Monday 28th November, [fumbles through calendar] ok, that’s four days away till THE big day. A damp, very cold day in London and in a dingy side street off one of them busier roads near good old Covent Garden in London, sat a small bundle of playing goodness that was the Xbox360 Tour.
In its final leg of the tour the resting place for this event has been at Mercer Studios in ye-oldie London town and on its final day yours truly and a few friends, for the good of the people, went to check it out.
Being the last day and so close to launch we were expecting a crowd of people snaking its way to the entrance. Luckily being in the week and during working hours this wasn’t the case and we were ushered in by staff outside through the empty entrance, pass a White 360 Hummer that wouldn’t of been out of place on an episode of Pimp My Ride. So through the entrance we went where we were then bagged, tagged and told to enter through the white door and ‘have fun’.
In we went…
On entering through the white door we were met with gaming nirvana as a sea of Xbox360 was standing before us. So what games did I see?
Need for Speed: Most Wanted
Kameo: Elements of Power
Project Gotham Racing 3
Call of Duty 2
Dead or Alive 4
NBA Live 2006
Tony Hawks American Wasteland
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006
FIFA 2006 RTWC
What games didn’t I see?
Madden NFL 2006
So the line up wasn’t too bad. Though they were there I didn’t see King Kong, Quake IV and Madden NFL 2006, but I was a little disappointed that Amped3 wasn’t present at the event. Ah well onwards and upwards so here is a little hands on some of the titles I managed to have a go on.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted
First impressions were good. The game played well and smooth, no noticeable slow down in any busy scenes in the game. The pod I was playing on had no save games so I only had access to one vehicle, that being the Lexus. Prior to playing the 360 version I had already played and was a huge fan of the PC demo version. So I was use to what to do and where to go, though pretty much anyone could of picked up the vibe of just basically outrunning the Police who were tailing you from the start. Nothing else was really new here for me personally, it looked and played just like the PC version so all in all a higher textured and resolution version of what is currently available on the PS2 and Xbox.
Project Gotham Racing 3
To be honest, this was the title I was here for really. A few PGR3 pods were empty (shocking!) so I picked up a pad and continued to play where someone had previously left off on what looked like a time trial level of PGR3. After a few minutes of getting used to the buttons and what function they did (Button Info cards would have been handy at this event) I was away. First impressions were that the steering was a little too light for my heavy handed Gran Turismo tamed fingers. The control of the vehicles were good, if a little too twitchy for me, though I’m sure this can be tweaked in the options.
I was gradually getting used to the pads paddle accelerate and brake controls more and in time as I was weaving back and forth like a blind Schumacher through one of around 6 or 7 circuits based in London, UK. The tracks were far narrower than I was expecting them to be after seeing so much footage online, either that or the circuit I was on was an advanced one.
One thing that showed itself more than anything was the graphics – if this is the way things are going in Next-Gen racing games then us virtual racing enthusiasts are in for a visual eye watering feast! Lighting effects were dominant here in this game which seemed to use similar techniques of High Dynamic Range as seen on the PC’s Half Life 2: Lost Cost demo. This effect was best shown off when exiting a tunnel on a Tokyo circuit where you were met with pure high contrast over-bright light on approach of the exit, this then came clearer and in focus on exiting the tunnel – best seen than described really.
Another graphics compliment in the game would have to be the cockpit view which really shows off more of the lighting along with the speed and thrill of virtually being IN the seat. I am personally not a fan of in-cockpit views, I tend to switch directly to the bonnet mounted cam with racing games but this is a title that could lure me into making this my preferred choice of angle.
OK I could go on about PGR3 for a few more pages so; I’ll leave it there so someone who writes our review article for this title actually has something to add. In short it’s the title you should have in the bag as you leave the store along with your Xbox360 this Friday, it’s truly a definitive MUST HAVE title.
[Takes a breather]
OK next up is…
One of around six Perfect Dark pods were in use which was a surprise to me, most of them looked too dark to be working and I had the impression that all but one had crashed. The curious in me decided to press a button, and low and behold the ‘darkness’ was a nice screensaver feature in the game (nice touch).
I decided to check out single player and selected the first mission which took me to a brief loading screen and into an in-game intro that introduced me to the games graphic ability. This met with a nod of approval as it’s fairly on par with current PC FPS titles in this department. Being the first level and probably being the ‘ease you in’ kind of level I was left a little short of bored when walking through corridors and pressing the odd button, ducking under a trip laser and shooting the odd wooden crate hear and there. Im sure later down the line it’s a great title but FPS on console’s without a mouse and keyboard isn’t my cup of tea.
