By Darren Waters
A slew of sport titles has been released for Microsoft's new Xbox 360 promising next generation performance. But what does that actually mean?
The world's biggest games publisher Electronic Arts has embraced the new Xbox 360 releasing four sports titles for the machine.
Madden is the best looking and most involving sport title on the 360
NBA Live 06, Fifa 2006 Road to the World Cup, Madden NFL 2006 and Tiger Woods 2006 are four of the biggest sporting franchises in video game history.
So what has EA done to exploit the new horsepower under the bonnet of the 360?
Sadly, very little. All of the games have a graphical sheen beyond the limits of the current round of consoles but the leap is not startling enough and feels more like evolution than revolution.
Madden is the most impressive visually of the four titles. The stadiums, players and broadcast-style graphics all look very sharp and clear even on a standard television.
Photo-realistic graphics? No sweat
NBA 2006 is also very impressive, with players even visibly sweating as games progress.
In high-definition, the games are sure to look even crisper and sharper.
By contrast, Tiger Woods and Fifa 2006 do not impress, with a level of graphical detail one would expect to see on a decent PC rather than on the next big thing in graphics hardware.
Player models are lacking in detail while the golf courses in Tiger Woods are merely pretty and feel flat and static.
There is no life in the sports arena worlds that EA have created. They feel like airless bubbles, too perfectly formed to be real.
Lack of innovation
EA are not renowned for taking risks as a game developer and it shows here most clearly in these titles.
Little effort seems to have been expended to exploit the next gen capabilities of the Xbox 360.
All four of the titles could run on the current Xbox if the graphics were simply scaled back a few notches.
The gaming worlds are often static and uninviting
Madden remains the jewel in the crown of EA's sports titles. Every play, detail and element from the sport is included here.
But where is the innovation?
There is no spectator mode for watching players compete over Xbox Live, no co-op mode online so that each person can take on a specific player on the field.
Given the exclusive rights EA has to the NFL licence, why not offer clips of classic plays from current and past seasons for download, or even integrated into your own roster of plays.
The possibilities are endless but it would seem EA has barely even started.
Heading for relegation
The lack of innovation affects all the titles. While NBA, Tiger Woods and Madden are solid games this is not the future of gaming we were promised.
Special mention should be given to Fifa 2006 Road to Fifa World Cup, however.
Sven Goran Eriksson looks a little pale
The title is an Xbox 360 exclusive which might explain why previous title Fifa 2006, which is available on Xbox and PS2, is not one of the titles which can run under emulation on the 360.
Clearly, EA and Microsoft want Xbox 360 owners to be forced to buy the new game rather than run the only two-month old previous title on their brand spanking new machines.
But the Xbox 360 title is simply woeful. Graphically the game looks bizarre. All of the players seem to have been processed through a Japanese manga machine, given everyone a strange, cartoon look.
And the football game itself is really very poor indeed.
This is a next generation title that is far and away poorer than the best of the football titles available on the current generation of machines.
With more time and effort, the 360 is surely capable of great things but these titles must be considered a missed opportunity.
EA's motto is to "Challenge Everything", but these games challenge the Xbox 360 and owners very little.