Are You Ready for the Xbox 360 Onslaught?

Next week, Microsoft will finally ship its Xbox 360 console to customers, ushering in the next generation of video gaming and digital entertainment. Although I'm not yet allowed to discuss my experiences with the Xbox 360, I would like to touch on a few problems surrounding the launch so that you can decide whether it's worth jumping on the bandwagon. Or, as it turns out, if it's even possible to do so.

Limited Supply?
The primary concern, of course, is that the Xbox 360 will be in limited supply during the holiday season. Microsoft expects to sell 3 million Xbox 360s within 90 days of the launch but also admitted that the console will be in short supply through the holidays. This announcement has prompted a series of hilarious online conspiracies in which Microsoft is accused of deliberately shortchanging retail stores so that Xbox 360 will always be out of stock, thereby further increasing demand.

Beyond simple reasoning, we can prove that this conspiracy theory is false simply by looking at the number of consoles that analysts expected Microsoft to produce this holiday season. In October, CNN/Money reported that Microsoft would ship between 1.4 million and 2 million consoles in the holiday selling period. That Microsoft's actual shipments will meet or exceed these figures seems to be lost on some people. There's no conspiracy here.

However, that doesn't mean you're going to be able to waltz into a Best Buy next week and buy an Xbox 360. To get one of these precious devices, you're going to need to do some planning. Previously, a number of online and brick-and-mortar retailers let customers preorder small numbers of Xbox 360 bundles, which included the console, some accessories, and a collection of games. These bundles cost upwards of $1000, which is a serious financial commitment. And those bundles are completely sold out already, so that option is gone.

A second option would be to camp out in front of a Best Buy or similar retailer on the day that Xbox 360 launches. Many Best Buy locations will open at midnight on November 22, as will many other stores, letting customers purchase the Xbox 360 and various games and accessories as early as possible. An employee at my local Best Buy told me recently that the store would receive only 100 Xbox consoles, so it would be best to show up early. I'm guessing there will be quite a line out there that night.

Two Choices
You should know, too, that there are two versions of the Xbox 360 console. One, called Core System, includes an Xbox 360 console with a standard white fascia, a single wired controller, and a composite AV cable that will work with virtually all modern TVs. This version costs $299, but it's severely limited because it includes no storage device. So you'll need to purchase a 64MB Memory Unit ($39) or a 20GB Xbox 360 hard drive ($99) to save games. And if you want to play old Xbox games, you'll need the hard drive. They won't play on an Xbox 360 without a hard drive.

The second console is called Xbox 360, though many refer to it as the Premium System. This version, which costs $399, includes the Xbox 360 console, but with a premium chrome finish. It also includes a 20GB hard drive, one wireless controller, an Xbox Live Headset, a component HD cable (which will work only on modern TVs with component inputs), and an Ethernet cable. The only additional hardware you might need is an S-Video AV cable ($19.99), unless your television includes component inputs.

What About the Games?
Beyond your desire to stand out in the cold next week, another question emerges: Do you even want an Xbox 360? Although Microsoft is touting its Xbox 360 launch lineup as the "strongest launch in the history of video game consoles," that's a bit of an overstatement. The company and its partners will ship 18 software titles with the Xbox 360, but none of them are top-tier, "gotta have it" games. Indeed, most of the 18 titles are sequels or ports of existing titles on other platforms. Amped 3 (2K Sports), Call of Duty 2 (Activision), FIFA Soccer 06 Road to 2006 FIFA World Cup (Electronic Arts), Madden NFL 06 (Electronic Arts), NBA 2K6 (2K Sports), NBA LIVE 06 (Electronic Arts), Need for Speed Most Wanted (Electronic Arts), NHL 2K6 (2K Sports), Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (Ubisoft), Project Gotham Racing 3 (Microsoft Game Studios and Bizarre Creations), Quake 4 (id Software and Activision), Ridge Racer 6 (Namco), Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 06 (Electronic Arts), and Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland (Activision) all fall into the latter category. Of the remaining four titles, three)—Condemned: Criminal Origins (SEGA), GUN (Activision), and Perfect Dark Zero (Microsoft Game Studios and Rare)—are first-person shooters. The final game, Kameo: Elements of Power (Microsoft Game Studios and Rare), is an action-adventure title set in a fantasy world.

Among these games, I'm most looking forward to Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero. But none are as exciting as Microsoft's best-selling Halo titles, which made the original Xbox a must-have system for gaming enthusiasts. More important, some of the most eagerly awaited Xbox 360 games—including Gears of War, Ghost Recon 3," and Final Fantasy XI—have been delayed until sometime in 2006. So it might pay to wait.

Worth It?
I've been busy writing about the Xbox 360 on my SuperSite for Windows, so I'll direct you to my Xbox 360 Activity Center, Xbox 360 Launch Lineup, and Xbox 360 Software Compatibility List for more information. In the meantime, if you're looking forward to the Xbox 360, you have some decisions to make. Those who simply can't wait are probably going to have to camp out in front of a store next Tuesday night. Those who can wait, should: By early next year, Xbox 360 will be in ample supply with a new set of second-generation games to choose from. And in the meantime, there's nothing wrong with today's consoles: You'll discover that the Christmas 2005 lineup for Xbox, Sony's PlayStation 2, Nintendo's GameCube, and the portable game machines is as strong as ever.

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