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 Written by John Scalzo  on November 16, 2005

Special: You can shelve them right next to all those books Billy gates "wrote"


New formats. They are the bane of media librarians everywhere. Which do you support? Do you support the new format and the old format in an attempt to please everybody? When do you drop the old format entirely? When do you start a massive discard project to clear shelf space for the growing collection of the new format?

With the Xbox 360 launching any day now it's time to give a look at how building a game collection from start with this new format would work. Like what are the strongest launch titles? What will be replaced with a more "next-gen" product in the future? And, like any video game launch, which titles will be relegated to the dustbin of history?

You've also got to look at the numbers when it comes to the Xbox 360. Microsoft has confirmed that there will not be enough consoles for everyone who wants one for a very long time (some estimates place it around March for real regular shipments to begin). So you might want to ask yourself, will there by enough patrons walking through my front door to warrant adding 360 games to the collection? There's also the fact that, aside from sports titles, every one of the 360's launch titles will be rated Teen or Mature. There are no family friendly options at this point in the system's life. Although general interest titles, like sport games and racers, are on the launch slate. So let's look at those games.

Sports, Sports, Sports, Sports. Da na na! Sports!
Of the 18 confirmed launch titles, seven fall in the sports category. Madden NFL 06, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, NBA Live 06 and FIFA 06 from EA Sports and Amped 3, NBA 2K6 and NHL 2K6 from 2K Sports. Except for Amped 3, all seven of these titles have already been released for current-gen consoles to rave reviews. So what's the point to the 360 versions? Prettier graphics mainly. Amped 3 is in because of its uniqueness and FIFA 06 gets a pass because EA has said it is trying to build a different FIFA game for the 360. But if you need prettier sports titles, I guess these games are an important, but by no means must have, of any collection. Pick and choose to your heart's content I say.

The fairest one of them all
Prettier games are not just for the sports arena though as Tony Hawk's American Wasteland and Gun from Activision and King Kong from Ubisoft will also be virtually identical to their PS2, Xbox and GameCube brethren, just with a new coat of paint. All of these titles have a little more appeal and next-generation cred than most of the sports titles, except for Gun, which is said to have almost no differences between the Xbox and Xbox 360 editions. King Kong is said to be a lot prettier (but articles in Nintendo Power show the GameCube version running at a considerably pretty graphical clip) and Tony Hawk is said to get more mileage out of its "no load times" gimmick on the 360. With Activision already talking Gun II, I'd say take Tony Hawk and the mighty Kong and move on to the next one.

Off to the Races
The other half of the general interest genre falls to the racing games with the three must have titles Ridge Racer 6, Need For Speed: Most Wanted and Project Gotham Racing 3. All three are considered required playing by serious race fans everywhere with Project Gotham getting a huge push in the Xbox Live arena. And with only three other racers even on the drawing board for the next year and a half, Test Drive Unlimited, Burnout Revenge and MotoGP 2006, these three would be a good place to start a collection, with Project Gotham being the early standout (if it makes the launch).

Shooting for the big dogs
Here we go, the closest thing to a sure thing the Xbox 360 has. A trio of high class shooters that are at the top of everyone's list: Perfect Dark Zero, Call of Duty 2 and Quake 4. Call of Duty 2 is looking to be the most realistic World War II shooter ever and the public still can't seem to get enough of WWII shooters. Quake 4 takes the PC series into the next-gen with a game that is already garnering some decent attention on the PC. Some of it is disappointment but a lot of it is excitement for the first new single-player Quake game in a long time.

And then we have Perfect Dark Zero. A game that seems to have been in development for ages and the sequel to one of the great console first person shooters ever. It too has had its share of early complaints. With a development jump from the GameCube to the Xbox to the 360 it's already being called "not next-gen enough." Also, because of the original's birth on the N64, not many people know what Perfect Dark is all about. Finally, the "it's not Halo" crowd is making itself known and PDZ is their target. But then, what was Halo before it became Halo?

