The Xbox has its first bona fide hit of the year in Panzer Dragoon Orta.
Sega's new shooter is an update of the classic but little-played game for the defunct Sega Saturn. Few played it because hardly anyone owned a Saturn.
Panzer Dragoon Orta ($49; rated for ages 13 and up) plops you on a dragon in a world dominated by an evil empire. Pursued by the empire's sinister agents (yes, there are Star Wars influences), you do battle from the back of your dragon.
Orta has a laser pistol, and your steed has a lock-on missile attack that you use by holding down the fire button and dragging the targeting reticle over your flying enemies. This game is similar to another Sega game, Rez, the weird but wonderful "musical shooter" for Sony PlayStation 2 that came out a year ago.
In Panzer Dragoon Orta, you can use laser and missile attacks simultaneously. The missile attack is better suited to knocking out heavily armored foes, but only the laser can shoot down incoming rockets.
You can switch on the fly between three battle modes for your dragon: stronger rockets and a fairly weak laser; medium laser and rockets; or a laser-only mode that automatically locks on to incoming projectiles and enemies.
The game is a "rails" shooter, meaning that your flight course is mostly preset, and you can only fully control where you shoot and when you dodge.
But the shoulder buttons let you look over your shoulder and behind you, which adds depth to the game play, and you have to pay attention to your radar to know where the attackers are coming from.
The third-person, over-the-shoulder view works perfectly, and the screen is relatively uncluttered by gauges and readouts.
All the enemies follow the same patterns, but they're complex enough that even when you've got them memorized, you can still get pulverized.
The graphics are frequently stunning, particularly in the jungle level, where you're zooming between branches and vines and over rivers and through caves.
And the lighting effects from the laser blasts and explosions are a joy to behold.
Panzer Dragoon Orta belongs to a long-refined shooting genre, but it's executed well and looks better than almost any game out there.