Xbox 360 - The Undiluted Hyperbole

Californication gone mad.

"Daddy, where were you when Microsoft was swallowed whole by its own out-of-control ego?"

"Well, son. You had to be there. The day was Monday 16th May 2005. The time 7.49pm. The place, The Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, California. Appropriate, looking back...."

Just hours after Sony's disappeared into the stratosphere with its comparatively sober and understated PS3 presentation a few miles down the road, Microsoft delivered possibly the most unintentionally amusing launch event since Nokia's shell shockingly appalling N-Gage launch two E3s ago.

It started off fairly ominously when Robbie Bach uttered this cast iron classic:

"Working together we will turn thought leadership into market leadership."

If it were any more Orwellian I might have legged it there and then, but it was like witnessing a multi car pile up. You couldn't take your eyes off the spectacle.

Next up we had the well meaning but nevertheless slightly sinister thought police utterance of:

"We will revolutionise the way people think about having fun."

Ohmygod, this article just writes itself. ALL YOUR FUN ARE BELONG TO US!! VEE VILL HAVE ALL YOUR FUN! ACHTUNG!

Ahem. But if you didn't see the comedy value there, don't worry. They were just warming up.

Next up was the lovable J Allard. Now, I've got a lot of time for J. This man probably invented excitement and I challenge anyone not to have a great time alongside Mr Allard and a bottle of Absinthe in Notting Hill restaurants. He probably had a hand in inventing alcohol.

Anyway. This next statement had us all looking at each other quizzically. Addressing the technical capabilities of the 360, Allard said:

"It's a platform that no other company in this industry can even try to match."

And before you think about it Sony, don't even bother to try. Go home.

"It is our goal to reach one billion consumers."

I'm sorry. One billion? Now I'm all for optimism, but when a company with a worldwide installed base of 20 million consoles reckons it can improve that to reach thousand million users all told you know there are some good substances being taken. Even taking into account the creativity of multiplying the number of machines by several users, you're still looking at figures that wouldn't even be realistic if there was no competition, never mind one that's got a nuclear-powered machine with a far better looking range of games coming out for it.

Inevitably the best was saved until last from Peter Moore, who we can only assume had his script doctored at the last minute, Anchorman style. It was a beautiful thing. Transcendental. Spiritual. Almost a religious zeal to the words. So allow us to produce his finest moments of his Xbox 360 speech in full for your reading pleasure.

"Think about the most absorbing experiences in your life.

"Like many people in the audience this evening I am a runner.

"There's that place that you can sometimes reach on a long run where you achieve a kind of perfect mind body equilibrium. It's been called the Zen of running.

"[In] the HD era we're going to deliver the Zen of gaming.

"Next generation games will provide unprecedented audio and visual experiences to create worlds that are beyond real and they will deliver storylines and gameplay so compelling that it will feel like living a lucid dream.

"The result is a state that you achieve a perfect mind-body equilibrium in the digital surroundings that you become completely immersed in the game itself.

"This controller becomes an extension of your body, it becomes the gateway to the Zen of gaming."

I don't even know how to follow that. Lucid dreams? Perfect Mind-Body equilibrium The Zen of gaming? An extension of your body?

I'm sorry, but tonight I didn't see the Zen of gaming. I saw a company with some quite good games (and one or two exceptional ones), but mostly games that had a number after them, and mostly games that are either appearing on other platforms or have been tarted up.

Let's look at what was touted as the big hitters.

  • Dead Or Alive 4: Looked great, but then so did DOA3, and gameplay wise is unlikely to be some sort of quantum leap. Not a game to sell a console on the back of, to be honest.

  • Lost Odyssey: By the man who created the Final Fantasy series, so therefore quite a scoop. Has the potential to help Microsoft in Japan, but the jury's out.

  • Project Gotham Racing 3: Could be brilliant, but the footage looked suspiciously cut together from renders. Let's hope E3 shows some more solid evidence. A cautionary word tells us that Gotham 2 didn't set the charts on fire like it should have. Will this one?

  • Ghost Recon 3: A great advancement on the tactical shooter series, but again, unlikely to be held up as a killer app.

  • NBA 2K6: Good for the Yanks, pointless for the rest of the world. Next.

