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Xbox 360: How are the games?
It's not hardware that makes the system fun, it's games. We look at what's worth your dollars.
November 21, 2005: 2:07 PM EST
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris
Call of Duty 2 is one of Xbox 360's better launch games.
Call of Duty 2 is one of Xbox 360's better launch games.
How does the Xbox 360 rank? Click here to read our review.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - While there's no denying the horsepower underneath the hood of the Xbox 360, technological superiority doesn't mean much if there aren't any great games to capitalize on it.

While the 360 certainly has one of the broader range of titles of any new gaming system in over 10 years, it lacks a rallying point - a game that defines the system's potential and breaks new boundaries of fun. There are, however, some entertaining games that will release alongside Microsoft's new console on Tuesday. And if you'll be picking up a 360 no matter what, we've got a few suggestions on how to spend your software dollars - and where to keep your money in your pocket. (For our full review of the Xbox 360 system, click here.)

Microsoft (Research) knows the bulk of the early adopters of the Xbox 360 will be hardcore gamers, so most launch titles are geared toward males in their early to mid 20s. Action, racing and sports make up the bulk of the lineup so far.

Among the action titles, there's a clear winner. Activision's (Research) "Call of Duty 2" sets players in the heart of World War II, battling the German forces on a variety of fronts. Admittedly, the World War II genre is severely overused (you can't swing a dead cat without hitting one or two Nazis among today's games.) Still, "Call of Duty" is one of the better franchises in the space.

If spiffy graphics are your thing, this is one of the best looking games the system has to offer. Gameplay is solid, if familiar, and fills the first person shooter niche nicely. There's nothing really revolutionary here, but it's one of the better bets of the launch crop.

If driving at insane speeds is your passion, "Project Gotham Racing 3" is a solid choice. Like "Call of Duty," this game is a graphical marvel and probably comes the closest to hinting at the 360's potential. Cities feel real as you whiz through them and the game does a good job of recreating the sense of speed. You'll also believe you're physically inside the car as interiors are lovingly recreated down to the tiniest detail. The single player game is well done, but "PGR" truly shines when it comes to online play. It's a safe bet this will be one of the handful of games dominating Xbox Live in the first few months of the Xbox 360's lifespan.

Perhaps one of the nicest surprises of the 360's launch lineup is "Kameo: Elements of Power". Developed by Rare Inc., the game casts you as a shape-shifting elf trying to rescue her family. An adventure game at heart, "Kameo" also borrows from the action and puzzle genres, resulting in something that might reach beyond core gamers, though it isn't likely to be the system leader. It sure is nice to look at, though. Colorful and lively, "Kameo," like many launch titles, looks considerably better on a high definition television.

The sports genre, while it has the most games in the launch lineup (eight of the 18 day one titles are sports-themed), is actually rather disappointing, with no real standouts. The games look fine - and generally are a graphical step beyond their current generation counterparts - but they all seem rather soulless.

"Amped" is a traditional snowboarding game with an unusual storyline, but it doesn't really add anything new. The graphics aren't anything to write home about either, just barely topping the original Xbox's version. "Madden 06" certainly looks good, but lacks the depth fans of the series have come to expect (like the create-a-player and minicamp features). And "Tony Hawk's American Wasteland" captures the dubious title of worst looking launch title, offering graphics that are actually worse that what you'd see on a current generation Xbox, while relying on gameplay mechanics that haven't advanced much since the series' last installment.

It's "Perfect Dark Zero" that most people want to know about, as Microsoft has quietly positioned this as the Xbox 360's premiere launch title. The game, actually, is a lot like the machine: Good, but not great. It's certainly not a system seller, but it's not a bad way to spend a few hours. Like the original "Perfect Dark" (which was developer for the Nintendo 64), you'll control super-spy Joanna Dark, which puts all sorts of gadgets and weapons at your fingertips. The game's certainly not bad, but fails to live up to the (perhaps unreasonably) high expectations of the community. (One note: I was unable to test the Xbox Live portions of the game, which could make up for the single-play shortcomings.)

It's worth re-emphasizing that tastes vary. What didn't float my boat might be your must-have game. Meta-review sites like Gamerankings.com are often a good place to get an overview of what critics have to say and can be a buyer's best friend when you're on the fence.

It's also worth mentioning that there are games in the Xbox 360 pipeline that really let the system strut its stuff. "The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion" and "Gears of War" (both due early next year) are amazing looking, really showing the potential of next generation graphics – and both coming from developers who have a track record of high quality work. Launch titles are typically a bit lean when viewed in retrospect (the PlayStation 2 had a particularly weak launch lineup and look how successful that system turned out to be). On the whole, the Xbox 360's first round of titles aren't bad – and the shotgun approach of appealing to a wide variety of interests might work well for Microsoft. But there's nothing for the gaming world to rally around right now. Hopefully, we'll see that soon.

So how's the Xbox 360? Read our review.

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Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.  Top of page

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