Since seeing coverage of Condemned at this years E3, I was intrigued to play this one. A game like this needs a quiet, dimly lit room with the 5.1 Dolby Surround amp turned up and a choice of beverage by your side. This wasn’t remotely possible at this event as I was standing up and had a club speaker in my left ear pumping out the DJ’s vinyl. So you could say the atmosphere in this game was killed a little bit, but I made do and started a new game. The beginning of this game lets you control your character as you follow a torch equipped Police man through a crime scene; a nice touch to ease you in to the games controls while getting you in the mood for dark torch lit corridors and rooms with faceless mannequins and corpses riddled with forensic evidence. This game seems like one where you can’t storm through and must be patient with. Evidence must be looked for, then zoomed and finally captured with the use of quite a few button presses and the moving of the analogue stick.
This is a title I would definitely recommend checking out, though I can see it being a ‘love it or hate it’ type of game so it’s maybe best rented or bought from a store that has liberal return policies should you wish to take it back.
FIFA 2006 RTWC
This was the first game that caught our eye. This was soon followed by the words ‘it almost looks real!’ from my tailing friends as they entered through the entrance. This was a couch game, so we took the weight off our feet and picked up the two wired pads in our hands for a little two player action on EA’s Next-Gen leap for the FIFA franchise. Picked up from previous players, the teams where already chosen, Spain Vs Holland. On kick off the first impressions were that the frames involved in the player’s animation made the game ooze slickness. Goalies diving then fumbling for a loose caught ball was a nice touch, it has come along way from balls being struck and then sucked into the goalies hands. This fluidity as always in recent FIFA titles seem to hinder the playability some bit as you find yourself trying to play ahead of yourself in order to pass successfully into space, same goes for tackling though this seems far more instant when executed. Graphics are a huge improvement in this game, this time round there’s actual grass blades your playing on now. Facial detail in the players are immense too, though on the down side they have overdosed on the bloom effect and I wish the plastic look of everything was toned down a bit as this would make the players look a lot more natural and less ‘porcelain doll’ looking. During cut scenes and kick off we noticed when playing in a full stadium of supporters and players, there was noticeable slow down and frame loss – whether that’s bad optimization during the development or the Xbox360 not having enough power to push what’s going on screen is a question only EA can answer, till then I will be looking forward to see how the Next-Gen Pro Evolution turns out.
So that pretty much sums up the titles I had hands on with. I already have Call of Duty 2 for PC so there was no reason to pick that one up, it looked just the same. Tony Hawks looked more or less like a direct port and didn’t ooze any Next-Gen appeal. Like FIFA, NBA Live 2006 showed off its graphical prowess with crazy lifelike character models and fluid animation which didn’t hinder playability as a friend of mine commented that the game played really well. GUN just looked like a higher resolution version of current generation platforms and was on par with the PC version. Kameo looked gorgeous, displaying very colourful textures and detailed environments that where bundled with crazy characters. This is one game to show off your HDTV just as they did on the Samsung HDTV displays at the event. I cannot comment on the playability of the game but if the amount of people on the pods were a sign to go by then this was a title that was capturing a lot of the peoples interests. I hardly had a glimpse of Dead or Alive 4 in action so I can’t really comment on the title but from the seconds I saw, it seemed fairly spot-on with most beat-em-ups seen in the arcades today. Finally I caught a few seconds of Tiger Woods which has also had a graphical overhaul from the EA developers. I would assume the rest of the game and playability is still there as in the other current generation platform versions.
All in all we had a good time at the event. The games at the event that were getting mostly populated with gamers were amazingly the multi-platform titles. Surprisingly very little were found playing the exclusive titles such as Perfect Dark although one exclusive title that had most people picking up the pads was Kameo with Project Gotham Racing coming second out of the exclusives. Maybe it was people playing what they know best with the popularity of multi-platform titles such as Need for Speed, Tony Hawks, NBA Live 2006, FIFA 2006 RTWC attracting most of the crowds.
So did I come out of the event wanting an Xbox360? In short the answer is yes and no. Personally, when I see the current line up of titles for the Xbox360 it makes me feel there is something there to offer me but in only a small selection of titles, maybe just two, that being Project Gotham Racing 3 and Condemned. The other crop of launch titles just seem rush ports, high in gloss and low in content and features. Say you have a ninja PC to play these titles on then I would say keep the money in your pocket for now until a worthy ‘must have’ exclusive title shows up. If you think Project Gotham Racing 3 can see you through till then, order that Xbox360 tomorrow! (That’s if you can find one).
I believe that the Xbox360 has brought the console era into the level of PC gaming where it is today but without the Mouse and Keyboard and replacing the backbreaking office chair and monitor for the comfy couch and a HDTV. They say that the power hasn’t even been tapped yet with this Next-Gen console and I would hope so, this is only the first wave of titles we are seeing here, who knows what our eyes will be feasting on next Christmas, I for one will be sticking around to find out.