Microsoft describes its Xbox 360 launch lineup as the "strongest launch in the history of video game consoles," but that's a bit of hyperbole. None of the launch titles is a certified tier-1 mega-hit like "Halo 2" or "Grand Theft Auto San Andreas," though games such as "Kameo," "Perfect Dark Zero," and "Project Gotham Racing 3" are all decent. Indeed, most of these game are sequels to familiar titles from the past, including Amped 3, Call of Duty 2, FIFA Soccer 06, Madden NFL 06, NBA 2K6, NBA Live 06, Need for Speed Most Wanted, NHL 2K6, Project Gotham Racing 3, Quake 4, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, and, arguably, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland. That means that fully two-thirds of these games are essentially recycled content with better graphics, new levels and characters, and other enhancements.

OK, here is the first wave of Xbox 360 games. I plan to provide full reviews of each of these titles in the coming weeks, so I'll just provide quick descriptions here.

Amped 3

Publisher: 2K Sports
Retail price: $59.99

Amped is a lame snowboarding title that I've found to be amazingly annoying.

 

There are more screenshots available in my Amped 3 screenshot gallery.

Call of Duty 2

Publisher: Activision Inc.
Retail price: $59.99

A fantastic update to a fantastic title, Call of Duty 2 rocks on the PC and is equally good on Xbox 360. Unlike previous Call of Duty console adaptations, this version is the full PC game. Bravo.

 

For more information, please refer to my Call of Duty 2 for Xbox 360 review. Also, there are more screenshots available in my Call of Duty 2 screenshot gallery.

Condemned: Criminal Origins

Publisher: SEGA Corp.
Retail price: $59.99

A creepy-looking horror title, Condemned: Criminal Origins might deliver if it can find a good balance between mindless first person shooting and plot.

 

There are more screenshots available in my Condemned: Criminal Origins.

FIFA Soccer 06: Road to 2006 FIFA World Cup

Publisher: Electronic Arts Inc.
Retail price: $59.99

As a normal American, I don't really "get" soccer, but like golf, it's a contest that translates well to a video game. Fast-moving sports titles are always great fun, especially with a group of friends.

 

There are more screenshots available in my FIFA Soccer 06: Road to 2006 FIFA World Cup screenshot gallery.

GUN

Publisher: Activision
Retail price: $59.99

This is the dark horse of the bunch, because it's a relatively untapped genre. Essentially a first person shooter that takes place in the Old West, GUN looks mature, with cinematic-style storytelling.

 

There are more screenshots available in my GUN screenshot gallery.

Kameo: Elements of Power

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios and Rare Ltd.
Retail price: $59.99

As big as Xbox 360 launch titles get--which isn't saying much, Kameo is an action-adventure fantasy game with lush, colorful graphics. Best of all, it's developed by Nintendo defectors Rare.

 

There are more screenshots available in my Kameo: Elements of Power screenshot gallery.

Madden NFL 06

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Retail price: $59.99

There are--or, were, excuse me--better football games, but Madden is it going forward, and we're not in bad hands at all. This time around, the navigation UI has changed dramatically, and that could be for the best: With the previous generation, Sega's football titles offered better controls. My son and I have already settled on Madden as one of the launch favorites.

 

There are more screenshots available in my Madden NFL 06 screenshot gallery.

NBA 2K6

Publisher: 2K Sports
Retail price: $59.99

Sporting more realistic looking and acting players and a better control system than its predecessor, NBA 2K6 brings fast-paced NBA action to the Xbox 360. The big question, of course, is whether it's any better than NBA Live 06. Yes, there are two basketball games in the Xbox 360 launch lineup.

 

There are more screenshots available in my NBA 2K6 screenshot gallery.

NBA LIVE 06

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Retail price: $59.99

Based more on realism than action, NBA Live has historically been the thinking man's console basketball game. The Xbox 360 version continues this tradition with ultra-realistic graphics and game play.

 

There are more screenshots available in my NBA LIVE 06 screenshot gallery.

Need for Speed Most Wanted

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Retail price: $59.99

I fondly remember the original Need for Speed back in the late 1980's and EA's Xbox 360 port looks amazing. The trick, of course, will be game play: If Need for Speed can deliver more visceral thrills than Project Gotham Racer 3--as I believe it will--this could be the must-have Xbox 360 racing title.

 

There are more screenshots available in my Need for Speed Most Wanted screenshot gallery.

