Specials: Here Comes the 360 ? hold on to your hats folks ? we're in for a serious ride?
With the Xbox 360 just days away from release, we thought it would be a good idea to give you some of our expectations for the new hardware. It's debatable whether or not you'll
think it's a good idea, but I digress. We'll have tons of launch coverage next week, but for now have a look at our thoughts on the brand new generation of hardware.
Quite frankly, the Xbox 360 controller is one of the best I've held in recent memory. Back at E3 I was raving about the controller, and I still hold my high opinion on its design and functionality less than a week out from the console's release.
The design of the controller may appear simple at first, but reveals its functionality upon actual interaction. The bulky frame of the Xbox ?Duke? controller has been removed and the final design is more akin to the S-type controller, which has, essentially, become the standard for current-gen Xbox play. The ergonomics of the 360 controller have been vastly improved from the original; notable improvements include moving the black and white buttons onto shoulder positions above the triggers, flattening the face buttons for less abrasive button pressing, and minor tweaks to the thumbsticks for smoother movement and responsiveness. The addition of the ?Guide? button will impact every experience someone has on the Xbox 360, and with the flexibility it adds to the console experience it's hard not to like its presence for ubiquitous connectivity and control. Add wireless support to all of this and it is easy to see why the controller is getting such positive feedback.
If there is one aspect of the console that is a slam-dunk hit, the Xbox 360 controller looks to be it.
I've written previously about how cool Xbox Live Arcade for the 360 could be (especially a couple of years from now), but even at launch it may still deliver more fun and enjoyment than gamers are expecting.
The launch list of actual 360 games appears to be clocking in at 18, but that list should have a caveat beside it, as the Live Arcade releases will add another 10-15 ?games? to the roster. There should be about a dozen Live Arcade games on November 22, but an additional five or ten should show up for download through the end of 2005. Some of the notable experiences early on should be Gauntlet
(four players online), Smash TV, Robotron, Joust, Bejeweled 2, and Geometry Wars 2.
Some users may feel that this Live Arcade idea has been tried before, but the key differences this time around are increased online multiplayer and a better pricing scheme. With 75% of titles pegged to have online multiplayer and all games likely to be priced between $5-10 USD, it seems like the mistakes of the past iteration of Live Arcade are being remedied. Still, the future of Xbox Live Arcade seems to be bright, as many big name companies (EA, Ubisoft, Konami, Capcom) and many small studios (Garage Games, Popcap) have huge back catalogues of card, board, arcade, and retro games that could potentially populate the service ? sounds very encouraging.
Players will likely spend most of their time on the new titles ? and justifiably so ? but Xbox Live Arcade may sneak up on people and claim a substantial amount of their gaming time.
While it is a bit clich? to say, the launch lineup of the Xbox 360 still remains as one of the console's lingering question marks. With 18 titles looking to ship with the console, there appears to be a good selection, but is there enough for everyone?
While the aforementioned Live Arcade will provide some additional content, questions have been raised over the depth of titles for the 360 launch. Admittedly, this concern is not a worry for myself, but I'm not na?ve enough to think that all others share my tastes. With half of the launch lineup taking the form of sports (or extreme sports), some potential buyers may feel alienated with the lack of the RPGs or tried-and-true action titles. Racing games and FPSs appear to be covered fairly well, but it is worth noting that there has been a lot of mixed opinion on Perfect Dark Zero
, Microsoft's perceived ?system seller.? This growing wave of uncertainty over PD0 may explain why MS has put a lot of stock in Kameo: Elements of Power
recently, but hopefully users don't go buying the 360 for the sole purpose of owning Rare's follow-up shooter, as the jury is out on whether it will deliver the experience that many are, somewhat unfairly, expecting. Once again, I feel the launch delivers on a variety of fronts in accordance with my game tastes, but I can see why some people are feeling that delays (Oblivion), overstocking (sports games), and uncertainty (PD0) may hinder the Xbox 360s launch.
We'll all know in just over a week how successful the Xbox 360 launch will be, and hopefully those that have spent lots of money or gone to great lengths to get the system will not be disappointed.
For me it's the games ? not just the launch titles but the juicy stuff we have to look forward to in 2006. Gears of War, Oblivion, Saints Row, Chromehounds?.
Even at E3, running on alpha kits, I saw the shadow of greatness in these titles. Sure, they can't all be gems, but the potential for some incredibly exciting software is undeniable at this point. While it's safe to say that the 360 is indeed far more powerful than its predecessor, it's only through the application of finely-honed artistic talent and enlightened vision combined with the technological muscle available that creates singular gaming experiences. Hopefully that's what we'll be seeing as the 360 hits its stride and from what we've been privy to so far, I'd say it's another safe bet that the software on the way will be more than worthy of the powerful hardware it's to run on.
In all honesty ? the controller. It's not that I had any problem with ?The Duke?, even though it was the laughing stock of the industry in 2001. I always found it comfortable and very functional, but I do admit I preferred the Controller-S once it hit stores. That said, the 360 controller is a well crafted advancement that keeps everything good, changes the bad (dumping the black and white face buttons for pads above the triggers is huge
) and stands tall as a nicely balanced peripheral that will afford you hours of enjoyment. The fact that it's wireless to boot is fantastic.
Why am I surprised? Only because the first controller was considered such a botch-job - though I think its drawbacks were often-times exaggerated. I predict hours upon hours of wireless gaming fun.
Simply put ? sales performance and eventual market share. This is Microsoft's follow up console and it needs to succeed in a big way in order to justify continued support. It's no secret that on a financial level MS lost a mint on the first Xbox. However, it's important to remember that the company was well aware of what they'd be facing, and on the level where it counts most ? getting millions of units out there and establishing a solid user base ? they succeeded beyond almost all expectations. With a well-designed machine that sports plenty of power, some excellent in-house exclusives, as well as rock-solid third party support and a lot of original Xbox fans buying at launch, the future looks bright for Microsoft's next step in the console wars.
We'll let you know what we think of the launch with hands on impressions of the hardware and all the first day software next week, as well as some tales from the midnight madness lines. It will be interesting to see just how many units sell between the 22nd and Christmas, and in 2006 we'll start to see some big name titles surface. Rest assured we'll have full coverage of all things 360 here at Gaming Target so check back with us soon. Until then, good luck scoring a unit on Tuesday, and enjoy.