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 Xbox 360
Microsoft’s white wonder will be the first to hit the market, set to be released in all territories pretty much at the same time in a launch window that lasts just a few weeks between 22nd November and 10th December. The US will see the 360 first followed swiftly by Europe, around the 2nd of December and then Japan. This enormous task, unprecedented in gaming history, has caused Microsoft many problems as they struggle to manufacture enough consoles to meet the incredible demand. At the recent X05 event Xbox Marketing Boss Peter Moore admitted “If we knew what we were getting into, we might not have done it," and acknowledging the Herculean effort required to release a console worldwide he said "there's a reason no-one has done this before and we are figuring that out."

But shortages aside, there are a lot of things to look forward to when we finally get our hands on it. Those lucky million or so consumers who can grab a console on launch day will no doubt be testing out features like the new and improved Xbox Live, with a completely revamped interface and smoother online experience. With the advancement of online technology plus the greater availability of Broadband, Online play will become even more popular during this generations life-span, something Microsoft has been keen to highlight to the public. Another feature being pushed as a system seller is the possibility of transferring music and movies to the Xbox 360’s optional hard-drive from virtually any wireless enabled media device – even a PSP!

Then of course we come to the launch games, something that is yet to be fully determined. Although they are a mere month and a half away from launch, Microsoft still haven’t confirmed an actual line-up to consumers and retailers; something that has caused confusion all round. This hasn’t been helped by the fact there are two versions of the console being released, a cut-down system minus hard-disk for £210 and one with all the trimmings for £270. Originally around twenty titles were due to be out at launch but that number has slowly decreased as we creep closer to the release date. Most recently, the promising looking update to the popular Ghost Recon series has been pushed back by it’s publisher Ubisoft as they make sure the finished product is bug-free and of the highest standard.

It’s a situation that has been mirrored across the board and even Microsoft’s big three – Kameo, Project Gotham 3 and Perfect Dark Zero – are currently on a ‘released when it’s ready’ time scale. The most anticipated of the three, Perfect Dark Zero, is expected within a few weeks of launch if it misses the release day, as Rare make final checks to multiplayer and single player elements to ensure an optimised and bug-free experience. While this must be applauded, after all we do want our games to be as good as possible, it has left some bewildered gamers wondering what they can actually expect to play come launch day. One Publisher that has made sure of it’s titles availability is EA, who have five titles ready, including updates to Tiger Woods, FIFA and Burnout. Also expected to arrive on or around launch are titles such as Quake 4, Call of Duty 2, the beautiful looking Gears of War and Elder Scrolls IV.

But with a now blossoming relationship with third-party developers, including many famous Japanese software houses, Microsoft can rely on what looks like a mouth watering selection of games in the coming year. Determined to strengthen it’s prospects in the far-east, Microsoft has joined forces with some of Japan’s most well known studios including the new company Mistwalker, set up by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, who is developing two RPGs exclusively for the 360. They can also count on the support of Team Ninja, developers of the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden titles, and RPG stalwarts From Software and Level 5 who are all developing exclusive titles.

So with this Japan-friendly line-up could Microsoft make a bigger oriental splash than the original Xbox? Things are certainly more hopeful this time around with a couple of titles even making it into Famitsu’s Most Wanted chart. And with a fine mix of East and Western titles set to flood the shelves in the coming months Microsoft could even take a chunk out of Sony’s potential market. Some critics might say this is a huge task but the Xbox has already made an impact in the public consciousness, many were turned by the fancier graphics it could produce compared to the more popular PS2 and Xbox Live has been more popular and easier to use than its rivals on PS2. Another potentially huge factor determining 360’s fate is the fact Microsoft is the first to launch a next-gen machine, which is a double-edged sword in itself: it can gain a big market share before Sony and Nintendo hit the market, but if consumers are quite happy sticking to current consoles they could see developer support dwindling fast, as was seen on the Sega Dreamcast.

The prospect of playing next-gen games first coupled with the great looking software line-up down the line is making it very hard to resist an early purchase. Personally, I can’t wait to see more of Bioware’s recently announced Space RPG and see how much Rare can get out of the machine (both Kameo and Perfect Dark show obvious signs of their early Xbox heritage).

Rest assured, the future of gaming looks very interesting indeed.

Buy Xbox 360 now at Play.com
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