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February 27, 2007

In Case You Missed It—February 27, 2007

This is my favorite time to be a gamer. Is that because of the release of the PS3 and the Nintendo Wii? No, it’s because, with the release of these new systems, games for their predecessors have plummeted in price, and used game stores are flooded with extras. So this week I’m going to take a look back at two old favorites for the XBox that can now be found at bargain prices.

Fable

There was a lot of excitement surrounding this game when it was first released. It was supposed to be a dynamic role-playing game (RPG), where your every action had noticeable in-game effects, and time passed in a believable fashion. Fable lived up to the hype. It had smooth game play, attractive graphics, and a decent plot. It also had about 10 hours of playing time. To put that in perspective for non-gamers, most RPGs have at least five or six times that much playing time. Some games have approached 100 hours. Basically, everyone bought Fable on Friday and beat it on Saturday morning. It was a fun 10 hours, no doubt, but it was also only 10 hours. A newer edition called Fable: The Lost Chapters was released to try to address this problem, but the additional content was tacked on and only added about three hours of game play.

So what makes Fable worth playing? First, it’s still an excellent game. The 13 hours I squeezed out of it were some of the most entertaining hours I’ve ever spent playing an RPG (and I’ve played a lot of RPGs). Fable doesn’t obsess over numbers—you don’t spend the majority of your time trying to alter your character’s statistics to milk just a few more points of damage out of his attack. (I’m looking at you, Oblivion.) Your character is highly customizable, but you can also just jump into the game, pick up any old sword, armor, or magic and have a good time. In effect, Fable balances the fun of customizing your character with the inevitable tediousness that results from this process. The heroes and villains are well designed, and the world is expansive without being tiresome to traverse.

But probably the best thing about Fable is that it’s cheap. When the game first came out, $60 for 13 hours of game play wasn’t that appealing, no matter how you cut it. Three years and another XBox console later, you can easily find a copy of Fable for $15–20. A dollar an hour for one of the best RPGs out there isn’t bad at all.

Star Wars: Republic Commando

While we’re on the topic of XBox bargain bin games, this is another one that’s worth a second look. LucasArts, the company behind all Star Wars games, has a bad habit of repainting popular games in Star Wars colors and making way too much money off of them. Star Wars: Battlefront, for example, was pretty much a rehash of Battlefield 1942, and Dark Forces was a painful remake of Doom. That said, Republic Commando turned out to be a pretty unique game. It borrowed elements from Halo and Rainbow Six, but it fused them together in a distinctive way.

The game follows the exploits of Delta Squad, a group of clone commandos carrying out the Republic’s clandestine missions. The events of the game occur roughly between Episode II and Episode III of the Star Wars films. It’s basically a smooth first-person shooter with a little spice of squad tactics. Unlike Rainbow Six, where the squad tactics are often unbearably tedious and unwieldy, in Republic Commando you could probably go the entire game without issuing a squad command. But if you decide to bother with this feature, it’s smooth and easy to use.

The first-person shooter element of Republic Commando took a cue from Halo and was designed with simplicity in mind. The player can use only a small number of weapons at time (though the uses of these weapons can be quite varied). Fighting is straightforward without being mindless, and the enemies are varied and interesting. Very few of the enemies you face are simply damage sponges, and each encounter with them needs to be approached carefully.

On the downside, Republic Commando is much too short. I didn’t have a stopwatch with me, but the game probably fell a few hours short of Halo and had an even more abrupt and unsatisfying ending than Halo 2. And while it is a lot of fun to fight the droid army in the one-player mode, the multiplayer mode is atrociously un-fun. That said, at $15, it’s hard to argue with either Fable or Republic Commando’s game playing value.