I guess I should know, but has any recent console launch failed to have its top game reviewed on launch day? I certainly don't remember one. A quick browse through sites like IGN, GameSpot, and 1UP shows several lesser Xbox 360 games already reviewed.
It sure sounds like they've got a stinker on their hands and they want to minimize the damage until all the launch-day schmucks have bought their systems, doesn't it? Of course, that's awfully short-sighted, but if they locked Rare into having the game ready for launch, and Rare can't pull off a good game in that time, then what choices are left?
If this were the old Xbox, then they could release a huge SiN-style patch to fix any problems, storing the data on the hard drive. But now that the user base is fractured, some with massive local storage and others without, that's not feasible.
Update: How close are they cutting it? So close that the game wasn't "certified" before going to be pressed onto discs.
It really feels like MS is pushing PD to be the Halo of the 360...the "killer app" for the launch. It makes a certain amount of sense...it has a fairly broad appeal (arcade-like FPS shooting action, a female main character, etc).
This could backfire pretty hard if it turns out PD isn't really that great a game, or (worse) if it's got a show-stopping bug (grandmother's call to MS support: "patch with Live? What's Live?").
The funny thing is, I don't think a console necessarily needs a "killer app" at launch. PS2 certainly didn't have one. It just needs marketing hype followed by a consistently good reputation. Building hype just takes money, which MS has plenty of. Reputation, well, at the moment MS's reputation is pretty neutral among non-tech folks, so they need to make sure this doesn't dip. Sony's rep is better, but with the recent DRM fiascos hitting the mainstream news, Sony needs to do some damage control there.
The way you are reading about this game on the mainstream sites its made out to be a good thing that MS went to press the disk before passing cert just so fanbois would have the game on launch day.
Frankly I don't think the publicist is incompetent if they can pull on the wool that hard.