The Games of Summer: The Best System Launch Games

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Screenshot - Halo Combat Evolved

This week brought a bunch of exciting (and in some cases, concerning) news about the launch of the Xbox One later this year, as well as a few of the games and features that we can expect. But let's be honest, system launches can be a mixed bag when it comes to the games that are offered with it – one look at the four or five titles that came out alongside the Sega Saturn could tell you that.

But still, there are those diamonds in the rough, games that stand out as the primary reason to get the system to begin with, like the Nintendo 64's Super Mario 64 (we even bought the Japanese version for that) and Panzer Dragoon on the Saturn.

So, for this week's Games of Summer, I'm taking a look at five consoles and pinpointing the best launch game for each one, and why that particular selection stands out. Let's get started!

GameCube: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (Nintendo/LucasArts)

Star

The GameCube launch consisted of 12 games, mostly forgettable stuff like Tarzan Untamed, Batman Vengeance and Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2. But we did get Luigi's Mansion, a fantastically spooky game that has managed to live on with a recently released 3DS sequel.

But, honestly, if there's one game that blew my mind at the time of release, it was Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. Factor 5 upped the ante from the Nintendo 64 original, with near 60 frames per second visuals, outstanding level design (the Death Star actually looked like the real damn thing), beautiful sound effects and sharp gameplay, whether it was blasting TIE Fighters or making the trench run. Best of all, the challenge really picked up as the game went on, to the point that you were facing mammoth warships and just fighting to stay alive. Rogue Squadron definitely earns its spot in Star Wars infamy – and the GameCube's, as well.

Xbox: Halo: Combat Evolved (Microsoft)

Halo

Like the GameCube, the Xbox's launch line-up was a mixed bag. Does anyone remember going crazy playing Shrek or 4 X 4 EVO 2? Me neither. But there were some good experiences, like Dead Or Alive 3 and Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee.

But come on – the main reason you fell in love with the original Xbox to begin with was Master Chief. One of the most beloved first-person shooters over the past decade, Halo: Combat Evolved continues to prove the brilliance of the team at Bungie. There's just something about the way it plays that's truly magical, as well as how the story unfolds. And Chief himself is such a remarkable hero, it's no question why he became such an icon to the big "M" over the years – and continues to live on with Halo 4, and well into the Xbox One age.

If you can, download the original for Xbox Live Marketplace, or check out the Anniversary Edition, which is a real blast.

PlayStation 2: TimeSplitters (Eidos Interactive)

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There weren't too many "big" games in the PlayStation 2 launch line-up, but I was happy with most of the experiences anyway, like EA Sports Big's snowboarding opus SSX and Namco's speed-worthy Ridge Racer V. But if you asked me to pick just one game, it'd have to be the delightfully weird TimeSplitters.

Put together by the team at Free Radical Design, the game showed that the designers had more in mind than just a few stolen tricks from its prior project, GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64. Featuring a humorous story mode, engaging multiplayer and fun gameplay, it's since become a well-respected franchise through its two follow-ups, TimeSplitters 2 and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect.

There's rumor that a fourth game is in development, so cross those fingers – we may just be travelling back to this franchise. Some day…

Sega Dreamcast: SoulCalibur (Namco)

Soulcalibur

Some people may complain about this choice, saying things like "No love for Sonic Adventure?!" or "Why not NFL 2K?" Well, those were great games, but come on. No game – not even the final generation of titles before Sega closed it down for good – could come close to the majestic visual quality or stunning gameplay options that SoulCalibur provided.

From the get-go, Namco showed what next generation fighting was all about, with dynamic characters, stunning environments, smooth 3D fighting tactics and a number of options, including a loaded story mode that gave you a ton to unlock. And nothing beat having friends over on a Friday night and having a be-all and end-all tournament to figure out who was the master of combat, right?

We feel like playing it now, actually…

Xbox 360: Call of Duty 2 (Activision)

Call

Since the Xbox One was the focus this week, I thought I'd go ahead and cover two Microsoft consoles for Games of Summer – and with that, I've got a rock-solid choice for the 360. Sure, I could have given Geometry Wars a thumbs up, or maybe even Project Gotham Racing 3, but come on. There was no next-gen experience in 2005 like Call of Duty 2.

Infinity Ward managed to take the war experience and create an unparalleled first-person shooter filled with striking detail, sharp gameplay and the kind of situations that would leave you rattled. Sure, the franchise has settled into more modern territory, but the first time you stormed the beach – or took on your friends in multiplayer – you got the cold sweats. Don't deny it. This game had that kind of power behind it.

And it's still a classic to this day. No, really, let's go back and do some multiplayer sometime…

See you next time on Games of Summer!

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Robert Workman
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