Four Must Have Xbox Live Arcade Games

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By now I’ve enjoyed several games from the Xbox Live Arcade. However, I adopted Xbox 360 relatively late in it’s life cycle. In the summer of 2008 I purchased the Xbox 360 Pro Console and Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 (RIP THQ). For a long while I found myself playing catch up on titles released prior to my enlightenment.  I found myself exploring The Capitol Wasteland in Fallout 3 for a longer period of time than I have ever spent on any other video game in my life. I could write a 1500 word love letter to Fallout 3 (It’d be surprisingly easy, the words would flow from my fingers like so many open Nuka Cola’s before them). But, I’ll spare you that pain and talk about the other best $60 I’ve spent on the Xbox Live Arcade in my gaming career.

I mentioned being late to the Xbox party already, and I assure you it has precedence here. The reason that fact is so important is that I inadvertently neglected the Xbox Live Marketplace for two solid years before my subsequent discovery. The first game I ever purchased from Xbox Live Arcade was Watchmen: The End is Nigh. I was surprised with the quality, especially since it was a movie tie in. I didn’t need to own an Xbox 360 for long to know that was typically a recipe for disaster. I then drifted back to high budget titles like Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2.

Let’s jump ahead a year or two (I don’t remember exactly). I received a 4,000 MS point card for one occasion or another, and it was off to the races in the XBL Marketplace. I remember combing through hundreds, maybe even thousands of titles trying to make the most of my points.

I settled on a few titles, one of which jumped out at me as extremely polished and thought out. ChAIR Entertainment’s Shadow Complex (Published by Microsoft) is easily one of the best 2-D (technically 2.5D) Platformers I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. Shadow Complex consists of one giant map that continues to grow with the more skills/attributes you collect. A full upgrade system and leveling system is present, and you discover parts of a state of the art combat suit that offer some seriously powerful upgrades to your character. The protagonist Jason Fleming voiced by (little known fact) Nolan North of Uncharted Fame, starts the game on a backpacking excursion with his girlfriend. While exploring a cave Fleming’s girlfriend Claire is abducted by a group called the Progressive Restoration. Fleming discovers an enormous underground complex wherein the Restoration is hatching a scheme to unleash a series of attacks across the United States. Commander Lucius, leader of the Progressive Restoration is also brought to life by another voice actor of note Graham McTavish of Call of Duty and Uncharted 2 fame. Shadow Complex is a rather stunning show of stealth, platforming, and surprisingly intricate physics and well worth the $15 price tag.

There’s one out of the way, and don’t worry I’m becoming rather short of breath after that long winded reprisal.

The second amazing find was some time later in the form of Tequila Works’ Deadlight. Before I get into what’s so great about Deadlight I need to plug our resident PC reviewer Zach Zellmer’s take on Deadlight via his Review. Deadlight is another 2.5D platformer published by Microsoft. Interestingly Deadlight takes place in 1986 after a cataclysmic event that nearly abolishes the human race, and turns most of what’s left into…you guessed it ZOMBIES! Even with the lukewarm setup Deadlight does a great job of putting you behind the beard of Randall Wayne the games protagonist. Randall is on a mission to find his wife and daughter after being separated. Seattle serves as the backdrop to the story as it’s reportedly one of the last “safe zones” on the Pacific Northwest. Much of what ensues plot wise is relived through brief flashbacks, but if you’re into hunting down loose ends (I am) Tequila Works littered Deadlight with Notebook pages that shed more light on the underlying plot. The art direction is fantastic, and the fight or flight reactions spurred on by hordes of the undead are eerily realistic. Deadlight doesn’t give you the luxury of infinite stamina in combat. So you quickly learn misdirection, evasion, and many times running for the nearest open window are your best bet. Deadlight is a shorter affair, but once again a hidden $15 gem in the Xbox Live Arcade.

My next title is bringing us closer to the present. I Am Alive developed by Ubisoft Shanghai and published by their parent Ubisoft is my next installment. I Am Alive had it’s fair share of trouble during development, and was actually transformed from a full release to a downloadable title rather late in production. That in turn made it one of the better funded, and complete titles in the downloadable realm. More post apocalyptic stuff happens (known simply as The Event), but this time a toxic fog is left in the environment that taints the outdoor air supply when concentrated. This time I won’t tell you the name of our protagonist because, apparently he doesn’t have one. A rather well known plot (nearly identical to Deadlight) is the driving force for your character. When he arrives at his residence, expecting to find his wife and daughter, he instead happens upon a small video camera that he uses to chronicle his rescue mission. I Am Alive captures the desperation of humanity in the wake of disaster almost as well as The Walking Dead. I also enjoyed several game play components that are specific to I Am Alive. When climbing obstacles (believe me there’s more than a few) a stamina bar is constantly dwindling based on the intensity of your efforts. This creates a very real sense of urgency when platforming. The other key aspect that sets I Am Alive apart is the ability to threaten would be combatants. On several occasions I was able to successfully intimidate an enemy and avoid direct confrontation. I Am Alive is about as close as we’ll ever come to seeing a full game release on the Xbox Live Arcade (This generation anyway).

Last but certainly not least is Mark of the Ninja. Developed by Klei Entertainment and published my Microsoft. Klei is most notable as of recent for Shank and Shank 2. Both are 2-D action games with interesting art direction and fast paced carnage. Klei created a polar opposite with Mark of the Ninja. It’s still a 2-D platforming game, but let’s subtract the action aspect, and inject stealth. There aren’t many fantastic stealth based games on the market in recent memory at least. Mark of the Ninja manages to give you almost unlimited options to achieve your goal. I found it deeply satisfying to finish a level without harming anyone, or being seen. The instances where you’re forced to engage opponents, or assassinate a target were all the more poignant after making a point of skirting conflict. Upgrades to your person and weapons are available based on your performance during missions. I almost always leaned towards items that distracted or debilitated guards rather than tools of death (they are most certainly available). Mark of the Ninja packs in anywhere from 8-12 hours of game play and offers lasting appeal via online leaderboards. Another great find on the Xbox Live Arcade.

So there you have it. Four fantastic games, hours of enjoyment, and a $60 estimated price tag. That price has more than likely dropped after my purchases as well. The Xbox Live Arcade is a great tool to break the steady stream of first person shooters, third person shooters, sports simulations, and RPG’s we play on such a regular basis.

What titles have you enjoyed off the Xbox Live Marketplace? Leave a list in the comments section and we may be inclined to try some out and let you know what we think! Don’t forget! We’re giving away 400 Free Microsoft Points if we meet our Social Media goal during March!

Dylan Zellmer

I split time between games journalism and making video games. My love of it’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones), fitness and my family define me otherwise.