GATES PULLS TRIGGER
ON XBOX LAUNCH
Copyright 2002 www.guardianunlimited.co.uk
[ March 7th 2002 ]
bulky, black and aesthetically challenged, but
the Xbox is Microsoft's entry into the £11bn videogame
industry. Launching in Europe next Thursday, the
Xbox is set to spark a huge battle in a market
dominated by Sony's PlayStation 2.
US launch has put the software giant in a confident
mood, but this is virgin territory for Microsoft.
The PlayStation 2 is the market leader worldwide,
while gaming veteran Nintendo is set to release
its latest console, the GameCube, in Europe in
May. But while the latter, despite some notable
announcements such as exclusive development of
the Resident Evil series, remains aimed at the
younger audience, the Xbox is the main competitor
for the PS2.
itself is large - reminiscent of an 1980s VCR
- and unlikely to be moved once stowed under the
telly. The controllers are similarly oversized,
although relatively comfortable with prolonged
play. Unlike the PS2, the Xbox doesn't play DVDs
as standard, but buy a separate remote control
(about £20) and you've got DVD playback that is
better than the PS2. Online connectivity is important
too, with the Xbox having a built-in Ethernet
adapter, although you'll have to wait until a
network is developed for full broadband gaming.
Michel Cassius, head of publishing at Xbox Europe
says: "Broadband online video gaming will have
as dramatic an impact on video games in this generation
as the move from 2D to 3D did in the last generation."
has also announced a hard drive and a broadband
connector for the PS2, with Telewest currently
running networking trials. A first for a console,
the hard drive doesn't just keep the price high
- £299 compared to PS2 (£199) and GameCube (approx
£160) - but offers developers a host of opportunities.
There is the chance to create more realistic environments
and game worlds, with less delay in loading. And
there is the potential of episodic gaming, where
small sections are downloaded on a regular basis,
creating a "soap opera" style commitment to the
that any console is only as good as its games,
Microsoft has tried to make development as easy
as possible. Unlike the arcane intricacies that
need mastering to develop for the PS2, the Xbox
is based on fairly standard PC and Windows technology.
After all, it is essentially a medium spec PC,
with a great graphics card. "We have very good
tools, and developers can also start development
of their games/concept on a PC and get to a very
good prototype very quickly," says Cassius.
Gordon, technical director of Climax London is
typical of many developers: "The Xbox is a very
powerful machine, which means that we can go quickly
from artist to console without too much reduction
in texture size or polygon count." Microsoft has
also started a developer support programme which
has been popular in the UK. Complementing Microsoft's
releases, there are 14 third-party titles due
out on launch day, from companies such as Eidos
Davis of Eidos says: "Microsoft has the objective
of growing the overall market, rather than just
pinching customers from competitor platforms."
And Roger Walkden, European marketing director
of Activision, is similarly upbeat: "It's always
encouraging to see healthy competition at the
beginning of the life of a new hardware platform
as it shows that developers and publishers have
committed themselves to its success."
20 games available on day one - the biggest in
gaming history - the results are mixed, although
of a higher quality than the initial PS2 launch
line-up. The one standout title is Halo. Ostensibly
a first person shooter (FPS), Halo mixes team
and vehicular combat with a surprisingly enjoyable
sci-fi story. The 5.1 Dolby digital sound is impressive
but the graphics really demonstrate the leap forward
from the PS2, with high-resolution textures creating
incredibly realistic environments.
none of the other Microsoft titles can match the
quality of Halo, there is an eclectic mix to choose
from. Project Gotham Racing may be an update of
a Dreamcast game but its innovative scoring system
- drive daringly to gain points - make it a must
for petrolheads. Another Dreamcast update and
published by Sega is Jet Set Radio Future, the
unique and stylish skateboarding title.
or Alive 2 is a gorgeous fighting game, with stunning
character animation, while Amped is the finest
looking snowboarding sim around. But perhaps the
most interesting release is Oddworld: Munch's
Oddysee, a platforming, puzzling hybrid that should
appeal to all ages. The other Microsoft releases
are the mediocre puzzle game Fuzion Frenzy and
the disappointing boat shooter Blood Wake.
party release schedule includes big name publishers
such as EA, Eidos and Activision, although as
with the Microsoft releases, the results are predictably
mixed. PS2 ports predominate, with Xbox conversions
of Max Payne, Tony Hawks 3, and NBA Live offering
few surprises. Eidos and Activision do offer some
exclusivity though, with both Mad Dash Racing
and Wreckless: the Yakuza missions only available
on the Xbox. The former is an enjoyable, if limited,
cartoon racing game, while the latter is essential
for racing fans looking to steer fast cars through
crowded cities. With a large urban environment
to cause havoc in, Wreckless is a worthy rival
to Project Gotham in the Xbox driver rankings.
releases are scheduled later in March - including
EA's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Championship
Manager 2002 - the Xbox hard drive making this
the first-ever console release for the football
management sim. This is only the beginning of
the battle for Microsoft and it has some big hurdles
to leap. Despite a fairly impressive launch line-up,
reports from the US suggest that some of the momentum
has been lost with a mediocre second wave of releases.
Microsoft also lacks the brand sexiness of Sony,
which did much to bring gaming to an older audience.
it's clear that Microsoft is here for the long
haul. It won't win any design awards, but with
powerful graphical and broadband capabilities,
and most importantly, a massive marketing budget,
it is hard to see the Xbox failing.