Recently perusing the offerings from Xbox Game Pass and the added EA Play selection, I came across a game I had personally forgotten about: Black.

At a time when games like Rainbox Six or Soldier of Fortune were more of the Modern Warfare experience (as that series of Call of Duty games hadn’t dropped yet) Black represents a great first-person shooter experience within the black ops military operation genre.

It’s funny, because I can clearly recall owning this game on the original Microsoft Xbox. As mentioned, it was a bit of an under the radar title, especially with Halo dominating all of the headlines on the console (while the PS2 also received this game and had plenty of other competition on it’s box!)

I remember this being a whoa reaction first playing it, so I had to ask myself if Black still holds up. After downloading it free on my Xbox One, I was off to the land of 2006 to see how well this game stood the test of time.

Let me say, it’s still a blast to play. (I had to go back and find out why it never received a sequel, that’s how fun it is.)

Now, some of the more uppity gamers apparently complained about the length of the game or lack of multiplayer – those things have never been a major concern to me. I actually loathe online multiplayer (checkout my review of Halo 3 for more on that) and I don’t mind playing games in short bursts, because I’m a grown ass adult with other adulting to do.

However, Black is far from brief.

There aren’t many missions, but I found myself taking in upwards of an hour to defeat a single level on even the lowest difficulty setting. Oftentimes, even on easy, you will die and have to start over, which is about the only frustration I find with Black.

Cranking up the difficulty can make these stages go on longer, as harder settings increase the number of objectives necessary to complete each mission. Also, you can’t simply run and gun your way Doom-style through each board either, as some elements require stealth or cover as you take out enemies.

Now, the AI isn’t the brightest and can be predictable, but let’s not forget this game is older too! Where Black shines is the polish in the graphics, audio, controls, and most importantly, the experience.

The main gimmick of Black is explosions – and we’re talking Michael Bay blockbuster movie explosions, as your on-screen reticle changes to black (get it) when you can blow something up. (It turns red for enemies and green for friendly NPCs too, which is helpful.)

Your hands will actually feel the amount of controller vibration after each sitting of playing, as you cycle through a nice assortment of weapons, each bigger than the next, making you feel like Rambo taking out entire contingents of Eastern Bloc inspired bad guys. (“Grenada!” is something you’ll hear often while tossing grenades.)

As in some other shooters, you can only carry two weapons at a time. Even on easy, the game isn’t littered with health packs or ammo, making every move a calculated one. Reloading also blurs the screen and takes you out of the action momentarily, adding to the strategy of when to start going Leroy Jenkins on a level or remaining in the shadows.

Among the guns are pistols, semi or fully automatics, heavy machine guns, and even RPGs.

Play wise, because RPGs are often scarce and usually necessary to clear certain areas (such as long hallways with machine guns).

Overall, the satisfaction you get from cleverly designed missions that have you blowing up entire compounds is second-to-none. To this day, I feel the premise was ahead of its time, and so long as you’re not a snob turning your nose up at a shorter game play experience, or the 2006 era graphics (which still look fairly nice) you’ll definitely want to add this to your FPS bucket list of games to play.

Star Wars: Battlefront

The original Star Wars: Battlefront is a game which spawned sequels and were among the best “real” movie experiences in video games to date – showing what could be accomplished on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

Of course, the game is dated in several ways. So, if you’re a Star Wars fan, please proceed! If not, you may be underwhelmed.

I had owned this title initially for the PS2, but this review is based on a current replay on Xbox. It should be noted both versions are very similar if not identical in certain ways.

Let’s start with the bad: this game does look and play “old” at times.

I love how Microsoft had the foresight to know high definition was the future of gaming. From the jump, this game (unlike the original Halo) can be played in a widescreen format. Truth is, the original Xbox was capable of 720p output using component cables – it could upscale to some degree but the CPU struggled with true HD content.

That’s likely the bottleneck of why moving around the map, and much of the gameplay aspect, feels like Lord of the Rings and the fellowship’s endless walk to Mordor! That’s my first gripe: walk. Walk some more. Maybe, just maybe encounter some enemies.

The gist of the game, of course, is a large map where hundreds of opponents face off to capture different bases – a “king of the hill” type concept. As you capture new bases, you can spawn closer to other enemy camps in order to dominate the map and the opponent.

Yet, some of the bases are so far away from the rest, and when you die, you have to respawn at the ones you currently control. Thus, more walking… (It also doesn’t help that you often respawn facing in the opposite direction of where you should be going to start!)

