X’05 – The Canadian Preview of the Xbox 360

by MaxPower

I had the chance to represent R4NT and check out the hype machine kicking into gear for the much anticipated Xbox 360 release in late November. This the second year for R4NT at this yearly Xbox exhibition and like last year, X05 was held in a club in the Entertainment District here in Toronto. It featured scores of HD plasma TVs, Xbox 360s and game industry reps. I spent some quality time playing some of the new Xbox 360 games, but in trying to get around the massive club to check all the games out I didn’t have more than a chance to scope the graphics and test the feel of the games and controllers. These are my findings.

Xbox 360 Platform & Controller – The shape and look of the new Xbox console and controllers has been much talked about, including here on R4NT, where many pictures have been posted over the past few months. So when I finally got my grubby little mitts on a controller the shape didn’t come as a surprise. What did was the weight. It is a lot lighter and thinner (thankfully) than the Xbox controller, basically because it doesn’t have slots for cards like the current generation controller does. As such, it took a little adapting to as the controller felt “different”. Not so small and light that I felt I would break it with some fast bad-ass motions, but it didn’t have the same heft. Additionally, the central “X” lights up when the game system turns on which is cool and the design seems to stem from previous generations of controls. Nothing revolutionary which is comforting but new nonetheless. I didn’t like the placement of the ‘start’ button in the middle of the controller, as I found that is an incongruous place to have a button which is usually pressed in panic mode “Omigod I’m going to get nailed – pause”. I’m sure that new motion will come in time with repeated trials but my hands didn’t like that motion right off. One other fault was the “shoulder buttons” on the top of the controller – they were too close to the sides so that when I moved my hands in order to coax my Ford GT around the corner in Project Gotham Racing 3, I kept hitting the left shoulder button. What does the left shoulder button do? It changes the camera angle. Not cool man, not cool. I don’t know if I’ll get used to it or not, but that was something that was immediately annoying. The console itself was sleeker, probably half the thickeness of the old gen consol and came in a nice white “anything but black” look. The customizable face plates are a nice touch but I doubt I’d buy one as a one-off. Maybe they’ll include some in special edition games or what have you. All in all, the platform and controller are what I had expected from viewing the pictures and previews online.

Graphics and Games: Here we go – the new graphics… how are they? In a word – crazy. Word of warning, I’m describing the graphics I saw on plasma screen HDTVs. One of the game reps told me that Microsoft requires all demos of all games to be played on HDTV, which is understandable as that will show the quality of the graphics. But at the same time, I asked what the graphics would look like on a “normal” TV. The rep didn’t really know as he said most of the testing he’d done had been on HD. He said “it won’t look as good as this, but much better than the Xbox”. That last part is certainly true – there were four or five Xboxes sitting around the perimeter at X05 to show the latest Xbox games and they were completely deserted the entire time I was there.

OK so back to graphics – the best way I can describe it would be they look like cut scenes from previous generation games, except in this case they are actual game footage. I walked up on a guy playing Peter Jackson’s King Kong and in all honesty I thought he was chatting with a rep while a cut scene was going on as the graphics were so clear. Actually, he was just allowing the massive gorilla to move around casually. Impressive. I then had a chance to check out a fight scene between King Kong and a T-Rex. Very impressive. Gameplay? I can’t really comment as I was only at the station for a couple of minutes but the game is developed and published by Ubisoft and will be ready for Xbox 360 launch. Apparently, Weta Ltd. the visual effects company, contributed “assets” from the movie which were directly placed into the gaming engine. No wonder I thought I was watching a cut scene.

I also played Project Gotham Racing 3, NHL 2k6, Dead or Alive 4, Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo and Elderscrolls IV: Oblivion. All of the graphics impressed me, PGR3’s graphics were so clear it almost hurt my eyes to look at them. The cars were immaculate and they have come along way with the backgrounds so that it doesn’t look like you are driving by cardboard cut outs anymore. NHL 2k6 looked, played and felt like a solid hockey game, however, the new gen graphics do not do as much justice to a sports game like this (except for the cut scenes and the replays) as they do with action or role-playing type games.

The most amount of my time was spent on Elderscrolls IV: Oblivion, mainly because I was such a big fan of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind for the Xbox. I liked that game because of its gigantic size (it was the size I wished Fable was) and totally free form game style. Oblivion’s graphics are a quantum leaps from Elder Scrolls (which was a first generation Xbox game) and well they should, considering that this game has been in development since 2002. Oblivion will be released December 5, 2005 (one of the few non-launch Xbox games at X05) and I for one, am already in line. The game style (free form RPG, walk anywhere in line of sight) hasn’t changed and neither has the size. The developer rep told me that the “main story line” would take about 22 – 25 hours to complete (Fable sized) but that to do all of the side-quests and explore the entire beautiful terrain would take well over 200 hours.

That is what I am talking about. In addition, the game contains 50+ hours of spoken word dialogue (including great voice actors such as Patrick Stewart). So to complete the game in 22 -25 hours you need to be on a pretty narrow minded mission and that, of course, defeats the purpose of the game. The representative also told me about some interesting online features – Bethesda will have multiple staff employed only to pump out downloadable content. Examples of such content (available on the free Xbox Live feature of Xbox 360) will be from the simple – new forms of armour, to the complex – “event days” where vacations will be held in towns on set days of the year. Visit a town during such an event and you’ll find new decorations, things to buy and the townspeople will have something different to say. Improvements over the previous generation include a better combat system (probably the weakest part of the old Morrowind) and a better balance between magic, combat and stealth. While I’m not the first to go out on a limb and say Oblivion will be fantastic (Gamespot saw Oblivion at E3 and called it “jaw dropping”), I’ll say that this was the singly most impressive game I previewed at X’05. I can hardly wait.

  • X’05 – The Canadian Preview of the Xbox 360
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on November 1st, 2005

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