  • Kameo: Elements Of Power: Rare's stuck-in-development-hell project moves onto its third platform, and still looks no more likely to become a hit than it did two E3s ago. $375 million dollars for a quirky fantasy game and Grabbed By The Ghoulies. Amazing.

  • Call Of Duty 2: Looks great - of that there is no doubt - but it's a PC port of a game that is doing Medal Of Honor for the 7th time. Games like this must be exclusive for Microsoft to sell the console.

  • Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Fair play, this is a nice game to have on any console, but to flag it up as "look! We've got an RPG!!" smacked of desperation. A good solid seller, but again not something to sell a new console on the back of.

  • Gears Of War: Absolutely stunning. Now this is more like it. Epic's jaw-dropping effort is the stuff of next gen and reminded us exactly why we're generally so underwhelmed by most of the 360 line-up. Microsoft has better make sure this is exclusive, and that the game is as good as it looks. Could be the machine's killer app, and the early boost the 360 badly needs.

  • The EA line-up: (Need For Speed Most Wanted, Madden, NBA, FIFA, Tiger Woods, Godfather) Utterly, depressingly pointless. A numbers game. Adding pixel shaders to forthcoming current gen titles and whacking them on the 360 does not make any of the EA line up remotely next gen. This is what's commonly known as shovelware guys, and we despise everything it stands for. Reject it at all costs.

  • Final Fantasy XI: A three-year-old massively multiplayer game brought to the Xbox 360? I had to double take. XI you say? Not a new one? I don't even know how to react. Sure, getting Squeenix on board is a massive coup, but not when it amounts to this.

  • Square Enix tech demo: If this really was running on 360 hardware then fair enough, it looked awesome, but Microsoft badly needs exclusive titles sooner rather than later.

There are other good 360 titles being unveiled, but this was Microsoft's hand picked selection to wow the world with, and to a man the audience seemed muted and underwhelmed. Literally any gamer who witnessed the PS3 presentation and then went to this would have been shaking their heads. Microsoft has a lot of work to do, and merely arriving six months ahead of PS3 isn't going to be enough I fear.

Pros and Cons

After this rather one-sided attack, there were some good things to emerge. Let's run down the For and Against and see where we end up...

Pros

  • Worldwide console launch - good move. Time is running out, and getting the 360 out everywhere in time for Christmas is a smart thing to do.

  • Backwards compatibility: another big tick. No point in giving people any reason to think twice about buying into the new version, and very helpful for those of us with great big black boxes clogging up the lounge.

  • 25 to 40 titles before Xmas: On paper a great number of titles for the launch window.

  • 160 titles in dev: The weight of numbers looks good and the law of averages says loads of these will be great.

  • Personalisation: Very smart, and it's no wonder Microsoft are pushing this feature harder than anything else; could be the 360's saving grace to a generation of customisation mad gamers.

  • Xbox Live: Simply the best. Sony has a lot of catching up to do.

  • Xbox Live Silver: Genius move that will get loads of people into the idea of full online gaming, as well as providing demos and extra content direct to the consumer. Absolutely stunningly good thinking.

Cons

  • Where are the games? Simply not enough big hitters for my mind. The early adopters will not be especially impressed, especially in Europe where US sports games count for nothing.

  • Sequelitis - Trawling out the big hits for Xbox all over again lacks imagination. Microsoft needs a spirit of adventure. Sony has crushed them in this department, amazingly.

  • Multiformat madness - again the Xbox 360 will suffer the tedious fate of having barely-enhanced titles shovelled onto it to bolster the number of titles available. We're not fooled.

  • Underpowered: already the tech specs of Xbox are looking humbled to an embarrassing degree, and it's not going to take much for consumers to hold back on shelling out for the 360 in the knowledge the PS3 is looming shortly afterwards.

  • Microsoft's foot-shooting pre-E3 speeches: Oh my god. I've never heard anything like it. It's like the MS gang is trying to make itself look as geeky as possible, while making some fairly outrageous statements. How was it allowed to go ahead? The ramifications of this will resonate throughout the world. Ouch.

  • High Def: What a total load of bull. So few gamers will ever be able to reap the benefits of this (admittedly lovely) feature that trying to sell the machine on this concept is at best optimistic, at worst ridiculously misguided.

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