted Mansion has its share of frights including giant spiders and screaming lady ghosts reminiscent of The Ring. Skeletal arms reach out from boarded doorways and staring busts follow your every move. The load screens feature portraits of people that decay before your eyes! Longtime fans will recognize ghostly characters like the organist, bride, and the trio of hitchhikers.

But it's the clever puzzles that steal the show. Each room feels like a little adventure unto itself. In the library you'll step across floating books. In the dining hall you'll wrangle dancing birthday candles. In one room I found myself on a giant pool table trying to avoid the cue ball. After running for my life I realized that by standing near other balls I could get them knocked into the pockets, which solved the puzzle. The creativity here is off the charts.

My primary complaint is the camera which requires constant adjustment and can make you queasy after a while. There's a stage where you must navigate ramps while balancing on a ball, and the careening camera makes it nearly unplayable. Otherwise Haunted Mansion is wickedly good, benefiting from one of the best save systems I've seen. The game never achieved the popularity its deserved, probably due to its tie-in with the dreadful movie starring Eddie Murphy. Two movie tickets come in the box! But don't let that scare you away. This game puts the "super" in the supernatural! © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

House of the Dead III
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Posted: 2002/12/1
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotI consider myself a House of the Dead aficionado, having played through both the first House of the Dead (Saturn) and its sequel (Dreamcast). House of the Dead III (HOD3) doesn't offer much innovation, but it's still a heck of a lot of fun. As in most light gun games, your movement is automatic, so all you have to do is blast away at the "undead" ghouls.

Sega originally started programming this as a cell-shaded, cartoonish-looking game, and remnants of that style can still be seen. The creatures and gore are too unrealistic and over-the-top to be frightening. When killed, the zombies disappear in a splash of green blood. People in the cut-scenes have freakishly large hands. The sound effects are pretty alarming, and the understated music is effective. HOD3 contains the same bad dialogue we've come to expect (and love) from the series, including gems like "We can't let everyone's death be in vain!" and "G, what happened to the world?"

This edition has some new features that add to the fun. You are equipped with a powerful rifle, but that's the only weapon you'll get. Reloading is automatic, so you don't need to shoot off-screen. At certain intervals, you can explicitly choose between multiple routes, although other actions also affect your path through the game. You are now alerted to rescue situations before they happen, so you won't accidentally shoot the innocent.

All of the action takes place in a huge factory. It looks great, but unfortunately you can't shoot up the scenery - just a few barrels and boxes. I was really impressed with some of the imaginative scenarios in this game. I love the boss that chases you up the stairs, and the zombies trying to squeeze through the closing elevator doors is reminiscent of a scene from Dawn of the Dead. In one area, you even have to shoot bodies that are falling from above. I've read several reviews that say the regular XBox controller works just as well as the light gun (made by Mad Catz), but I don't agree. While I will admit the controller works better than expected, there's really no substitute for a good light gun.

Bonus features include the House of the Dead 2 (arcade perfect) and a surprisingly long preview of the upcoming House of the Dead movie. If you like frenetic arcade shooting action, HOD3 is a good choice. The non-stop carnage is exhilarating at times, and there aren't many titles like this for the XBox. Light Gun Note: For best results, use the Pelican Rifle or the gun by Cypher Games. Beware of the MadCatz Blaster which doesn't work on many TVs. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

The Hulk
Grade: B
Publisher: Universal (2003)
Posted: 2004/5/12
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotAfter watching that overblown Hulk movie last summer (2003), I wasn't in a rush to purchase its video game counterpart. But this Hulk game turned out to be surprisingly good - much better than the film. It's one of those fast action games where you can beat the living crap out of everything. You just don't see many games like this anymore.

The action gets off to a fast start as the Hulk finds himself fighting an army in the desert, ripping apart tanks and knocking helicopters out of the sky. Your arsenal of attacks includes punches, kicks, throws, overhead smashes, and even a green projectile attack. You can grab people and toss them around like rag dolls. Most game stages feature the Hulk going on a rampage, beating up soldiers and destroying much of the scenery in the process.

I love how the Hulk can lift and throw huge objects like cars. It's great fun, and the variety of moves keeps the action from getting stale. Interesting bosses include a cool "energy vampire" and another Hulk. There are also a few David Banner "stealth" stages thrown in to break up the monotony. In theory, these are a good idea because they change the tempo of the game and convey a degree of suspense. Unfortunately, confusing level designs and control glitches make these more frustrating than they should be.

The Hulk's graphics are outstanding. Instead of going for realism, the developers went with a comic-book style cell-shaded look, which is very easy on the eyes. Likewise, the high-quality sound effects and music soundtrack make you feel like you're participating in an action movie. On top of it all, you'll get to unlock terrific artwork and video clips of the making of the film. The Hulk is so good that it makes the movie look all that much worse. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Hunter The Reckoning
Grade: C-
Publisher: Interplay (2002)
Posted: 2002/11/3
Rating: Mature (Violence and language)

screenshotFrom the description, Hunter sounds like an awesome game. It's similar to Gauntlet, but it takes place mostly outdoors, and your main attacks are melee (close range). At times literally dozens of zombies will be converging on you. By timing your attack button with joystick movements, you can pull off some pretty devastating assaults. When you're not slicing and dicing mindless ghouls, you can use long-range weapons to pick them off from a distance. It sounds like a winning combination, but the long-range weapons (guns) tend to be in short supply, so you'll spend most of your time pounding the attack button as blood flies all over the place.

Hunter has some nice graphics, but it's hard to tell because everything is so small. I love how the monsters crawl out of the ground. The scenery includes a city street, a prison, a graveyard, and a church, but none of these places look particularly interesting. The control system is good - one joystick is used to aim, and the other is used to move. This combination makes strafing possible, which is great fun when you have the machine gun. I like how the zombies recoil when shot, and how you can hack off their limbs. This is one game where being aggressive is actually rewarded.

You can cycle through three types of weapons: blades, guns, and magic. The bosses range from gruesome to wacky (a demonic teddy bear?), but your enemies are mainly shambling zombies, and you'll get tired of facing them. I'd like to describe the background story, but I couldn't make out the voice-over in the loud, cinematic introduction, and the cut-scenes make little sense. Hunter does offer a two-player simultaneous mode, but overall the game reeks of mediocrity. It's too repetitive and not very exciting. © Copyright 2002 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, Lutris, LaunchBox Games Database, Video Games Museum