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Doogan's Views at The Digital Bits!
page added: 3/29/02

But Todd, isn't this a DVD site?

Doogan's Views this week isn't about DVD. So how do you like that? Nor is it about those crappy-assed Oscars. No, this week, Doogan went out and bought his self an Xbox videogame system. And since it's a DVD game platform, I figure it's fair game to talk about. So, starting today, once a month, this column is going to be dedicated to whatever games I played over the course of a month.

I'm hoping to be pretty regular about picking up games here and there. But if you're a game publisher and you want your game covered, drop me an e-mail and I'll do my best to play your game and put up my thoughts.

Just be warned, I'm not a gamer or even a game freak. I play because it's fun. So these reviews are geared more for the casual game fans out there, like me, who have coned their wives or husbands into letting them spend the tax return on something trivial. These reviews are meant to give an overview of the game and to let you know whether or not they're even worth your time. God knows there are enough worthless games out there. But thankfully, Xbox is young enough that the games right now are actually pretty damn good.

And in the effort to be fair to other platforms, we'll eventually be covering PS2 and maybe even GameCube games at The Digital Bits as well. Our own (normally MIA) Brad Pilcher and a couple other game fans we know will be supplying these on an occasional basis. We'll be creating a new section in our Review Page for videogames - so look for those.

So, enough of my apologizing for not being a techie. Here are the games I've played since buying an Xbox. And sweetie - thanks for letting me buy a toy. You rock.

All-Star Baseball 2003 (XBox)

All-Star Baseball 2003 (XBox)
2002 - Acclaim Studios Austin (Acclaim Sports)

Overall Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Graphics/Sound): B+/B

Game Play: B+
For someone who isn't "into" sports games, I think All-Star Baseball 2003 is a fine sports game. In fact, it's one of the better baseball games I've played, and features functionality that fits into my untested gamer hands. Surprisingly, it's actually a very simple game with some good graphics. . It's one of the better baseball games I've played, and features functionality that fits into my untested gamer hands. It's actually a very simple game with some okay graphics.

Here's the deal: you have access to all 30 Major League teams (which includes the over 900 players and their official stadiums, logos and uniforms). It's that simple. You bat or you pitch. If the ball is hit, you run or you catch and throw. It's America's favorite pasttime at its most simple. And if you don't know how to play baseball, stay away from this game.

Graphically, in the games I played and the stadiums I played in, the graphic quality proved to be simply okay. The players I played as (and against) ended up looking incredibly ugly. Now, some of these guys might be this ugly in life, but I seriously doubt it. The stadiums are a bit crude, and the shots of fans aren't too creative. For an Xbox game, it's slightly disappointing, because these graphics aren't too far removed from a PS2 game. Then again, most sports games aren't.

The sound is actually very good with Dolby Digital 5.1 available if plugged into an equipped receiver. Play-by-play commentary is provided by Bob Brenly, Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons, which is being trumpeted as the first time we have a 3-man booth on a game platform. This really does add to the overall feeling that you're watching a game on TV instead of playing one. But for some players, that's the rub. We're getting word back that this "distanced" approach to the game is slightly unappealing, but as an uninitiated sports game player, I wasn't offended at all.

You get to choose from several different game modes: Exhibition, Season, Career, Franchise, Expansion, All-Star Game and Series. And each mode is exactly what they sound like. Fans of the previous All-Star games already know all about them. Franchise is one of the new modes, which allows gamers to create a living dynasty, continuously playing your favorite team for up to twenty consecutive seasons. Expansion allows you to build a team by choosing a city, a stadium and your very own team logo and bring that team into the major leagues. And it costs you nothing to do, unlike in the real world where these deals destroy lives. Too bad you don't reap the benefits of starting your own team in a new city. The Expansion draft is pretty self-explanatory: you draft players from a pool of free agents and minor leaguers building a dream team.

