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Monday, October 05, 2009

Value for money Xbox 360 gaming

One of the benefits of console gaming has always been that unlike a gaming PC, once you invest in the hardware, you shouldn't need to upgrade for the life of the console (anywhere from ten to five years). Unfortunately this can be offset by horribly expensive games thanks to reasons including the console manufacturers subsidizing their loss-making hardware with a royalty on each game, distributors having to physically import the games instead of being able to burn them locally, and unfavorable exchange rates.
For this reason it's worth spending a bit of time considering which games will get you the most bang for your buck, and I thought I'd list a couple that I've found to be particularly good value for money. This is by no means a comprehensive list, for the most part I've avoided listing games I have not played.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
This can't help but be top of the list. Oblivion is an RPG set in a huge fantasy world populated with (quite literally) hundreds of locations including 8 cities, loads of little hamlets and tons of dungeons, ruins, mines, Oblivion gates and more. The character and item systems are rich and complex, providing for many different ways to play the game. Besides the main quest (which is lengthy enough on it's own) there are many side quests of varying length, guaranteeing (again, literally) hundreds of gameplay hours for anyone who wants to spend the time exploring every corner of the Oblivion world.
Oblivion was a '360 launch title and still holds on to the number 5 spot on Metacritic's list of all-time high scoring Xbox 360 titles (with a score of 94). It is now a bargain bin game that you should be able to pick up for R300 or less.
A more recent alternative to Oblivion by the same developers is Fallout 3 (which I've yet to play). Set in a post-nuclear wasteland, Fallout 3 should boast a wealth of gameplay similar to that of Oblivion. Fallout 3 scored 93 on Metacritic and is at number 10 in their All Time High Scores list.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Another RPG, but this time downloadable and with more casual-inspired core gamplay, Puzzle Quest takes the match-3 mechanic popularized by the likes of Bejewelled and adds a more "hardcore" element to it. All actual battles and other tasks in the game are carried out by playing match-3 sessions, but are spiced up with spells and abilities the player's character earns as they work their way through the story. Mounts, magical items and party members all contribute to the strategy.
Besides following the main storyline, many side quests are available to the player. Cities may be besieged and dungeons raided for loot, all contributing to character level and skills. This is another game with many, many hours of deep single player gameplay, but it has the added benefit of a multiplayer component which also works very well.
While not a 90+ scorer on Metacritic, Puzzle Quest eans a very respectable 87 and is cheap at the price of 1200 MS points (about R120).
The recent pseudo-sequel, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix offers similar value for money, but is much less accessible than the original, using a more complex core gameplay mechanic. It scored a 76 on Metacritic.

Guitar Hero / Rock Band
Value for money doesn't necessarily mean cheap. Even with the extra cost of hardware needed for the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series of games, they will provide more than enough solo and multiplayer gameplay to justify the initial outlay. It will cost around R1500 to buy one of these titles and two guitar peripherals (necessary to get maximum enjoyment and value).
The value in these games comes from the many hours of playing through each of the songs again and again to earn better scores and improve your skills, as well as from the many more hours you will spend playing the game with family and friends. The instantly accessible concept of playing along with a band, and the easy-to-grasp mechanic of hitting buttons on the controller as gems pass the time-line make these games easy for almost anyone to start playing. The initial embarrassment of standing up in front of everyone holding a plastic guitar is soon replaced by the thrill of feeling like you're actually making this awesome music.
Just about everyone that has played Guitar Hero when visiting us has ended up buying the game for themselves (many of these are not normally gamers), and when friends come over it's a given that we'll be playing into the wee hours of the morning.
The highest rated GH and RB games on MetaCritic are Guitar Hero II and Rock Band I,  each scoring 92, but any of the games will do. Your best bet is to pick a title based on the track list you'll most enjoy.

Halo 3
Despite the hype by Microsoft, Halo 3 really didn't offer anything significant in terms of new gameplay. It's basically a prettier sequel that plays almost identically to it's predecessors. What the hype did help to deliver though, was an enormous community of online players. While communities come and go for most games, Halo 3 is one title in which you are pretty much guaranteed to be able to go online and find a game to join-and thanks to some really good net' code, even though most of those games will be international, you should have a good online experience. Halo 3's Metacritic rating of 94 is probably way higher than it deserves, but it is a fun shooter, with great multiplayer options that should keep you busy for quite some time if you're willing to replay it on the tougher difficulty levels. It's also a game that you can pick up for a song at most retailers.

There are obviously many other games that offer great value by mixing in multiplayer, long campaigns and replay incentives, but I've found the ones listed here to be particularly good value in my case, feel free to mention alternatives that are similarly worth more than their asking price.

Posted via email from Matt's posterous

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