TITLE: XBOX 360 and Project Gotham Racing 3
PUBLISHER: MS (console) MS Game Studios (game)
DEVELOPER: Bizzare Creations
DATE RELEASED: Launch Title
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 1-2
XBOX SYSTEM LINK: yes, 2-8
XBOX LIVE COMPATABLE: Yes
HDTV Support: 720p
5.1 Surround Sound: Yes
PLATFORM: XBOX 360
ESRB: Everyone 10+, Mild Lyrics
Retail Price: $49.99 (game) 299.00 (core console), 399.00 (Premium console)
The XBOX 360 why should you care?
By Bob Simmerman
Originally Published in AutoSimSport
Volume 1, Issue 12
November 22, 2005 MS finally delivers on the much hyped and ballyhooed XBOX 360. Having gained pre release fame from all corners of the media and gaming world, including MTV, it was with huge anticipation that the console fans of the world (and a lot of us from the PC world as well) held their breath as the goods made their way to the street. But there was a problem too many buyers, and not enough XBOX 360 s. In fact, it was soon to be one of the most criticized launches in the history of console gaming, if the forums were to be believed. How can you possibly hype something for as long and as hard as MS hyped the XBOX 360, and then not have any units to sell? Didn t the PS2 launch teach us anything? With a lead time of months, perhaps even as much as a year, the XBOX 360 was to market so far ahead of the Sony and Nintendo next generation offerings that an easy path to a much larger market share for MS this time around should be a walk in the park. My guess? There will still be people waiting for their ‘A Store Name Here pre orders when Sony and Nintendo launch their systems. I was fortunate I was able to score one on eBay for a fraction of the going rate I only had to pay just over double what the lucky retail buyers are paying. For a core unit.
The things I do for this magazine
Next, the boards soon became flooded with talk of overheating, disk scratching, and lockup problems to name a few. Had the worst happened? Had MS rushed to market with a broken console, too many orders to fill, and a marketing machine scrambling to spin the madness? MS was quick to point out that any new system is bound to have flaws, and that they were isolated cases. And, after exhaustive research, I would have to agree there appear to be no more problems with this console than with any of the others on initial launch. And to their credit, MS quickly established a 1-800 number to immediately rectify those few problems that did exist. But overall, I would have to agree to some extent that the launch was a partial failure. Just today, I spent a lot of time reading how even more folks missed out on the recent, and rumored, ‘Best Buy Next Shipment . Stories of 40 units and 50 people in line abound and some are claiming this to be worse than the original launch. They just don t seem to exist, and people are growing tired of the continued assurances of MS that plenty are on the way. Whatever the reason, if MS takes too long to deliver the goods people just may grow tired of it, and wait for the other brands simply out of spite. And I certainly could understand that point of view. Perhaps by February, you will be able to walk into a store and pick one up at your leisure, but for now it is only for the hardcore who are prepared to brave the elements for ridiculous amounts of time only to face almost certain disappointment. You could probably get one on eBay, like I was able to, but don t expect any kind of bargain. I was honestly prepared to shell out a lot more than I did, so I consider myself ‘lucky here. I can assure you, however, that I will approach the purchase of a PS3 in a much different manner, and hope Sony actually has produced some units when it finally launches.
Such a shame, all those units in Japan, sitting on shelves, no doubt fulfilling some kind of MS secret plan for global console placement domination
But enough about all that the buzz will wear off soon enough, and they will be plentiful, but for now the XBOX 360 is an elusive beast. Now I am going to try and explain why it is worth the trouble in the first place. How many times have we heard the worn out mantra that, this time, The PC is dead. Really this time!? I have certainly heard it over the years, and if anything seeing or playing a ‘console sim has made me like PC sims even more. Well, that began to finally change, at least in my case, with Gran Turismo 4, and Forza Motorsports. Both of these offerings took the level of the console ‘sim to very sim like levels, as ‘defined by the PC. And why not? The guts of the XBOX, for example, far exceed the minimum specs on the box of Grand Prix Legends, so why would it be impossible to do a hardcore sim on a console? Sales figures no doubt have played a part in this situation, as well as the lack of decent peripherals and in the case of the original XBOX, force feedback support, but GT4 and Forza were both stellar products that pushed the hardware to the very limit, and gave us an enjoyable experience that was much more realistic than anything that had come before. With the Logitech DFP for the PS2 tossed into the mix, GT4 was truly a first in console land a brilliant driving simulator coupled with a brilliant control input.
For the past week, I have been putting the XBOX 360 through its paces as well as trying to determine just what this thing may mean to the simulator crowd now and down the road a few months. As I dug deeper into the experience that is the XBOX 360, I began to notice that many of the features we crave in online play and matchmaking are not only a part of the XBOX Live experience, but are so seamlessly integrated into the experience as to seem nothing more than an offline session. I don t know how many folks were in the Project Gotham Racing 3 online world, but I do know this much I am ranked about 46,792 in the world so I am guessing, since there were some folks below me, that at any given time there are quite a few people racing online in this world.
