Specials: Somewhere in Redmond, WA, "HD" Allard is smiling.
While the launch may not have been perfect (a small number of reports about overheats, crashes, and wonky graphics issues have been widely circulated), many gamers appear to be happy with their purchases. The launch lineup delivers many decent experiences, some great ones, and even a couple of standouts. Those who picked up HDTVs are feeling especially smug, as the fidelity and crispness of the graphics is quite a step above standard definition tubes.
I've written extensively about the controller, Live Arcade, and the console's interface before, but actually getting to spend some quality time with these features really hammers home how well the machine's aesthetics, usability, and connectivity have been thought out. The controller provides wireless freedom and it also features an indicator for invites (and which controller slot you are) and a toggle for the on/off of the console. The gamepad controls extremely well in every title I've played, including the Live Arcade entries. Speaking of those, they certainly do lend themselves to some great times online. Playing Smash TV
cooperatively with a buddy or braving 100 levels of Gauntlet
with three friends are two experiences that should've been done long ago. Either way, MS has wisely included this feature and implemented it well; get used to online-enabled retro/casual gaming for the foreseeable future.
The console's ?blades? and ?guide? function as advertised, and it's really quite shocking how much raw data can be accessed through this series of screens, menus, and submenus. The blades (and guide) work especially well for online gamers since comparing games and checking up on achievements makes for a better community feel, altogether. I don't know why the 16-player voice lobby was removed (this was handy for casual talking and socializing), and it is somewhat annoying to have the voice quality (in games or out) take a hit from the wireless controllers, but I'll take the sans cable freedom for a small loss in voice clarity. I will say that the one-on-one voice chats are pretty stellar for keeping a session of gaming going with a buddy, as you can effectively have one chat session carry you through load screens, the dashboard, and any game you put in ? you can always communicate.
Personally, I couldn't be happier with the launch games, as the titles I picked up (Perfect Dark Zero, Call of Duty 2, Project Gotham Racing 3, Kameo, NHL 2K6, and FIFA: RTFWC
) all look fantastic on MS's new box. While the sports titles won't knock your socks off, they do provide a noticeable jump in framerate and smoothness, plus they add a few new features along the way.
Call of Duty 2
has been one of the biggest surprises so far, as the game just does not relent its assault on your senses. It's really quite stirring how the game presents itself: the impact of tank shells and grenades nearby, the battle cry of your fellow soldiers, and the sheer hellacious pitched battles of WWII recreated in HD and surround sound ? quite epic stuff, here. The multiplayer may not be all that it could have been, but it looks decent, so far.
Other titles like Perfect Dark Zero
and Project Gotham Racing 3
look visually stunning (especially PGR3), and their online features are robust and even somewhat innovative (Gotham TV is very intriguing).
No launch is perfect ? this one included. Still, you have to admire Microsoft's tenacity in taking it to the other companies early and wanting to tempt gamers with the ?next generation? right now. Sure, an isolated few are having issues with ?lemon? consoles, and there are a few omissions or hiccups that could be mentioned, but the launch of the 360 does look strong out of the gate. The launch appears to be exceeding gamers' expectations, and those who've made the investment for better display and sound devices are finally getting to see what can really be done.
A great start for the Xbox 360. Look for reviews of Xbox 360 games next week at Gaming Target.