The game controls are very simple and straight forward: toggle and highlight with your left thumb stick and directional pad, throw to bases using the A, B, X and Y buttons. You can pitch all sorts of pitches with different combinations on padding and buttons and you bat with your thumb sticks and the A and B buttons. Once you learn the functions, it's a very easy game to play with for long periods of time and it's good for replaying as well. Beginners might find themselves playing longer-term games, but when you get the hang of it, it goes by pretty quickly. And get this; the more you play, the more trading cards you can "purchase". These cards can be collected and traded for cheat codes. You'll also find classic stadiums and even the Cooperstown Hall of Fame.

For a baseball game, this isn't a bad one. It might be a game for people who aren't too into sports games, because it really does play and feel like a real game. But it's not too complicated, which lends itself to continuous and repeated game play. I enjoyed it, and that's a lot coming from someone who isn't too into sports games. Maybe Xbox will change that.

Blood Wake (XBox)

Blood Wake (XBox)
2001 - Stormfront Studios (Microsoft)

Overall Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Graphics/Sound): A/A

Game Play: A-
We've all, over the years, crashed cars up and the like in video games across the many different platforms (and, sadly, in real life too). But how many of you have crashed up a boat? I mean, in a video game.

For a pretty simple game, Blood Wake has a nice and complicated story, which I'm going to break down to its simplest roots. You play Shao Kai, a lieutenant with the Northern League. Your job is to patrol the Gulf of the Moon and take out the enemies of your new Shadow Clan allies. You zip around the water taking out boats, munitions plants and steal treasure to fund your endeavor. As you do this, you gain access to new and oh so exciting boats of your own. Some are quick and easy to get blown up; others are slow but protect you for longer periods of time. It all adds up to a very fun and exciting game.

Although low on story styled graphics (most of your story is text based), the actual game graphics are quite cool. The one thing you will note about the Xbox is it renders water like no other game system ever. Blood Wake itself features some of the best-looking water you have ever seen (except maybe in Oddworld). Not only does it look great, but the game gets extra points for making your boat feel like it's in different water conditions. If you get caught in a wake, you get caught, possibly even flipped. Wanna pick up a first aid or weapons crate? Get caught going in a circle and you're screwed because the crate'll stay right there until you break from the loop. As frustrating as all that sounds, it's not - it adds to the fun of this game. Blood Wake is a must have for Xbox owners.

Sound-wise, you're in a boat, you're being fired upon and you're firing your guns. I don't think I have to tell you that this game sounds incredibly cool. With Dolby Digital sound, the audio of this game helps suck you in and doesn't let go. I could take or leave the chattering partner with Mojo Jo Jo's voice telling me what I already know, and I could loose the annoying music selections. But for just plain sound quality, this game is pretty cool. Everything combined (audio and video) makes for a very addicting game session. I was somewhat not expecting the pieces to come together as well as they did, but the minute I popped this game in, I was strapped in for a ride.

Controlling your boats in Blood Wake is pretty straightforward. You move your boats with the left thumb stick or directional pad, your left trigger is your primary weapon, and your right is your secondary weapon (you have access to more powerful weapons such as Torpedoes and Rocket Launchers in different levels of the game and with different boats). The only thing that takes time getting used to is the reverse function. But stick in there - the more you play and the more practice you get, the easier it will become.

Todd, you mentioned different boats? Yep. Different levels open new and exciting boats like the Torpedo Boat, Gun Boats, the Sampan, Patrol Boats, Hydro Planes and the ominous Devil Boat. And you only have one job: pummel every other boat you see, because they're gonna pummel you. Doing so gets you through each level and on through the game's Story Mode. If you're just looking at pummeling boats and completing missions, then go for the single player game. Choose a level: Ensign (the easy level), Captain (medium), and Admiral (frickin' hard) and hope you have what it takes to get through the 25 missions the game puts you through. The farther you go in single player mode, the more opportunities open up for you and your friends in the multi-player enjoyment aka Battle Mode. This is fun, because it's just you and up to three of your friends bombing the crap outta each other. And if you don't have friends, that's okay, go into single player Battle Mode and battle the computer's AI.

Blood Wake is a very cool game. I'd dub it pretty badass, actually. I recommend everyone who likes games get themselves an Xbox And when you do, buy this game. But have enough money ready for two games, because the next one is even more badass...

