Editor's Note: There's a more recent update of this article that compares videos from King Kong on the two systems in much the same way. You can find the video comparison here.Comparing Kongs:
The original Xbox console costs a little more than a fourth of what you'll drop on the Xbox 360, and it comes with many of the same features. Hard drive, Xbox Live support, and excellent games.
What you're putting your money down for is the extra power, the graphical boost the next generation offers over the previous generation. But how much better do games really look on the 360?
There were several 360 launch titles that were not exclusive; King Kong, NBA 2K6, and Call of Duty 2 are all available on either the PS2, Xbox, or GameCube. Most of them are nearly identical to the 360 version in content, just not optimized to take advantage of more powerful hardware.
Let's compare King Kong on the Xbox and Xbox 360 - side by side, scene for scene - to see exactly how much one improves on the other. Two notes before we begin:
- 1.) These images were not pulled in high definition. This short-changes the Xbox 360. There's no debating that. This is due to our hardware limitations, which are still set up to capture video from the old consoles. However, it's also fair to point out that high definition is also dependent on your TV; without a high definition TV, these screenshots are fairly representative of both the Xbox and Xbox 360's performance. Since non-high definition TVs are still more common, there's still value in seeing the difference.
- 2.) There's been accusations in the past that the Xbox 360 is more an upgrade to the original Xbox, not a full blown next generation console. That's honestly a load of crap; the 360 is phenomenally powerful compared to the Xbox. However, it's important to remember that what we're comparing is a late generation Xbox title with a first generation Xbox 360 title. Keep in mind that visual quality ALWAYS gets better as developers learn to design for a specific system from the ground up. Most likely, launch month and the months after will be the last time you see games being released across generations; the quality of the Xbox 360 titles will quickly exceed what the Xbox is capable of keeping up with.
The Beasts of Kong:
The fires in King Kong are interesting. Not only do they move, but they cast light. The primary difference between King Kong on the Xbox and the Xbox 360 is in the lighting engine. The Xbox 360 version has a level of dynamic lighting the Xbox can't come close to touching. Everything casts dynamic shadows that have to be seen in motion to be really appreciated. However, notice the details in the stonework around the fire; the Xbox 360 certainly has more of a presence. The Xbox fire feels much more like it doesn't belong, as if it's an object that's been placed in the environment more than being a part of it.
- The ground:
This screenshot probably shows off the difference the most dramatically. Even the casual observer can tell a tremendous difference in these two images. The Xbox 360 not only has far more detail, but much better rain effects that don't interfere with visibility nearly as much. The Xbox 360 image was also taken during a lighting flash, which explains the glistening of the rocks. You can also notice the difference in the way that the mist interacts with the environment, with much greater variation in density on the 360. In these first two screenshots, the Xbox 360 shows its stuff.
These three comparisons highlight the differences in texture detail. The Xbox 360 version of King Kong is virtually the exact same game with a prettier covering; the underlying physics and models seem to be the same. On the Xbox, when a wall crumbles, it does so in the exact same way that the Xbox 360 does. What these static images don't show is the variation in lighting. On image two, the Xbox version remains constant in lighting from the fire. What you see in the static picture is close to what you get. On the Xbox 360, the lighting changes a great deal while you watch, as you can see in this image sequence here: Timeline Screenshot.
Looking over these images, it might be evident that the Xbox 360 version of King Kong is darker than the Xbox version. This is absolutely true. In fact, a common complaint is that King Kong comes across too dark, making it difficult to see. This is due to the way that dynamic lighting plays out in the game; shadows have a much greater contrast. Places that are lit are visible, but shadows obscure objects far more effectively on the 360 than they do on the Xbox.
You'll notice that not everything looks better on the Xbox 360. Since object modeling did not receive much of a face-lift, the character models look very similar on both systems. Their expressions and movements are identical in both, or close enough that it's hard to see the difference. Had the title been designed from the ground up for the Xbox 360, you'd likely see differences in physics and character models; as it is, many of the launch titles are simply graphical updates to what amount to Xbox games. This is the curse of being a launch title; time constraints often keep developers from implementing the features that would really show off the system well. The time they have between receiving a beta development kit and the release date is just too short.
The water in King Kong varies quite a bit between the Xbox and Xbox 360 versions, and unfortunately it's difficult to see in the static image. Sure, you can see some difference, but the primary change comes in the way the water moves. The Xbox water is very static. It ripples, but diving into a pool of water fails to carry much change; it's like swimming in glass that just becomes liquid immediately around your body. Your ripples feel like graphical overlays more than actual parts of the water. However, the Xbox 360 feels much more like the water is a physical element that can be manipulated. Jumping in causes the levels to go up and down. Splashing into a pond makes a disturbance to the environment around you. In many ways, the water seems to be the only physical element that benefits from the Xbox 360's added power.
The FPS elements of King Kong aside, how do the creatures look?
It was more difficult getting identical images from both the Xbox and Xbox 360 versions of the title when playing as King Kong. Primarily, this is because you're not controlling the camera; the third person Kong segments remove the power of manipulating the angle of perception.
However, while the detail goes up in terms of surrounding environments, you can see that the creatures themselves are not nearly as effective at demonstrating the 360's power. Lighting and individual fur is far more evident on the Xbox 360, but generally the differences are not as night and day as you would expect.
Looking at the screenshots, you have to decide for yourself if you think the improvement is significant enough to drop the $400 you'll throw at an Xbox 360, assuming you manage to find one to buy. At least at launch, the 360 and Xbox seem to be capable of providing similar experiences, at least in terms of King Kong.
For games that come out 6 months from now, this probably won't be the case. Games that come out one year from now will almost certainly be beyond even an Xbox adaptation; instead of just graphical changes and high resolution textures, the fundamental building blocks upon which the game is based will be the biggest change. Instead of walls built out of 3 blocks that tip over when smashed, they'll be built out of 100 elements that crumble differently each time they're hit. Or 1000. As better game engines are developed to take advantage of the new hardware, the separation between the Xbox 360 and the Xbox will become glaringly evident.
Comparing late generation Xbox titles to early generation Xbox 360 titles is hardly fair.
However, additional media and online features aside, it's possible that the Xbox 360 is a worthy present to wait on, at least if you're having trouble finding one any place but eBay.