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Comment: How good is good enough for Xbox 360's launch line-up?

One of the biggest problems Microsoft has caused for itself by truncating the console cycle and launching Xbox 360 early is the fact that media and consumers alike are comparing the very best late-stage titles on Xbox, PS2 and GameCube with the launch titles for the Xbox 360 - a tough comparison which even the seriously enhanced graphical prowess of the next-generation system can't entirely compensate for.

That's why many journalists seemed to come away from the X05 event in Amsterdam last week feeling a little underwhelmed by what was on offer. It's not that Xbox 360 games don't look a lot better than what we're currently playing - it's simply that it's tough to get away from the fact that we're comparing the cream of the crop from the current generation against the earliest harvest of the next generation.

Developers will take time to get to grips with Xbox 360, regardless of how fantastic the tools and libraries for the platform are, and that's why titles for 2006 such as Gears of War, Too Human and Mass Effect look so much better than the launch titles for the platform (it may also be no coincidence that all three use the Unreal Engine 3 technology, which is proving itself to be the platform of choice for making a good-looking Xbox 360 game at the moment).

On one hand, it's important to cast our minds back to the offerings on the PS2 when it launched, or indeed the original Xbox. The Xbox 360 first party line-up alone knocks the launch titles of any recent console into a cocked hat; whether you're of the opinion that it's going to set the world on fire or not, Perfect Dark Zero is a competently executed first person shooter, Project Gotham Racing 3 is an excellent racing title with beautiful graphics, and Kameo is a perfectly well-executed fantasy action adventure title. Compare and contrast with an Xbox line-up where, Halo aside, the only titles most people can remember are Azurik and Fuzion Frenzy, and you can see why Microsoft are so proud of what they've achieved for launch on the 360.

On the other hand, though, it's equally important to realise that the competition for Xbox 360 for the next half year at least will not be from other next-gen consoles, equally struggling with titles that patently come from developers who aren't fully up to speed on the hardware yet, but from the existing platforms - PS2, and to a lesser extent GameCube and even Xbox itself.

Those platforms will continue to turn out highly polished, extremely accomplished games which can't match the Xbox 360's visuals in raw power terms, but which nonetheless represent the pinnacle of the current generation of gaming, after several years of experience with the hardware and development environment for their creators - and which compete directly for the pounds, Euro, dollars or Yen which might otherwise have been put towards a next-gen console purchase.

At least until Nintendo and Sony also deign to enter the next-gen market, Microsoft's biggest challenge is going to be convincing consumers that they need to invest in the next-generation at a time when the current generation offers more than ever before. The incredibly strong launch line-up compares favourably with any console launch line-up in history; but with a sell-out guaranteed this Christmas due to sheer demand from early adopters, we won't know until next year at the earliest whether consumers consider the launch line-up to compare favourably to the games they already have at their fingertips.

Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.