I had some time tonight to update the downloads on my Xbox 360 with the latest demos and Xbox Live Arcade stuff. Three games in particular that I got to try were "Test Drive Unlimited", "Ridge Racer 6" and "Blazing Angels: Squadrons of Doom". Only one truly stood out, and from the title of this posting, I think you can figure out which one...
Anyway, "Test Drive Unlimited" is an unusual game in that you can play it both offline and online and basically tool around Hawaii, which is more or less faithfully recreated (or so they say). Graphically, it's nothing to write home about and the music is pedestrian, but it does seem like a rather lush environment and you can pretty much drive around everywhere. Unfortunately, where the game fails is in the control. To put it simply, car control is not tight and I didn't get much sense of any drifting maneuvers. Even though the scale is impressive, with average hi-definition visuals and poor car controls, I'll definitely be passing on this one, despite the interesting massively multiplayer always online aspect of it. It's another in a long line of misses in the "Test Drive" series, of which I got my first exposure with the original C-64 version from Accolade (with a cool "Accolade Presents..." voice intro).
As for "Ridge Racer 6", it's pure arcade racing. I'm a "Ridge Racer" fan since being blown away by the near-arcade perfect home translation for the PS1, which it turned out was improved upon years later with a hi-res 60 FPS version within a later game in the series. Anyway, despite the negative reviews, I had a lot of fun with the demo. It seems almost impossible to spin out and you basically just pinball off walls and other cars instead of crashing. Visuals and sound are nothing special for a next gen game and the "commentary", such as it is, is extremely annoying. If this were a bargain bin title, I'd definitely get it, but there are plenty of better racing games among the huge pile on both the original Xbox and Xbox 360.
Finally, we reach the surprise hit of the group that I tried, "Blazing Angels: Squadrons of Doom". This title received very mixed reviews and frankly I didn't even want to try it. I was never a fan of flight sim style games (I took the trouble of learning Flight Simulator II for the C-64 way back when and promptly forgot how to play after reading the two books), especially combat ones. In fact, anything with jet or space planes and I practically KNEW I wouldn't be able to handle it. Basically I just fly around and have trouble maneuvering. My best chance is when the pace is a bit slower and more arcade-like, and that's just what this is, letting you fly bi-planes and WWII missions in single props. There are some neat mechanics, like starting the propeller by rotating the analog stick, taking off and landing, etc. Good stuff. Shooting is simply pressing the right trigger. Bombing is clicking the right thumb stick. Giving orders is done with the d-pad. Simple stuff and intuitive. Again, the graphics won't necessarily blow you away for next gen purposes, but the environments are detailed and there's lot of voice chatter from your allies and the German enemies (who speak English). If *I* can handle the flying and shooting in this game and had a blast, then anyone who generally doesn't like these things I think would. For the serious flight sim buff, I can see them wanting to pass, but for some good arcade-like action and interesting missions and story lines, this is the way to go.