Dead or Alive 3 (XBox)

Dead or Alive 3 (XBox)
2001 - Team Ninja (Tecmo)

Overall Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Graphics/Sound): A+/A+

Game Play: A+
Dead or Alive 3 is, in my opinion, the best game you can have for your Xbox. It looks cool, it sounds cool and it plays cool. DOA 3 should come packed inside every Xbox system. That's not hype. That's the truth.

The concept is simple - you fight. You fight to win. You fight to master your characters moves. Being the third in a series, most of the story has already been set up for you, so it doesn't really matter. Pick a character and fight.

By far, this is the best looking of any of the Xbox games out right now. The characters are fluid and designed incredibly and the backgrounds are just as beautiful. It's like playing a movie. Every day since buying DOA 3, I've popped it in, just to see it. I'm in utter and complete awe of this game. If I'm gushing to loudly, then step away and let me gush. All the characters look and act differently. And once you play the Story Mode version of the game, you see what makes them tick (if you can beat the game as each character, that is). How do they get the characters to look so good? The high-powered Xbox with a Nvidia NV2A graphics processor is part of it, but the game also come equipped with "Pixel shaders", "vertex shaders", "high-resolution anti-aliasing", and many other implementations. I have no idea what they are, but they take advantage of the badass system Xbox is.

The sound is just as cool. You will hear your characters kick, scream, crunch, munch, bend, flip and thud. You will hear music pound and you will hear three Aeorsmith songs in various locales on the game. This game is reason to hook your Xbox into your home theater system and not just into the back of a small square TV.

If you're a wussy who likes to kick and punch only, you'll have fun with this game, but if you take the time to learn all the seemingly billion moves you can acomplish in this game under the various characters, you'll have a better time and your friends will marvel at your abilities. When I first started I just punched and kicked my way to the top, but now, as I play it every day, I'm doing all sorts of things I never thought I could. It's a great confidence builder. Along with the above-mentioned Story Mode, you can run through various other obstacle courses on this game. You can spar and exercise for practice, you can fight based on time, or through the gamut of characters in Survival mode. Play your way through certain things and you can unlock new characters and codes. Search the Internet for various cheats to open up new costumes and such. And coming in May, Tecmo will be releasing a booster disc that will upgrade your game to the Japanese level with even more costumes and features. The perv in me wants to fight naked. Maybe hidden somewhere in the booster will be that feature. But don't tell Bill O'Reilly or he'll say I'm evil for wanting nudity in my video games.

Run, don't walk, to get yourself an Xbox. This game rocks and I have to believe that other publishers are being spurred on by its coolness and success. Maybe you'll get a nice tax refund yourself. If you do, I can't think of a better way to spend it or a better game to spend it on. Dead or Alive 3 is the bomb.

Genma Onimusha (XBox)

Genma Onimusha (XBox)
2002 - Capcom

Overall Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Graphics/Sound): B+/A

Game Play: B-
It's 16th century Japan, and you are Samanosuke, a fierce samurai warrior charged with saving the beautiful princess Yuki. For fans of other platforms, you'll find Genma Onimusha to be an enhanced version of Onimusha Warlords, a game loooooots of fans all over the world already own.

Onimusha is a samurai version of Resident Evil to be fair and for the easiest explanation. You fight undead warriors with a sword and a power gauntlet that traps souls and ups your power. By solving puzzles, you gain new weapons. It's very arcade-like all the way through to the bone. Because of the Xbox's graphical power, this looks much better than any previous incarnation of Onimusha you've ever seen, although the gameplay pales next to the tonally similar PS2 game Devil May Cry.

On the graphics side, being an Xbox game, it looks wonderful. Capcom went a bit further tightening up the graphics from the PS2 incarnation. Everything is sharper, better defined and features some "nice" gore and incredible lightning effects (a Capcom staple). This isn't a game for the kiddies.

The audio is also very clean and dynamic. The Dolby Digital world created here is full of ancient music chords (courtesy of the Japan New Philharmonic), slashing and your dying gurgles. Dialogue for the story scenes is well adjusted up front, and the game play filters through the surround speakers nicely. All and all, in the looks and sounds department, Genma Onimusha is everything you could ask for in an arcade styled horror game.

