Xbox 360 Review

by Mike Shea on 31 May 2006

Three weeks ago, for my 33rd birthday, my fiance once again proved herself to be the most fantastic living being by taking me to Best Buy and buying me an Xbox 360. I ran both hot and cold for the 360 in the past. It looked like a fine system but, as we know, it usually takes a year for the system to work out all the bugs, get some good games released, and lower in price. However, after having it in my home for the last three weeks, I couldn't be happier with a game system.

The Xbox 360 meets many of the criteria outlined in Mike's Ideal Game System. It includes built-in network connectivity, high definition output, in-game dolby digital 5.1 sound, a rumblepad, an included headset for multiplayer communication. It includes HD-component cables and a VGA connector can be purchased separately to get HD resolutions on an old computer monitor, a connection I would recommend for those without an HDTV.

The Xbox 360 comes in two packages, the core that no one buys, and the premium that everyone buys. The cost of the wireless controller and the hard drive alone make up for the extra $100 for the premium. The headset is a nice bonus.

Xbox Live has always irked me. If I already pay for an internet connection and multiplayer xbox games themselves are client-to-client, what exactly am I paying for? According to Joystiq, the Xbox 360 costs about $715 per unit for Microsoft to manufacturer, package, ship, and sell. For each $399 system, Microsoft loses about $315. They have to make that up somewhere and Xbox Live is one of the places. Between that, $50 controllers, $30 battery rechargers, $60 games, and $100 wireless adaptors, Microsoft just about makes up for the low initial cost.

Is Xbox Live worth it? Probably. Originally I wasn't going to pay Microsoft $50 so I could get shot in the face by a 14 year old in Call of Duty 2, but after actually playing it and using it, I was very impressed. Most everyone has the headset included with the premium pack and while one faces initial uncomfort when talking to complete strangers, one gets over this quickly. The Xbox 360 dashboard makes it very easy to mark players as "friends" so you can later see that they are online and invite to other games. You can also send them voice mail.

Xbox Live has a lot of other cool features. Instead of paying $60 a game to realize that first-run games all suck, download the demos for free and play about 14 games for no money at all.

The Xbox Live Arcade adds a neat twist to retro-gaming. Sure you can play Smash TV on your PC emulator, but can you play it multiplayer with a friend in L.A.? Can you swear at him when he screws you on that last powerup? The Xbox Live arcade brings back all the fun of playing complete strangers in what feels like an exclusive club for nerds. The Xbox Live Arcade games such as Uno, a cut throat multi-player card game, run about $6 each and are downloaded as soon as you want to try it or buy it. The Arcade games and the downloadable game demos add a whole new level to short-attention-span console gaming.

Xbox Live Silver includes most of what anyone would want. You can download game demos, movie trailers, contact friends, and download the Xbox Live Arcade demos. Xbox Live Gold, which runs about $50 a year, lets you play games against other players. It isn't necessary, but it is a lot of fun.

With built-in voice support, built-in network play, and a built-in hard drive, the Xbox 360 is the first console capable of a good massive online game without needing any other accessories. A couple of massive online games including Final Fantasy XI are already out or slated for release. This console might be the first to see how wide spread MMO genres can go with car racing, sports, war simulators, fantasy, and science fiction massive online games.

Good games on the Xbox 360 are beautiful and run fast. Oblivion, Call of Duty 2, and Burnout Revenge all play wonderfully. Oblivion played so much better on the 360 than on my PC that it was like playing a whole new game. Burnout Revenge blew me away in both the detail of the cars, the scenery, and the speed of the frame rate.

I won't spend any time at all talking about the insides. For twenty years nerds have pontificated about the inner-workings of game systems and nearly every time they are proven wrong when an underpowered system outstrips the games of a more powerful system. Games make a system and the insides aren't the reason why. Good developers can make good games on any moderate system. The great time for a console comes when the developers learn how to really push the limits of a system. This is why games four years into the life of a system like God of War and Shadow of the Colossus look so much better than the original first-run games.

Of the games I have tried, Call of Duty 2 is, by far, the best one. The single player missions are excellent and exciting. You feel like you're in the boots of the sniper from Enemy at the Gates or wearing the helmet of Private Ryan. The directional sound truly surrounds you in the war of Stalingrad. Multi-player is also a lot of fun. One night, myself and three other players hunted each other in the ruins of a city in Russia with sniper rifles.

The Xbox 360 finally brings us into the age of HD gaming and meets nearly all of my criteria for a next-generation console. The sights, sounds, and gameplay are all fantastic and Xbox Live actually brings enough useful and fun features to make it worth while. Buy it, download some demos, and have a blast.