This year has to be massive for Microsoft's Xbox 360. After all the hype and all the slagging, 2007 is when the vast expense of the software behemoth's Xbox project must yield results -- it has to do as well as the PlayStation 3, in terms of consoles and games sold.
I think it's well placed to succeed. Microsoft has spent the last few years throwing cash at developers and has arranged for some extremely high-profile titles to appear on Xbox 360 at the same time as PS3. The foremost of these is Grand Theft Auto 4, due before the end of the year. I expect Rockstar to make the most of the multiplayer Internet connectivity that has become a hallmark of next-gen gaming.
Another multi-platform release previously exclusive to PS3 is Assassin's Creed, a GTA-inspired free-roaming actioner set in the Middle East during the Crusades. The idea is to kill various luminaries and escape scot-free, using every nook and cranny to hide and climb over. Also worth mentioning in the multi-platform category is BioShock, a FPS/RPG with a scary retro-futuristic undersea setting. (Both of these are on PC as well.)
There are plenty of promising 360 exclusives, too. Fable 2 may well not arrive this year (we waited long enough for the first one), but Crackdown certainly will. Another to take sandbox-type inspiration from GTA, this has you playing as a super-powered cop, whose strength and agility power up as you complete more missions. I had a quick bash at Crackdown recently and loved the cel-shaded comic book-style graphics. Whether it makes a lasting impression remains to be seen.
In the RPG stakes, the big boy on Xbox is Bioware, maker of Knights of the Old Republic (a personal fave) and Jade Empire -- it is back with Mass Effect, an ambitious sci-fi effort with a brand-new universe to explore and some truly glorious graphics. I'm literally sweating with anticipation for this one.
Xbox Live has been a huge hit for Microsoft, underpinned by surprisingly easy-to-use software, a points system that lets you keep track of how your mates are doing in their various games, and the ability to download demos and short games. I'm hoping to see a lot more independent content on this channel, particularly now Microsoft has released a developers' kit.
Of course, no Xbox 360 preview would be complete without mention of Halo 3. I have no idea when it will come out, but as Bungie is preparing the beta test, I can't imagine it won't be ready by next Christmas. It's quite evidently going to be absolutely massive -- just look at how well Gears of War has done -- but I just hope the single-player mode isn't as abrupt as last time.