On the flipside, I wasn't all that into the gameplay. The camera angles are a bit static and the screens have a tendency to jump in the middle of a fight if you cross over the layer edge. It ends up throwing you in a position you weren't counting on and you might take a few hits for it. Also, some of the movements take a lot of getting used to. Down is always down, even if you're facing up, which again, if you're not used to it, can be jarring. It gets a lot better with practice, but I'm not too big a fan of straight arcade games where, when you die, you die. I don't like going for a long distance of gameplay and then dying for a stupid silly mistake on my end and having to start all the way over because I couldn't find a saving "magic mirror" anywhere. Whatever happened to the Continue Game option?

Whether it's a PS2 upgrade or not, Genma is a great looking and sounding game thanks to the Xbox 128-bit abilities, but it still plays like a PlayStation game. If you're good at blowing through these types of games, you'll probably enjoy Genma Onimusha, but once it's done, I don't see you going back to it.

RalliSport Challenge (XBox)

RalliSport Challenge (XBox)
2002 - Digital Illusions CE AB (Microsoft)

Overall Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Graphics/Sound): A/B+

Game Play: A
If you're looking for a realistic car racing game (and you're like me in being pissed that Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto 3 isn't on Xbox yet), then the Xbox exclusive game Rallisport Challenge is right up your race track.

Depending on how many cars and tracks you can unlock during your life with this game, Rallisport Challenge accesses 25 fully licensed rally cars, 4 different race modes and 25 tracks that each feature differing terrains, turns and life-threatening cliffs. God, I hate cliffs.

Rallisport Challenge is a showcase for Xbox graphics. Dirt, mud, wind, snow, rain and anything else that can fling up around you do so beautifully. I played this game three days in a row, continuously, and never mastered it because instead of racing my car, I'd much rather crash it around and see how far I can go with it. And all the while, I was marveling at the detail in this game. It's very realistic and fun, fun, fun to play. It's so realistic, in fact, that your car receives real damage based on rate of speed, angle of impact and your trajectory. Mess your car enough and it turns into a slow movie jalopy that you can't control as it putters and spurts across the virtual countryside.

But it's not just car racing visuals that suck you in. Rallisport Challenge also features some mighty fine audio in Dolby Digital. The selections of cars available to you feature their own distinct engine sounds, as do the other cars you race against. It makes for a nice enveloping sound field. Cars roaring by, with the crowds cheering (or the sound of you crashing over a stupid cliff) make you feel as if you were actually part of the race.

As I just mentioned, Rallisport Challenge offers up quite a few cars, many of which haven't been licensed for a video game system before. There are more than 25 different cars available to you (Audis, Citroens, Fords and Mitsubishis just to name a few) and each react differently to the track environments. As in a real Rally event, your car must make time across mud, up hills around sharp bends and through the snow in some courses. You also have a pick of tires, which could either aid or hurt how you do. Factor in "event" races and you have even more options for fun. There's the traditional Rally, where you do the standard racing thing, Hill Climb gets the blood flowing pretty thin, Ice Racing has you spinning out of control and into other cars (and off cliffs) and then there's the Rallycross, where you're squeezed in and trying to pull out for a first place finish. If you want, have four of your friends join you and try and find out who's the worse driving among you. If I'm there, it'll be me.

There's a lot to this game, which makes it fun and a nice repeat game to pop in just because. Plus, when the friends are over, you can show them your new game system and show 'em who's boss. It makes for a good time all the way around in my book.

That's it so far. Next month I'll be looking at Halo, which many people claim is the best game on the platform, Batman Vengeance, WWF Raw, NBA Inside Drive 2002 and whatever else I pick up. We'll also be taking a look at the DVD Player capabilities of the Xbox as well. Should be pretty cool.

Everyone have a fun and safe holiday weekend. I'll be back next week with the more familiar DVD reviews. Until then, keep spinning those discs (and Xbox games)!

Todd Doogan

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