Anyway you slice it, all three are definite additions to any collection.

The dark horses
Of course, what would be a console launch without a few hidden gems. And word around the Mountain Dew cooler is that Kameo and Condemned will fit that bill nicely. Kameo will fit the bright, cheery action RPG mold that you always see Zelda pigeonholed into and even with its T rating will probably be the closest thing to a family title the 360 will have. Condemned on the other hand will fill a completely different niche. A dark and gritty first person game that features a troubled special agent tracking serial killers, it won't be for everybody. But a year from now (if Perfect Dark Zero tanks), it just might be the most talked about Xbox 360 game there is.

So where does that leave us? The breakdown of the eighteen launch titles looks like this:

Essentials
Call of Duty 2
Condemned: Criminal Origins
Kameo: Elements of Power
King Kong
Perfect Dark Zero
Project Gotham Racing 3
Quake 4
Tony Hawk's American Wasteland

Second Tier
Amped 3
FIFA 06
Gun
Need For Speed: Most Wanted
Ridge Racer 6

If Money is No Object
Madden NFL 06
NBA 2K6
NBA Live 2K6
NHL 2K6
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06

We got next
After the launch, owners of the 360 might be in for a long famine after gorging on their launch feast. Dead or Alive 4 and Full Auto will be making an appearance in stores by the end of the year. Both should be enough to keep the fighting and vehicle combat fans happy. I'd look to add them both.

Uncertainty litters the rest of the 360's lineup as after this we really don't know when anything is coming. Gears of War? A must-have action game coming out sometime in the spring. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion? A must-have RPG coming out sometime in the spring. Saint's Row? A must-have Grand Theft Auto-clone coming out sometime in the summer. Halo 3? If I knew when Halo 3 was coming out and told anyone, mafia goons would kill me in my sleep. The fact is buying the big titles in the Xbox 360 launch will keep your collection up to date for a good long while. But...

(Xbox) One is the loneliest number
There's also the question of backwards compatibility. The PS2 had it and was one of the system's "three component" selling points (playing DVDs and future PS2 games were the others). With Microsoft's decision to go with ATI for the 360's innards, backwards compatibility has always been a sore spot for X-fans. And in this next generation backwards compatibility will be much more important because the 360 is not a quantum leap graphically from it predecessor. Halo 3 will look better than Halo 2, but not the way Mario Sunshine looks better than Mario 64.

With the switch in graphics makers, one hundred percent compatibility was never an option. The Xbox 360 will require "emulation profiles" to be downloaded for every Xbox title you want to play on your 360. And that downloading requires owning a hard drive with your Xbox. This scheme means that even if you want to play your old Xbox games on your 360 you might not be able to if you own a Core System or if you don't have broadband internet access. On top of that, every title will not be supported with an emulation profile to download. We've seen the list of confirmed backwards compatible titles and it isn't pretty. A lot of big name releases (including most of this fall's biggest Xbox titles) are missing. Many of Microsoft's own games are also absent from the list.

What about next year? Well the Xbox will have a surprisingly full lineup in 2006, just no support from Microsoft. They have said they expect third party titles to continue to appear on the console through 2007. These include major titles from EA, Ubisoft, Activision, Midway, THQ, Rockstar and VU Games. So if you're mildly interested in playing Hitman: Blood Money, NFL Head Coach, Bully, The Godfather, Spy Hunter 3 and Splinter Cell 4 or if you think your patrons will be, there's still a lot of life left in ye olde Xbox.

To add or not to add? That is the question
With a handful of great titles ready for launch and a ton more in the pipeline, the Xbox 360 will not be an also-ran in this generation of video games. It'll be a contender in the library ring too, but I would say that right now its just not there yet. Wait a year for more systems to be sold, more games to be released, and prices to drop on both. I'd say it'll be ready right around fall 2006, when we'll be having this conversation all over again about the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Revolution.

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