With no “run” button available, I assume the developers slowed down the game for one or two reasons. First, the framerate: the sheer size of the maps and the number of characters onscreen, including lasers zooming past and explosions abound, would probably crash the hardware if it were sped up.

Secondly, there are vehicles throughout the game. They are substantially faster, almost to the point of being difficult to control! They range from mounting a Taun Taun on Hoth’s Echo Base to flying an X-Wing.

And therein lies the strengths of the game. The combat is pure fun. Even when it becomes frustrating, you realize that you’re a weakling in the game, fighting as a separatist battle droid or one of the expendable Endor rebel troops. Neither are no match for higher power weapons or enemies, including the Expanded Universe’s Dark Troopers, or cameos from Darth Vader, Count Dooku, Mace Windu, Lukey Skywalker.

The game spans several words, each with two sets of battlefronts (or maps). The worlds are inspired by the original Star Wars trilogy and the first two prequels (Episode III had yet to be released.)

There’s a lot to cover as to how the game actually plays, but the basic premise is that it’s a massive battle where you have to gain control of every base on the map and/or wipe out every last part of the opposition.

The premise is perfect for multiplayer action, which back in 2004 usually meant more couch co-op than online play (which was built into the game but ceased over a decade ago).

As for the single player campaign, it’s short, but satisfying. There’s nothing like reliving some of these famous, or completely new and made-up battles. The DVD film footage between stages looks really dated but that’s okay. The game is otherwise more than passable and really fun – even for replay value.

The first time you step up against an AT-AT on Hoth, hope on a speeder bike on Endor, stroll through Mos Eisley, Naboo, or even Bespin (Cloud City) you’ll get lost in what makes the Star Wars universe special.

While I already mentioned the graphics, the audio samples are straight from the films and will raise goosebumps on your arms at times, especially if you make a wrong turn and come face-to-face with Darth Vader and the whir of his lightsaber.

On that note also, the controls are very simplistic, and can be a little bit of a mess as you navigate the maps – but the ground campaigns are otherwise smooth to play, while the vehicles are a tad messier at times and probably should be to give a competitive balance.

In all, I highly recommend this game, with the asterisks of the above faults. It will play best for fans of the franchise, of course, and it was a heck of a trip down memory lane that I may be glued to playing for short spurts now that I rediscovered it.

Halo 2

Like most of my Xbox reviews, I want to point out that I played this version of Halo 2 on the Xbox One.

Unlike a lot of my reviews, this game was remastered for the new console, but with a caveat: you could switch between the HD remastered graphics and the original, while playing on the fly!

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

When Microsoft launched their first-ever console, the original Xbox, a lot of folks had no idea what to think of it. Would it be yet another failed concept in a crowded field? That field included Nintendo, Sony, and at the time, a struggling and then failed Sega console division.

As such, onlookers such as myself heard of Halo and only knew of rumblings that it was a “killer app”.

As the Xbox gained momentum, I also gained an Xbox, just in time for the release of Halo 2.

Let it be known, Halo 2 was the true killer app for the OG Xbox.

By this time the bulky “Duke” controller was replaced with a more streamlined version, broadband internet began to penetrate more homes, and Xbox Live was taking off like a rocket. The sequel to the original Halo dropped in 2004 to take advantage all of all this and more.

While Halo 2 brought online multiplayer, I still feel Halo 3 (on Xbox 360) was the pinnacle of that component being a bigger feature than offline campaigns in games. Halo 2’s campaign was solid, but I can’t be the only one who felt the plot was a bit disjointed.

You alternate playing as the Master Chief and “enemy” Covenant equivalent “The Arbiter” as we learn of opposition’s obsession with the Halo ring world installations. I won’t spoil anything else here, but just know that sometimes the storyline gets confusing if you’re not totally all-in on the Halo universe.

Halo 2 is considered one of the greatest games of all time because it greatly expands on what made the first game so popular. The game’s cover art teases a feature missing in the first game, the ability to wield two guns at the same time.

While some weapons are exempt from dual-wielding, the change was notable as first-person shooters such as Goldeneye and Perfect Dark had done so years earlier. The omission felt odd in Halo, but Halo 2 makes it “make sense”.

New weapons are a given, but none more so than the introduction of the energy sword, which often allowed for one-hit kills that were also popular in other FPS titles.

