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I Already Miss Phantom Dust
By Patrick O'Connor     |   Posted on April 16, 2010   |   Episode 171 (Show Archive)  

   

You can still play Halo online, it's Phantom Dust that I'm worried about!
After eight long years, yesterday Microsoft finally pulled the plug on the Xbox Live service. But don't fret, Xbox 360 owners, they only pulled the plug on the original Xbox games. All week long I heard people talk about getting in a last few matches of Halo 2. Heck, even Giant Bomb had a whole live event where they bid Xbox Live 1.0 adieu. It was an emotional week for gamers who have a special place in their heart for Microsoft's gigantic black console.

But while most of the talk this week centered around Halo 2, I wasn't feeling all that nostalgic for Bungie's six year old shooter. For one thing, there are dozens of better first-person shooters on the market, including two (soon to be three) Halo action games on the Xbox 360. And besides, gamers wanting their Halo 2 fix can still play it on the PC. While everybody around me wept for Halo 2's passing, I was already missing Phantom Dust. And it's not just Phantom Dust, it's a whole series of unique Xbox Live games that will likely never see the light of day on other platforms. To help celebrate the passing the original Xbox Live service (and to prove that Halo 2 isn't the most important game on the platform), Defunct Games is proud to present five games that will be missed.

Phantom Dust (Majesco)
What Is It? Phantom Dust offers a compelling premise. This is a game that has a lot in common with the hordes of Magic: the Gathering-style card
Phantom Dust (Majesco)
Phantom Dust (Majesco)
games; but you might not see the connection at first. Instead of cards you have bright, glowing spheres, each with their own pros and cons. Three of these spheres generate at the start of the match, and every time you pick one up another one will take its place in random succession. Unlike most strategy games, Phantom Dust happens in real time as opposed to being turn based. It means that you are in charge of everything from dodging, to attacking, to navigating around the level all at the same time. Best of all, the fights are so destructive that you will start to see the backgrounds topple and new areas created in its wake. Phantom Dust was a budget title that few people bought (or have even heard of).

What's the Big Deal? Phantom Dust is a completely original idea that will likely never be recreated. The game's poor sales have likely doomed this game to the trash heap of obscurity. And because so much of the game is tied to you collecting specific attacks for the online play, it's hard to go back and have a fully rewarding time playing the single-laying campaign. Even if we never see a Phantom Dust 2, I hope that some young developer will be inspired by this forgotten masterpiece and give us a next generation take on this simple premise.

Steel Battalion (Capcom)
What Is It? Despite only being around for four short years, the Xbox had a number of impressive online mech games. Everybody remembers MechAssault;
Steel Battalion (Capcom)
Steel Battalion (Capcom)
it was one of the first (and most popular) Xbox Live games. But not everybody was impressed with Day 1 Studios' take on the long-running MechWarrior franchise. To get the full impact of driving a mech online, some gamers turned to Steel Battalion, a game that featured a large, heavy 40-button cockpit control. But don't think they spent that $200 on just one game, because Capcom did the right thing and released an Xbox sequel called Steel Battalion: Line of Contact. These two titles were the only use for the large, cumbersome controller.

What's the Big Deal? I may not be one of those fools who paid $200 to get this gigantic box, but I do sympathize with gamers who, up until now, have still had a fully working game to go along with it. Unfortunately from here on out, Steel Battalion fans are going to have to play against the computer. Some gamers may not see the big deal, after all there are plenty of great PC mech titles and even a few for the Xbox 360 (see: Chromehounds). But none of these games use this large, realistic game control to make you feel like you're in the middle of an actual war. Hopefully the few gamers who bought this bulky device have already gotten their money's worth, because it's not like you're ever going to need that control again.

Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict (Midway)
What Is It? It's hard to remember a time when Halo wasn't Microsoft's biggest online first-person shooter, but when the Xbox Live launched in 2002 there were still two years before anybody played Halo 2. As people patiently
Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict (Midway)
Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict (Midway)
waited for the further adventures of Master Chief, it was another popular FPS franchise that took its place. Unreal Championship was a launch title for the Xbox Live service, acting as the first must-own shooter for the service. While the original Unreal Championship didn't stray far from its PC roots, the sequel is still widely regarded as one of the best console first-person shooters of all time. Even more remarkable is the fact that one year after Halo 2 came out, Unreal Championship 2 gave a lot of gamers a reason to get out of the matchmaking lobby and try a completely different (and in some ways better) shooter.

What's the Big Deal? Forget Unreal Tournament III, The Liandri Conflict is the only good Unreal game for the Xbox platform. It's not just the fact that this game looked amazing and ran as smooth as can be. The reason Unreal Championship 2 is good is because it dares to try as many new ideas as they can come up with. The game ran fast and was full of depth, but it wasn't so complicated that a new player couldn't jump in. The power-up system was appealing and I always loved the way the game felt. You would think that with so many first-person shooters on the market, losing one wouldn't be that big of a loss. But think again, because Unreal Championship 2 is a strong shooter that still holds its own in a world dominated by Modern Warfares and Bad Companies.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory/Pandora Tomorrow (UbiSoft)
What Is It? Released at a time when Metal Gear Solid was synonymous with stealth action, Splinter Cell managed to take much of the wind out of Konami's sails. For
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (UbiSoft)
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (UbiSoft)
one thing, it introduced us to a hero that is dealing with a more down-to-earth story. Gone are the weird stories about nuclear mechs, invisible ninjas and a supernatural hand. In its place are exciting train rides, tons of outdoor environments and the type of acrobatics that only Matt Damon would be able to pull off. Best of all, it featured a robust online mode. This online mode wasn't just a high water mark for third-person tactical stealth games, but it raised the bar for all Xbox Live games.

What's the Big Deal? This week everybody is excited about the release of Splinter Cell: Conviction, but I'm going to tell you right now that it's not the same. It's not that I have nostalgia for a simpler Splinter Cell experience, the truth is that I've never come close to finishing a Splinter Cell game. But the multiplayer online mode is another matter. Both Chaos Theory and Pandora Tomorrow had amazing multiplayer modes that pit a spy versus a mercenary, an epic battle where each side had different advantages. These were tense rounds that required each player to have a firm grasp of the complexity. In some ways I understand why these daring modes were never updated for the next generation games, but for those of us who spent a lot of time mastering the controls, not being able to play these classic Xbox games will be real heartbreaker.

Street Fighter: Anniversary Collection (Capcom)
What Is It? Released on Street Fighter's 18th birthday (despite the packaging telling you it was the "15th Anniversary"), this
Street Fighter: Anniversary Collection (Capcom)
Street Fighter: Anniversary Collection (Capcom)
Anniversary Collection features two games in one. Actually, it's more like six games in one. The first game is a weird mash-up that allows you to play any of the original Street Fighter II games (Champion Edition, Super Turbo, etc.), while the second is a faithful port of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. This Xbox release not only featured these two strong Street Fighter entries, but also allowed you to play them online. For many gamers Xbox Live was the first time they had an opportunity to play real people all around the world.

What's the Big Deal? Forget about playing the Street Fighter II remixes online, there's no point in touching that in world that offers Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix on two different consoles. The real reason I'm depressed about Microsoft pulling the plug on the Xbox Live 1.0 is the fact that I will no longer have a way to play Street Fighter III online. Earlier this year I predicted that Street Fighter III would make its Xbox Live Arcade/PlayStation Network debut sometime this year. That may come true, but for now I'm left without a way to play this underappreciated gem.
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