in Gaming, Reviews, Tech

Xbox 360 Review

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!)