X-Box Game Impressions

After my recent comment on my early impressions of the X-Box 360 hardware, here are what I think about some of the games I’ve tried so far:

Grand Theft Auto 4
It is the first “real” game I got. I bought it used form Outpost Cologne (a small RPG Store in Cologne that also sells pre-owned games). I think it was a great deal for 30€. There were some problems with the DVD being scratched but they fixed it with a funky CD repair kit and it worked (to my surprise).
I like the game very much. I’ve been following the series for some time, only skipping Vice City. I find the GTA4 to be simpler and more mature then the last one, San Andreas. It is less of a parody than San Andreas was. Killing people and generally crime is taken more seriously, at least in the cutscenes. There is more focus on the characters and their motivation. I found myself quite emotionally attached to the main character (maybe because he is East-European like me?). The RPG Elements are gone so you don’t have to learn to ride a bike. There seem to be less pointless and far-out activities. The dating system is still there but now, the main character talks with his girlfriend about his past while on a date which add a previously non-existent value to it.
The game also just looks stunning. It’s not just about the next-gen GPU power. The whole city is created with much more care. Every street has a distinct look and feel. The architecture is detailed and diversified. Again and again, you find yourself at corners with amazing vistas. The cars finally look like they have been designed by someone who at least saw a car in their life once. Especially the sports cars in San Andreas were laughably mis-proportioned!

Overall a very enjoyable, addictive experience. A milestone and a no-brainier.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
I wanted to buy THIS as my first title but it was sold out except at GameStop. The guys at GameStop were aware of this and raised the price to audacious 75€ so I just borrowed it from a colleague. It might be a strange idea not want an exclusive title as your system seller but it seemed to offer a short-paced single-player experience and a solid multi-player. The first one I need for lack of time, the second one I consider the whole point of the X-Box.
Normally, I wouldn’t even consider a military shooter. I think they are something for gun-enthusiasts and I’m not one of them. I know far too much about guns than I wish I would. However, a fellow X-Box owner wouldn’t stop praising that particular game and the surprising Zero Punctuation review did the rest. I tried Call of Duty 1 on my PC and pretty soon I understood what they meant.
I expected a lot from Call of Duty 4 and it delivered. It takes a basic formula of a military shooter, polishes to the max and uses that as a stage for the most spectacular and exhilarating experience they could think of. Every level is distinct and very memorable. It actually consists of a sequence of carefully thought-out scenes, each one being engaging on its own. There is no “filler” material, everything is made of awesome. The general idea is just to deliver this amazing dramatic experience and it works out very well. There is a ton of great ideas. Just as a quick example: the game begins with the tutorial, which is a Training camp of the British Special Forces. After some shooting on the sooting range, you get into a plywood model where they train a scenario of an attack on a freighter. You need to run trough it while shooting at plywood targets. Your time is taken and the game suggests a difficulty depending on it (which is pretty accurate as I found out by trying out the more difficult setting). The cool idea is that after that tutorial, the first level is actually ON that freighter you were training in the plywood model for. Not only is it easier because you already know where to go, it makes the tutorial fully integrated into the storyline and you also get this shocking simulation/real-life comparison. And it doesn’t stop there, I could go on and on.
So although might it seem dull at first it has lots of great ideas and it looks stunning, too so: two thumbs up.

Gears of War
Had to order this from Austria because the game is banned in Germany. Not just restricted like other violent games – it’s actually banned. You can’t buy it. Nowhere. Can you believe it!? Anyway, I just got it and didn’t even get trough the tutorial. It looks great – that’s for sure! Will post more soon.

I borrowed it just to try it. I is nice. It’s like Tony Hawk but with gesture-based controls (using the analogue sticks) and with a sandbox environment. I’m just not that into virtual skating so I gave it back after a few tutorials. Also, I think the game got confused with my X-Box being in Germany and the interface set on English. So it did the obvious thing: it installed the French language. And you can’t change it. *sigh* Good programming boys!

Need For Speed Pro Street
Being a fan of racing games, I had big hopes on this. It seemed like a more mature version of Need for Speed. It is not. It’s just Need for Speed but annoying and boring. There is this DJ that is constantly commenting the race and especially praising you for no reason. Maybe it’s the bad translation but he really got on my nerves. The tracks are boring as hell. Gran Turismo also has some boring ones but at least they are based on original tracks. Making fictional tracks boring is really silly. Also, the controls seem too sensitive. I thought it was because I was getting used to the steering wheel but no – I tried other games and it’s the game’s fault. Oh yeah and the car customization options are mind-blowingly complicated and unsatisfying. I just gave up figuring it out and this is a big deal for me because I rarely do.

This was actually the first game I tried on my X-Box. I got it as soon as I got my account working. I don’t want to comment too much right now because I haven’t seen enough. It is a jump & run with some unusual audio-visual choices, a robust and cool new mechanic and REALLY difficult puzzles. The puzzles are what actually kept me from playing it so far – figuring them out can be slightly exhausting and time-consuming. But I’m motivated to play it and will do it when I have the time.

Got in on Arcade. A no-brainer. Like REZ but with more awesome. I’m really glad I was able to get it like that because I was planning on buying it and was shocked by the prices for the PS2 and Dreamcast versions.

The same as with REZ. Again also a great example of the really nice selection of high-quality games availible on X-Box Arcade.

Bought it for the last points on my card. I tried the board game long time ago but never played long enough to grasp the rules. The arcade demo game me a glimpse on what the game offers and I bought it after some struggle. Since then, I played a couple of games and quickly learned the rules. I found it a surprisingly effective learning tool for people who want to try the board game. There is a good tutorial function, a very nice, illustrated click-trough manual and simply playing a couple of games is all you need to get comfortable with the system. Getting the same level of proficiency with the board game would take a many sessions in a span of a couple of evenings. So it is a very good example of games as learning tools.
But it is also a valid alternative to the board game. Playing it is much quicker and simpler then setting up a board game. It has a multilayer option so you always have 3 other people eager to play at the press of a button. There is no set-up required and because it is digital, there are a couple of little “helpers” to help you deal with the rules and develop even more in-depth strategies. It’s the first multiplayer I tried on X-Box and it works great. Live-chat works well, and if you are not the talkative type, you can always just use the “emotes” from the game.
All in all, yet another great arcade title. I’ll pick up Carcasonne in the future as well.

Besides that I’ve tried some demos but that’s topic for a different day.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

Comments are closed.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


follow Krystian on Twitter
follow Yu-Chung on Twitter
follow Daniel on Twitter