Of course, the weapons all have their give-and-take moments, and dual-wielding means you can’t melee attack, toss grenades, or switch to your holstered item without dropping the second gun. (In other words, there’s strategy involved!) The inclusion of vehicles is here as well, including more opportunities to see how the Covenant tech works too.

There are some sheer brilliant moments in Halo 2, aided by full-motion video cutscenes, gorgeous settings, and an epic cinema quality soundtrack.

To this day, playing Halo 2 on its original settings is still jaw-dropping. The HD remake sends it into another stratosphere where the no longer dated effects disguise it as a current-gen blockbuster.

FPS fans who have never had the privilege of playing the original Halo games are definitely missing out – and the series’ first sequel is as over the top as any other franchise’s, including Super Mario Bros.

I highly recommend this game – and as a bonus, those with Xbox Game Pass can play it at no extra charge.

Doom 3

This one was a long time coming!

I remember when this game first came out on the original Xbox – back when Circuit City was still a thing. I was excited to pick it up, and quickly fell out of love for the dark environments.

The version I’m reviewing is a port, played on Xbox One: as are a lot of my reviews of Xbox games these days, as they’re the most easily accessible (and documented) on the updated system.

Doom 3 also received an update since that fateful day I picked up a copy. The dark environments forced you to use a flashlight or a weapon – while the update allowed for the flashlight to remain on while wielding a gun, etc.

While the flashlight still drains, this change made the game more accessible for dolts like myself… though I wasn’t quite on board with Doom 3’s approach at first either. The first two Doom games were simple run-and-gun to the exit first person shooters. Doom 3 takes a more narrative approach, adding a PDA (ahem, tablet computer for you youngsters) to check emails, audio/video clips, and your inventory.

The PDA is essential for knowing some objectives or getting codes to storage lockers, which are typically stocked with a gun you may not have acquired yet, armor, and ammo. You will also use quite a bit of computer terminals and monitors throughout the game to unlock areas or solve minigames.

The extra computer/tablet content also widens the depth of the game, as you play the titular role of a space marine who is stuck on a Mars research facility that just so happened to also open a portal to Hell.

The dark environments are often covered in blood and guts, and you’ll fight zombified humans and demons in tight corridors that ratchet the game back to its roots.

You also encounter some NPCs, some friendly, and some, well, no spoilers here…

Having played every Doom game created, I was upset with myself for taking so long to give this one its rightful time. Looking back at a 2005 release, this game was pretty groundbreaking even if the pace wasn’t “arcade” enough for me way back when. The visuals hold up well, as Microsoft always had their eye on creating HD content even back when the first entered the video game console market.

The audio is full enriching, with gun shots, explosions, and the occasional creepy whisper of something not of this world. I won’t say that this is survival horror at its finest, but the game pushes enough buttons to creep you out at times.

Speaking of buttons, the controls are tight as well, and there aren’t many sections that require stupid jumps or tightrope walks leading to cheap deaths. You can also save at any time which is a lifesaver for some of us who need to take our gaming sessions in small chunks.

The best part of Doom 3 by far is the weapons.

Everything you could want is here in this edition, from the classic shotgun and chainsaw to the BFG. As the game progresses you get a sense of your own progression – and some over-the-top classic bosses top the cake.

Like practically every other Doom game ever made, Doom 3 holds its own as a unique entry which serves as a bridge from the old FPS run/gun style to a more in-depth experience worth checking out if you’re a fan of the series or any first person shooters.

Halo: Combat Evolved

When everyone pointed to this game as a franchise for the (then) brand-new Microsoft Xbox, I was leery. I came from the era of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, just how good could this game be?

Returning to Halo years later, the storyline-driven game content, the near seamless loading times and more cohesively makes this game a classic still to this day. I upped the ante by playing this on my Xbox 360, as it is a backwards compatible game and the visuals, though letter boxed on my screen, were incredible for a game created so long ago.

I remember thinking back then that seeing the ammo remaining on the assault rifle was groundbreaking: and it still looks cool! The story and the cut scenes really make Halo standout, however, and the its transfer into a survival genre add-on later in the game also makes it really “pop” in terms of classic games.

The only thing I could do without is the Warthog: that jeep inspired vehicle that’s nearly impossible to control and critical to finishing the game. Otherwise, this is about as perfect and instant classic as you can get. If you’ve never played it, drop everything and do it now!