Xbox 360 Review

Friday, November 17th 2006

A little over a year ago, I ranted and raved against the Xbox 360. Well, I’ll admit I was wrong.

Yes, I finally broke down and bought one recently. Gamestop was offering trade-in bonus credit on the original Xboxen (my new favorite fake plural form of a word) that was simply too good to pass up. I happened to have an extra box sitting around from my experiments with creating Xbox Media Centers, so off it went!

One of my early complaints about the Xbox 360 when it was released last year was the lack of compelling games. Content is still king in the gaming arena. Now that there’s been time for developers to really take advantage of the 360’s offerings, there were simply too many good games to pass up. Dead Rising tipped the scale for me – who wouldn’t want to play an open world “sandbox” style game set in a mall full of zombies? Gears of War has the best cooperative online play I’ve ever seen, and Chromehounds is fun as well.

But I feel like the games themselves are almost tangential to my love of the 360. Microsoft’s killer app for the console is the online Xbox Live service. I can download game demos, video clips, etc, almost always for free. Even if I hadn’t bought a single game, I would still have hours of demos to play through. Then there’s games with online cooperative play. Fighting through a warzone with a friend at your side is always a fun experience. It can elevate even mediocre games to much higher status. And the interface holding all this together is an absolute joy. The menus are easy to navigate, and almost everything Just Works. Even potentially problematic features like video chat are seamless.

Starting next week, Microsoft will begin selling TV shows and movie rentals through Xbox Live. Some of the movie rentals will even be in HD! Now instead of buying an expensive HD-DVD player and movie, 360 owners can rent a movie in the same image quality for a reasonable price. Of course, I don’t have an HDTV to take advantage of this (yet). But I’m still excited about the possibilities.

I do still have a few complaints about some of the games for the 360. In many cases, developers have chosen to shrink text on the screen way down to unreadable font sizes. There is never any option to enlarge the text, which causes a lot of squinting and eye fatigue on anything but the largest televisions. There’s no reason I can tell for this shrinking to take place – there’s still plenty of screen real estate available. Another issue is that not all original Xbox games will work on the 360. I was able to keep an Xbox around to handle this issue, but not everyone has that luxury when upgrading.

In the end I never would have bought the Xbox 360 if I didn’t have friends to play the online games with. Sure I could play against random others, but frankly what many online gamers consider socially acceptable actions and language grates on me. Profanity and casual racism run wild. But I have a group of 15-20 friends I play with semi-regularly, and that makes all the difference. Some of the best times I’ve had on the console so far were simply playing a game of online Uno with three friends while video chatting.

It’s all about community. The Xbox 360 lets me connect with friends, and that’s by far the best feature.

(Plus, I didn’t have to camp out for a week and brave shortage-driven riots like the PS3 purchasers did!)

17. November 2006 by Chad Haefele
Categories: Gaming, Reviews, Tech | 4 comments

Comments (4)

  1. Chad, thanks for sharing this. I’d be interested in reading more about your experience with the 360 as time goes on. Did you get the premium or the core version of the 360, and what led you to that decision?

    After looking at the pricing of the PS3 and the Wii($250 bucks still ain’t cheap) the Xbox 360 is looking pretty attractive. However, I’m still waiting on a game that I can’t live without. Your summary of the Live service is pretty compelling, but honestly I have a hard enough time trying to find gaming time for myself, much less getting on to play with others. With a family and a job, I’m not sure how much time I would be logging with XBox Live.

    Also, I’m curious if you have plans to pick up a Wii or a PS3 (assuming the price drops on the PS3)? Me, I’m going to keep playing my trusty PS2 for a while longer. I don’t have an HDTV yet, and there are a number of PS2 games that I still want to play.

  2. I bought the premium version. It was an easy decision for me – you can’t take advantage of any of the downloadable content without the hard drive that the core version lacks. To save games on the core version you have to buy a memory card, which is $40. That eats up a lot of the savings you get from buying the core system in the first place.

    I’m like you, I buy the systems when there’s a game I can’t live without. For the Wii, that’ll be the new Super Smash Brothers. Once that hits stores next year sometime, I will pick the console up. I’m really intrigued by the Wii now, but just can’t find a game to match my interest in the console itself. And I wouldn’t have time to play both that and the 360.

    As for the PS3, I will never pay $600 for a console – no matter how many amazing games it has. I’d much rather put that money towards a decent computer. But assuming the price drops like you said, I could see myself doing it eventually. But that’s years down the road, probably when the hypothetical PS4 is close to launch. This is also assuming compelling games show up, which I haven’t seen evidence of yet.

    I’m not an early adopter of consoles. I got my first Xbox more than a year after it was released, and my Gamecube and PS2 didn’t show up in my living room until I got them heavily discounted earlier this year. Good point on the PS2, it has a huge backlog of games I still want to play too. And the Guitar Hero games will amuse me for a long time to come :)

  3. Thanks, Chad. A couple of other questions for you. BTW, I’m asking you these questions becauese you seem to have a level head about where games are going. You do not appear to be an intense fanboy for any particular console, and you seem to temper your gaming purchases with wisdom. Like you, I have a wait-and-see approach about the next-gen consoles, but your posts about the 360 have sparked my interest in the console and in Xbox Live.

    Do you think that only having games on DVD (as opposed to PS3’s Blue Ray) will hamper future games for the Xbox 360? When do you see yourself getting an HDTV, and what role will gaming play in shaping that decision? Do you use your Xbox to watch movies, and are you considering getting the HD DVD add-on?

  4. Glad to help out! I could ramble about this stuff for ages.

    I don’t see the DVD/Blu Ray split being much of an issue at all. To my understanding, the only real difference is how much data each type of disc can hold. So while you might see more games that span multiple discs on the 360 than on the PS3, that wouldn’t annoy me too much.

    I’m almost certain I’ll get an HDTV sometime in 2007. Exactly when depends mostly on what deals I can find. I would buy one today if I had the money put aside. The role of gaming is a big one in that decision. I can’t bring myself to pay the extra monthly charge for digital cable, so have had no real source of HD content that would make an HDTV worthwhile. The Xbox 360 outputs virtually everything in HD, filling that niche.

    But unless the HD DVD format suddenly replaces regular old DVDs in stores, I won’t buy the add on drive to play them. Regular DVDs look just fine to me, and the 360’s new HD movie download service will sate any craving I have for something shinier now and again.

    The 360 is my primary DVD player, and before I owned this I just used the PS2. I need to get a remote control for the 360 before I can fully judge how well the console works as a player, however. The one drawback I see so far is that the 360 has much louder ‘working noise’ than most standalone DVD players you’ll find.

    I should also mention that the Gold level Xbox Live service, which lets you actually play games online, is not free. It’s about $50 a year. Silver level service is free, and lets you download game demos and purchase downloadble content and the like. There’s just no actual playing of games with silver level.

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