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Xbox 360: it's almost here!

Europe prepares for The Future.

Just think. By this time tomorrow, the battle of the next-gen consoles will have officially begun. All right, so there will only be one contender in the ring for a good while yet, but all the same...

Yes, tonight's the night that the Xbox 360 finally appears in European stores, accompanied by 15 games titles. Many stores around the UK and continental Europe will be opening at midnight so customers can pick up their consoles as early as possible - although there is a risk some could go home empty handed if the demand is as huge as expected.

Microsoft has kept quiet on the issue of how many consoles Europe is getting, with Xbox's Chris Lewis merely stating that the estimate of 300,000 units is "not far removed from reality."

Xbox global marketing and publishing boss Peter Moore has admitted that many of those hoping to bring home an Xbox 360 in time for Christmas may be disappointed, observing that "the demand is overwhelming" - particularly when it comes to the hard drive-bundled premium system.

Many retailers, particularly specialist retailers, have been running pre-order schemes for the console and will have no units available for customers who walk in tonight or tomorrow morning. Pre-orders at some retailers shut weeks or even months ago, and even some customers who pre-ordered consoles may not get their hardware for a few weeks.

However, others - including several mass-market retailers such as supermarkets - are going to operate a first-come first-served system for their supplies of consoles, with midnight openings being the order of the day for those outlets.

Long queues are likely to be futile, however. Even the largest mainstream retailers have complained of small allocations of stock, with one major supermarket chain in the UK reported to have been allocated less than a thousand units of hardware in total - less than 12 for each of its stores.

In terms of what you'll actually be able to buy tonight, there are two basic packs of hardware - the premium £279.99 standard Xbox 360 pack, and a £209.99 core system pack, which has no hard drive and comes with wired controllers rather than wireless ones.

However, many retailers refuse to sell the system outside of a software bundle - with Toys R Us, for example, demanding £399 for its cheapest premium system bundle, which includes both videogames and DVDs.

15 individual games will launch with the system, priced at £49.99 and including a strong selection of both first- and third-party games. Microsoft itself is leading out with three UK-developed games - Rare's Kameo: Elements of Power and Perfect Dark Zero titles, and Bizarre Creations' Project Gotham Racing 3.

In terms of third-party games, platform exclusives Amped 3 (2K Sports), Condemned: Criminal Origins (SEGA) and FIFA 06: Road to the World Cup (EA Sports) are joined by a number of high profile titles also available on other platforms such as Call of Duty 2 GUN and Quake 4 (all from Activision), King Kong (Ubisoft), and Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Electronic Arts).

Eurogamer will be attending the Xbox 360 launch party in London tonight and visiting a store around midnight to see just how many people have turned up to buy a console - so check back tomorrow for all the latest.