A new release schedule for Microsoft's Xbox reveals that many key titles for the console have slipped even further into 2004, leaving the system's Christmas line-up looking almost as sparse as the GameCube's.
The biggest news is that Halo 2 has slipped back a further two months, and is now scheduled to arrive in April - as is Ninja Gaiden, another major game for the console which has fallen back a few more months on top of already announced slippage.
Rare's Kameo: Elements of Power is now scheduled for a June launch, while Fable - recently confirmed as slipping past Christmas - is slated for an optimistic Q2 2004 launch date, as is Rare's Conkers: Live And Uncut, which is believed to have been substantially rethought following a poor reception at E3 back in May.
So where does that leave the Xbox this Christmas? With another major title, Climax' Sudeki, now also confirmed as Q1 2004 rather than being a Christmas game, the release schedule is looking a bit sparse. The key titles to watch out for are Project Gotham Racing 2, which appears on November 28, and Amped 2 which appears a fortnight previously on November 14.
Beyond that, the games on offer are mostly B-list or of niche interest - or simply unknown properties, like quirky adventure/platformer title Voodoo Vince, which is due to appear on October 17 - although following the disappointment of the similarly pitched Blinx last year, that may be a tough sell to consumers regardless of how good the game actually is.
Rare's Grabbed By The Ghoulies is another unknown, and will appear on November 14. Impressions from E3 suggested a good game, but probably a fairly niche title. Meanwhile Counter-Strike, which rolls out on Xbox on December 5, could fare well - our impressions from E3 were that it's a great game, but how much appeal it'll have to the Xbox audience remains to be seen.
One thing the console won't lack at Christmas is sports titles, but even here there are question marks over the games on offer. American sports games traditionally don't do well over here, so NFL Fever 2004 (September 19) and NBA Inside Drive 2004 (November 28) probably simply don't matter. Similarly, Links 2004 is unlikely to set the world on fire. Tennis title Top Spin, however, looks interesting and could potentially replicate the success of Sega's Virtua Tennis, according to those who've seen it.
Here's the full European list for Xbox first party releases from now until the end of the year. Bold highlights indicate the titles which we believe will perform well in terms of Christmas sales on the console.
- NFL Fever 2004 - September 19th
- Voodoo Vince - October 17th
- Crimson Skies 3 - October 31st
- Top Spin - November 7th
Amped 2 - November 14th
- Grabbed By The Ghoulies - November 14th
- Music Mixer - November 14th
Project Gotham Racing 2 - November 28th
- NBA Inside Drive 2004 - November 28th
Counter-Strike - December 5th
Links 2004 - December 5th