And take my word for it having your ass handed to you in a race feels the same with the XBOX 360 controller as it does with the MOMO. But it s the smack talk that really beats you down
Part of the big deal with this system is the demand MS has placed on game developers the must--have support of 720p and/or 1080i High Definition video output standards. The land of High Definition, 5.1 Surround Sound, and a gaming experience like no other that has come before. Lofty goals indeed, but when you take a look at the specs, the XBOX 360 on paper at least, looks poised to deliver fully on the HD experience.
Xbox 360 System Performance Specifications
Here, there is the table of the XBOX 360 hardware specs, as published by MS. Due to formatting issues the table has been left out of this post, but can be found in the full article in the link for AutoSimSport. Also, the screenshots have been left out as well, as offsite hosting is not viable at the time of this posting...SB
Impressive indeed a teraflop?!! Perhaps there is some fancy media--math going on, but one thing is clear after actually having a good deal of time with the unit, only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of fully utilizing the hardware, has been uncovered. Even so, my experience with the unit has produced more than a fair share of those ‘wow moments as it is difficult to believe what I am seeing. And surely, anyone who would like a look there are plenty of demo units around running in the shops and while you might not see the game you want, you will definitely notice that some things have changed in console land
And besides promising the latest and greatest in high fidelity gaming, MS has assured us that many of the previous XBOX titles will be playable on the 360, but you need the hard drive, and the patch from MS. When you think about it, this has a tremendous amount of risk associated with it. Given the fact that the previous console used an NVIDIA graphics chip, and an Intel CPU, running that stuff on a PowerPC triple core CPU with an ATI GPU is going to be tricky, at best, and a colossal engineering nightmare at the worst of it. But believe it or not, so far so good. While not all games play well through the emulation, most play just fine, and with up scaling to 720p get better looking in the process. For me, GTA San Andreas and Halo 2 ran blister fast, but Forza, in anything but a single car situation, was all but unplayable, even when I changed the 360 output to 480p. Still, the effort is appreciated and performance issues are to be expected given the nature of the task. At the time of this writing, around 200 games are supported.
On to the connection phase--for the sound chores, I hooked my unit to a Pioneer VSX-815k AV receiver using a Monster Cable fiber optic connection. The XBOX 360 was set to output in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound although the option to output in WMA was also available, I could not tell a difference between the two. There is also an analog out option, and this sounds fantastic as well, so those without digital hookups need not worry as MS has done their homework here.
For the display chores, a Samsung HLN 4365W 43” DLP HDTV was used, and this is a fixed output monitor at 1280x720 progressive. Although it will accept an input signal of up to 1080i, I chose to match the 360 output to that of the television. Image quality of the menus that appear on boot up is crystal clear, with vibrant colors, and navigation is quick and intuitive. The menus are also customizable by the end-user by downloading alternative themes. Those who have the Premium product (with the shipping hard drive) or those who have purchased the add-on HDD, will find several themes preloaded. And the rumors are true the power brick is quite a hefty item, and takes a bit of space. It also needs all the ventilation it can get. There has been some speculation that the power brick overheating may be the cause of some of the 360 issues, but I have yet to see any sort of problem at all, with one session lasting around 12 hours or so. It does run a bit warm, and the 360 has two fans pumping out the entropy, but nothing of any greater degree than what I have encountered before. However, I would not confine these two items too intimately in the entertainment center they just get a bit hot, and no sense making it worse...
A Link Sys router handles the connectivity and XBOX Live chores. Setup was extremely easy, and you can use a USB keyboard to type in those extra long XBOX Live codes but you can t use it for your favorite shooter game, at least at this time. All units sold ship with a free Silver membership, which lets the gamer get a taste of the XBOX Live world before making the jump to a full membership. My system (and I assume others as well) also shipped with a month free of the Gold Membership. With XBOX Live, there is an extremely vast array of media, demos, and games to download with new content being added all the time. The best part in no way is it intrusive, forcing you to slog through it every time you wish to play a game, or change an option. And when you think of how this system would allow and enable all kinds of online racing league activities and options, it becomes a very interesting prospect.
Certainly, XBOX Live is nothing new but the hardware of the hardcore, allowing full blown sims to be played on a worldwide scale has not happened for whatever reason. Perhaps, with the XBOX 360, this will change, but it is reassuring to know that the infrastructure for a vast online experience has been in place for years and is one hell of a robust system. While I don t feel first impressions are always a decent indicator of future situations, with the XBOX 360, MS has made a great first impression packing a processing powerhouse out of the box, easy setup and connectivity, and some of the best gaming currently going on albeit with a paltry launch, I think we are finally getting a glimpse of what the ‘next generation consoles are going to bring, but as I have mentioned earlier it is too early to tell just how fully the systems potential will be realized. And we can t forget about the other consoles upcoming either both Sony and Nintendo have huge developer support, and this is something that MS needs to obtain and maintain. But from what I have seen so far, this thing has the out of the box potential to be a developer s playground and a gamer s paradise.
