Xbox 360 Gears up for War (and Christmas)

Microsoft needs this to be a huge Christmas for its next-gen console before the PS3 gets here -- so it's rolling out the big guns: <em>Pro Evo 6</em>, <em>Viva Piñata</em> and the insane <em>Gears of War</em>

Nick Hide Managing copy editor
Nick manages CNET's advice copy desk from Springfield, Virginia. He's worked at CNET since 2005.
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Nick Hide
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That's enough of waffling on about the HD DVD drive -- what about the games we saw at Microsoft's splendid do yesterday? The event was intended to highlight what Redmond has up its capacious sleeves for the Christmas season. This will be a hugely important Christmas for the Xbox 360 in the UK, now that the PlayStation 3 is delayed until March, so it has to make the biggest possible impact.

One surefire way of doing that is signing up the best console football game and preventing it appearing on PS3. Yes, Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 6 is nearly here and it's a 'next-gen exclusive' to Xbox 360 (ie not PS3 but everything else). We had a quick kick around and weren't massively impressed. The graphics aren't a massive leap forward from Pro Evo 5 and the licensing of team names has been even further removed from reality. The gameplay was pretty much the same old brilliant Pro Evo, although we found finding a man with a pass and making a tackle more difficult than before.

For a quirky children's title, Viva Piñata, from mercurial developer Rare, is getting a massive wodge of marketing from Microsoft, which sees it as a great way to reach beyond the hardcore gamer demographic. Essentially, it's a gardening management sim. No wait, come back! You get a little patch of ground and you can dig it up or plant grass. This attracts piñatas -- cute, brightly coloured little creatures who come and live in your garden. The more you attract, the more things you can do to your garden, and so on. It's a lot like Animal Crossing. Ironically, we think this might appeal to adult gamers looking for something unusual more than it will to children. The accompanying cartoon series might change that, though.

The real beast on 360 this Christmas is Gears of War (pictured -- yes, that's in-game footage). It's a third-person tactical shooter, in that the camera angle is behind your character's shoulder, and you have to use cover and your teammates to stay alive. There's nothing graceful or elegant here -- it's massive, smelly, unshaven men shooting the crap out of each other with big guns. And then chainsawing each other. It's full of blood and guts and dirt and we loved it.

It's from Epic, who made Unreal, and it's aimed squarely at hardcore gamers -- it's intentionally difficult to hit anything -- and we think it'll be huge. We felt the same as when we first played Halo -- it's that level of graphical, stylistic leap forward from the previous generation. We only played multiplayer, though, so single player has something to live up to. But we think it's going to be a very merry Christmas in the Gates household. -NH