NHL 2K6

Publisher: 2K Sports
Retail price: $59.99

As with soccer, I'm not a huge hockey fan. That said, I've been enjoying video game hockey all the way back to Intellivision NHL Hockey, and this version is particularly playable.

 

There are more screenshots available in my NHL 2K6 screenshot gallery.

Perfect Dark Zero

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios and Rare Ltd.
Retail price: $59.99

Though it's described as the Halo of the Xbox 360 line-up, I'm not so sure Perfect Dark Zero can rise above the mediocrity of the typical first person shooter. The main character is a sexy female, a la Lara Croft, though you don't get to see her perform in third person view. Will Perfect Dark Zero fly? So far, it's eerily Halo-like, with graphics that could have been lifted right out of Halo 2. In other words, it's not horrible.

 

There are more screenshots available in my Perfect Dark Zero screenshot gallery.

Peter Jackson's King Kong

Publisher: Ubisoft
Retail price: $59.99

Peter Jackson is a genius, but it's unclear whether putting his name front and center on the King Kong movie or video game is necessary. In any event, I've tried the PC version of this game, which is a first person shooter in which you alternatively play a human character and Kong himself. Like Perfect Dark Zero, however, I'm not sure if this rises above the middle of the pack.

 

There are more screenshots available in my Peter Jackson's King Kong screenshot gallery.

Project Gotham Racing 3

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios and Bizarre Creations Ltd.
Retail price: $59.99

Unlike many Xbox owners, I was never overly impressed with Project Gotham Racing 2, and there were at least three other racers I preferred over Microsoft's overhyped title. Can they change my opinion with the Xbox 360 exclusive PGR3? Unlikely. So far, this one has proven to be more difficult to play than it should be.

 

There are more screenshots available in my Project Gotham Racing 3 screenshot gallery.

Quake 4

Publisher: id Software and Activision
Retail price: $59.99

As a devout id Software fan with over a decade of DOOM and Quake deathmatching behind me, I can firmly state that the PC version of Quake 4 offers stunning graphics, a decent single player experience, and the absolute best multiplayer in the world. Here's what's amazing: The Xbox 360 port is just as good.

 

For more information, please refer to my Quake 4 for Xbox 360 review. Also, there are more screenshots available in my Quake 4 screenshot gallery.

Ridge Racer 6

Publisher: Namco Ltd.
Retail price: $59.99

Oh good, another racing game. As you can tell from the title, Ridge Racer has been around a while, and Namco figured they'd milk the franchise as a quick way to jump on the Xbox 360 bandwagon. That said, it's fast and playable, and better than PGR3.

 

There are more screenshots available in my Ridge Racer 6 screenshot gallery.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Retail price: $59.99

I've been a video game duffer since Leader Board on the Commodore 64, and the Tiger Woods games have been predictably excellent on each of the platforms its appeared (well, with the possible exception of the Nintendo DS). My suspicion is that I'll be wasting a lot of time with this title in the days ahead.

 

There are more screenshots available in my Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 screenshot gallery.

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland

Publisher: Activision
Retail price: $59.99

A skateboarding and BMX biking sports title that offers no load times and fantasy courses, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland doesn't look like the type of thing I'd enjoy. Then again, snowboarding titles are usually great fun, so I'll give it a shot. My guess is that this is aimed at a much younger crowd, however.

 

There are more screenshots available in my Tony Hawk's American Wasteland screenshot gallery.

Post-launch titles

A number of previously-promised launch titles have been delayed until early 2006, which is not surprising. Unfortunately, some of these titles were among the tier one games we had hoped to see when Xbox 360 debuted. In February 2006, we should see Burnout Revenge, Frame City Killers, Full Auto, The Godfather, and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 3. And then in March 2006, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Collector's Edition will ship.

The big elephant in the room that no one is talking about, of course, is a presumed version of Halo for Xbox 360. I hope Microsoft will finally spill the beans the Xbox 360 launch event, but the theory is that the company will have a Halo 360 available for sometime in spring 2006, or whenever Sony launches their PlayStation 3. Given the huge and fanatical Halo user base, I understand why Microsoft and Bungie would want to take the time to get Halo 360 right. And I get that Microsoft is sensitive to not overshadowing any existing launch titles by promising Halo 360 for a specific later date. (Not to mention the unlikely possibility that such an announcement could cause some potential Xbox 360 customers to hold off on their purchase.) But come on, guys. It's time to come clean. We want a new Halo, and we want it sooner rather than later, but most importantly, we just want to know when. We know you're working on it.

On to Part 11...