Actually Playing the Thing
I won t go into it here, but suffice it to say that during the acquisition phase of this article that is, actually getting a damn unit well, there were certain stressful moments and situations. Fortunately, no harm was done, no feelings were hurt, and in the end it was the United States Postal Service that provided the last piece of the acquisition puzzle. I had already purchased several of the games, assuming that when the units actually do show up in force, there won t be any games to play, due to the relatively small number available at launch about 18, I think. With, hopefully, around 25 by the end of the year. Quality, not quantity we hope.
I picked up Madden 06, Tiger Woods 06, and Condemned: Criminal Origins, Call of Duty 2, and Project Gotham Racing 3. I was surprised to see PGR 3, as it appeared to be a sold out title all over the internet, but it was there and was really the game I was the most interested in. I had grown to thoroughly enjoy PGR 2 over a bit of time, and after seeing the ads, reading the reviews, and fiddling with the demo at the store it was for me the most intriguing of the launch titles. Shortly after the unit arrived, I returned to the store and picked up some more titles. Sure enough, there were fewer copies of some of the titles, but I managed to get Gun, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. I have played a couple of the NFS games in the past, and found them not to be too horrible, and I also wanted to see how PGR 3 and NFS approached the brave new 360 world
While the main focus of this article is the next generation of consoles in terms of racing simulators, it is worth mentioning that all of the games I played are definitely on a different level, if only graphically at the least. While Madden had features that we have come to expect over the years cut right out of it, the presentation and just how real the damn thing looks makes up for a lot. It is obvious this is some serious hardware that is only going to mature as time goes along.
You begin to realize that a lot of the hype is actually true the near photorealistic quality that is so elusive to properly portray is done to nearly perfection with PGR 3. Prowling around your many garages (after a bit of advancement in the game, your get new garages to contain your growing fleet of super cars.) you can freely move to any car and walk around it, or zoom in or out the viewpoint. As you move your eyes, it takes a moment for the image to become clear, eerily similar to the effect one gets when looking from a bright spot to a darker spot. I don t know if this effect is done on purpose, but it is done well. From the gorgeous water pool in the courtyard, to the incredibly lifelike sky, PGR 3 is dripping with cool. And the cars must be seen to be believed dynamic lighting and shadows, rendered in real time as you walk around the cars jaw dropping is a good description. Again, don t take my word for it, hop on one of those demo kiosks, and see for yourself. It features a photo mode, similar to the one found in Gran Turismo 4, allowing you to not only take a shot of any car from any perspective even during a replay but to fine tune the camera settings as well, and there are plenty of them to play with. While you cannot download these to a USB stick drive as in GT4, it is a nice feature to play with, and the Sepia feature is kind of neat.
Fans of the series will have no trouble finding their way around, and new players wont either the menus are fairly straightforward, and the manual does a decent job of getting you started, and explaining the ‘Kudos system. Besides the offline career, there is an Online career, online racing, and my favorite the manual setup of a race at any track, or portion of track, offered in the game. Every car is available in this mode and it is a lot of fun blasting through a section of the Nordschleife with an angry mob on your tail. And speaking of the Ring, it is drop dead gorgeous here.
Like everything else
Now, it is clear PGR 3 is not a hardcore sim, but with even this popular, and high selling title, we are seeing new things we have never seen before. For example, each and every car has a uniquely modeled cockpit, and finally a cockpit view to see it with!! With this, we have a huge leap in the realism and can get an amazing look at the fidelity offered by this new system. The physics, while leaning more to the fun side, are nevertheless different for each car, and if you give the 575 too much gas while coming out of a slow corner for example, plan on some concrete repair bills the amazing power of all of the cars modeled in the game is accurately portrayed from the extremely nimble Ariel Atom to the mind altering drug known as the TVR Cerbera. You just can t slam the gas and expect good things to happen. Bumps in the road appear to have been modeled to some degree, and there is good feedback when going over a curb, or colliding with another object so perhaps the base for a good FFB experience is there, only time will tell.
Overall, PGR 3 is a hell of a great time and I like the fact that you are tossed right into the Super Car club from the very beginning no more slumming in cars that can t do 170 MPH, minimum, this one gives you the gold card up front. I do miss the customization of the cars that we have with GT4, Forza, and even the NFS series of games, but upgrades and pimping aren t what this one is about driving fast and looking good doing it are the only things you need to really remember here.
Now that I have seen what the next generation has to offer, even at this early stage one thing is blatantly clear the new systems have a ton of untapped potential, and when developers get their minds around this thing, the sky is the limit. It would be a devastating situation indeed if MS, again, finds FFB not to their liking if that is the case, well, Sony will no doubt be our savior as they already know how important FFB is, and wont let something like "Golly, we don t own the company, so lets not use their technology" get in their way.
MS has launched the first missile in the next generation war no doubt about that. What remains to be seen, however, is if they will be around a year from now and whether we will care about the 360 or not. Perhaps the console makers simply do not care about a hardcore sim for their consoles, I do not know. But I know this if they can be bothered to make one, I can certainly be bothered to buy one.
Until the next time Smoke em if ya got em .
aka Smokin Bob
Edited by twistedsymphony, 05 January 2006 - 05:59 PM.