YES: "Gears 2 is the only must-have of the year." - Wesley Yin-Poole
When Cliffy B, revved-up chainsaw in tow, smugly trotted out on stage during last week's Games Developer Conference in San Francisco, he single-handedly saved 2008 for Microsoft. Why? Because he confirmed the worst-kept secret in gaming - that Gears of War 2, the sequel to one of the Xbox 360's best-selling and, well, just plain best games, will be coming this November.
Gears of War 2 is, for me, the only confirmed Xbox 360 exclusive I'm interested in this year. Ninja Gaiden 2 and the whole hack and slash genre doesn't push my buttons. Fable 2 talks the talk but will it walk the walk? Halo Wars is a console RTS - nuff said. We know next to nothing about Rare's Banjo-Kazooie 3. There are already reservations emanating online based on GDC impressions of Too Human, and don't even get me started on Alan Wake, or Alan Where? as I like to call it.
But that's just my opinion, which everyone is, of course, entitled too. Many will disagree with me, and say that Gears of War 2 is bottom of their Xbox 360 exclusive hit-list. But what can't be disputed is the commercial harsh reality - apart from Gears of War 2 there's nothing exclusive to the 360 coming out this year that will have the kind of mass appeal to sell consoles.
Will anything sell as well on the 360 this year as Gears of War 2? The first game has sold over 4.5 million copies worldwide - a quite stupendous achievement for a brand new IP. Expect the second game to surpass that by quite some margin. We might not see Halo 3 numbers, but it will push it close, that's for sure.
If we look down the list at 2008's exclusive 360 games, there's nothing that can compete with this. For all Ninja Gaiden 2's hype online, it remains a hardcore game (Japanese gamers are still fuming it's only coming to the 360 - the console no-one out there owns). Fable 2, the sequel to the 2004's Xbox original, is somewhat of an oddity, and gamers with good memories will still feel burned by developer Peter Molyneux's grand promises for the first game that were never kept. Halo Wars should do well because of the Halo license but won't set the tills alight. Too Human is a hard sell, being a new IP and I'm not even sure we're going to see Banjo-Kazooie 3 or Alan Wake this year anyway.
Look at the hype generated online following the Gears of War 2 confirmation. We've all studied the teaser trailer, trying to spot gameplay hints and story details. And you can see from the posts on our very own forum here at VideoGamer.com that there's crazy interest in the game. Nothing coming up exclusively on the 360 can compare to that. Indeed, little coming up on any platform can compare to that.
And all this comes at a time when Sony's PS3 is starting to flex its considerable muscle. Analysts are already making noises that Sony's PS3 will have a much stronger 2008 than it did in 2007, and sales data shows it's slowly building up momentum.
Let me point out at this point that I am no Sony fanboy. Indeed, I own a 360, which for me is still, right now, the best games console out there, not because of what's in the box, but because of the quality of games available exclusively for it. This is changing, with Metal Gear Solid 4, Resistance 2 and Killzone 2 coming out exclusively for Sony's beast and developers finally getting to grips with the complicated architecture under the hood (recent high profile releases Burnout Paradise and Devil May 4 are as good as if not better on the PS3). Now, for the first time, the PS3 is actually looking like it's worth the money. Although anyone who thinks MGS4 will be able to win the console war on its own is clearly delusional (don't even try to claim Final Fantasy XIII will be out this year).
Perhaps the feeling is exacerbated by the quite stupendous 2007 Microsoft enjoyed, not only in terms of sales but also in terms of critical success. 360 owners had Halo 3, BioShock, Mass Effect and Project Gotham Racing 4 to enjoy all to themselves. Perhaps we've been spoilt.
Whatever the reason, for me, Gears of War 2 and its celebrity game designer Cliffy B have saved 2008 for MS. Without it, the 360 in 2008 looked pretty, well, meh.
Read on for why Tom thinks the Xbox 360 line-up in 2008 might even match up to last year's blockbuster releases.
NO: "The line-up was strong without Gears of War 2." - Tom Orry
It's all too easy to fall into the trap of claiming the Xbox 360 doesn't have a strong exclusive line-up this year. It seems to have become the thing the cool kids on the forums do these days, but is it actually true? It'll certainly be hard for the 360 line-up to match what was on offer last year (you rarely get the likes of BioShock, Halo 3, Mass Effect, Crackdown, PGR4 and Forza 2 all in one year), but I think it's got a chance.
