Prior to the formal launch of Xbox Live, I did have an opportunity to play Xbox Live enabled full version games. Here's my quick reviews:
NFL Fever 2003 (Microsoft): In our beta kit, we were able to play a crippled (online only) version of NFL Fever. We did encounter a stutter or two here and there but the gameplay itself wasn't affected -- I could kick fine, for example. This is a very 'arcade' football game, which can be a lot of fun online -- even a 38-7 blow out can turn into a tie game very fast as I soon found out. Most stores are selling this game at a modest $29.99 now, so based on that price point and the online features I'd give it a marginal buy rating for Xbox Live.
NBA 2K3 (Sega): Buy this now. NOW. If you're a sports fan, you need to buy this game. First off, it's NBA 2K3. It's hands down the best basketball game going. Next add the ESPN interface and the online play -- which is fantastic. After playing this game with the Xbox Communicator, you'll see why the experience is so worth it. One game I played as the Celtics vs. the despised Lakers. Unfortunately I did lose the game, but not before I was able to block a few shots and boy did my gamer friend and I have a good 'in your face' laugh at that. We both agreed that this is probably one of the best multiplayer experiences we've had.
NFL 2K3 (Sega): At the onset of the beta test, getting this game to work was very difficult. Fortunately for us, as we got closer to the live date, we were able to sign on with ease and play the game. Again, there's something special about laughing in your opponent's ear when you get that wide open pass downfield. I still don't like the "reticule play targeting" system of NFL 2K3, but the game is a lot of fun and absolutely makes you forget about Madden when playing online. Again, if you like a 'simulation' of 'real' football, this game is another recommended buy.
MechAssault (Microsoft) - Right before the launch we received our retail copy of MechAssault and were able to play online for a few hours before the official launch. If you're not into sports games and are into blowing stuff up, this is definitely the game for you. Every game was a blast in more ways than one. You have up to eight players online in a game and my favorite is Team Destruction where you have to kill more of your opponent then they do you up to a kill limit of course. Gameplay was easily the smoothest online I've seen on Xbox Live. Very easy to get into and the graphics are amazing. If you've played Mech games before, no doubt you'll enjoy this one.
Just like the sports games, there are killboard rankings which is a nice touch. As of the day before the official launch there are already people with over 500 kills. I hope they are programmers and do this for a living, otherwise you'd wonder what these people are doing all day :).
Other games such as Unreal Tournament and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon are scheduled to be released at Xbox Live launch, but we were unable to procure copies ahead of time for testing.
Occasionally on every game I'd run into a little bump here and there -- maybe a stuck animation on an inbounds pass in NBA or a stutter on a running play in NFL Fever. Interestingly enough, during this little stutter I'd still have a clear voice conversation, so we could both say we were experiencing lag in the games but not on voice -- makes you wonder if voice is run under a separate layer in Xbox Live.
Using the voice communicator is very easy -- if you can speak into a microphone, you can handle it. Just make sure to hit the mute button unless you actually want to say something to your opponent, otherwise he or she will find out how whipped you are when you have to say "okay honey, I'll take the dog out and set the table now" -- definitely a big no no when playing online.
If you have concerns about your voice not being too 'guy' enough, you can mask your voice with numerous options (depending on the game) -- you can sound like a robot, a 'cheerleader', or turn off masking altogether. It's a nice idea for protecting the youngsters and/or protecting the adults.
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