The problem Microsoft appears to have is the early 2008 release schedule. While the console has already received some strong third-party games - The Club, Devil May Cry 4 and Burnout Paradise to name three - this time last year the console had exclusives Lost Planet and Crackdown to get excited about. The closest we have in the first quarter of 2008 are the admittedly excellent FPS Frontlines from THQ and Microsoft RPG Lost Odyssey, but neither is likely to sell systems.
It's not until we get to spring/summer that the exclusives really start to come thick and fast. Over the hot summer we should be playing Too Human, Ninja Gaiden 2 and Halo Wars - three games that should interest quite a range of gamers. Too Human really looks like it's shaping up well, with the guys at Silicon Knights taking the time needed to deliver a really exciting action game. Halo Wars will hopefully give console gamers their first excellent RTS that hasn't been designed primarily with PC gaming in mind, and it's Halo - enough said.
It's Ninja Gaiden 2 that I'm most excited about this summer though. I'll admit that I had my doubts. The early footage was pretty uninspiring and the trickle of released screen shots did little to change my opinion. It wasn't until GDC last week that the game really impressed, with a stunning looking cave environment and the lightning fast gameplay that the series is known for. And the level of brutality on offer looks insane. When a ninja is laying the smack down on hordes of demons, razor sharp blades spinning all over the place, you expect limbs to go flying, and Ninja Gaiden II delivers in spades.
Third-party exclusives will be rare on all platforms this year, but the 360 will be receiving a good handful in the second half of the year. Left4Dead from Valve looks to be the ultimate zombie shooting first-person shooter, with an online co-op mode that should make the most of Xbox LIVE. This could be the sleeper hit of 2008, assuming development doesn't lag too far behind the PC game. A more guaranteed hit is Splinter Cell Conviction from Ubisoft. We haven't seen much on the game since the middle of 2007, but Ubisoft will be pushing this as one of its biggest releases of the year. For me personally, I'm looking forward to Sam Fisher's latest more than I am Metal Gear Solid 4.
Perhaps bigger than both, though, is the exclusive downloadable content for Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV. While the game is launching simultaneously on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the 360 will be the only place that you'll find two substantial add-on packs, with the first releasing in the autumn. We're not just talking about some new cars and weapons, but full on extra chapters in the story. By all accounts think more along the lines of the extensive add-ons released for Oblivion than the new costume packs released for almost every game under the sun.
It'll be the busy Christmas period when the Xbox 360's biggest exclusive guns come out. With Gears of War 2, Fable 2 and the next Banjo Kazooie game from Rare all due before Christmas, it'll be a great few months for Xbox 360 owners. Gears of War 2 has a chance of being this year's Halo 3 and when Cliffy B says it'll be "bigger, better and far more badass than the first one", I believe him. Peter Molyneux has a chequered history when it comes to hyping his games, but I can't help but think that Fable 2 will be awesome. The first game was a brilliant action RPG in its own right, so if Lionhead can build the game Molyneux is promising this time around, we're in for a real treat.
Call me a fool, but it's Rare's Banjo Kazooie game that I'm most looking forward to though. The Nintendo 64 games were the only two that came close to matching Mario 64 and, given the incredible things Rare managed with rushed Xbox 360 launch game Kameo, Banjo's next-gen debut should be stunning. Rare has said the game won't be the traditional platformer many are expecting, which simply makes the wait for the big reveal even harder.
What Microsoft needs to do is announce new titles for 2008. At the moment we're still talking about and looking forward to games that we've known about for some time. I'm more than happy with the games I've detailed above, but add a few more secret titles to the mix and the Xbox 360 will have a line-up every gamer should be excited about. Even so, if you're not excited about Gears of War 2, Fable 2 a next-gen Banjo Kazooie and Ninja Gaiden 2, maybe you need a new hobby.
What do you think about the exclusive games coming to Xbox 360 in 2008? Has Gears of War 2 saved 2008 for Microsoft? Let us know in the comments below.