Review by ZFS

Reviewed: 12/20/04 | Updated: 05/30/06

Microsoft enters into the gaming market with a beast of a machine.

Back in 2001, Microsoft announced that they would be entering into the console market with their new system dubbed the "Xbox." The initial reaction wasn't nearly what one would expect either. Microsoft basically became the laughing stock for console gamers. After all, they were trying to compete with Nintendo and a newly established Sony. Despite the lacking fanfare, Microsoft not only delivered in every aspect, but managed to set the tone for what future games are going to be like.

The actual hardware on the Xbox is just about as good as it can possibly get with a console. It sports an Intel 733 MHz processor, clearly above every other system out there. The two other consoles barely manage to make half of that with the GameCube clocking in at 400 MHz and the PlayStation 2 clocking in at 300 MHz. What's more, the Xbox features an NVIDIA graphics processing unit -- GPU -- that makes it the best looking system, graphically, out on the market today. This allows for a very fast system with virtually no load times you could possibly think of. The Xbox also has an Ethernet port for hooking up to Xbox Live and, of course, four controller ports for all of the big multiplayer games the system has. This is the closest console that will have come close to matching an actual PC. You have an incredibly beefed up system with hard drive support. Because of this you're able to save games to your 10 GB hard drive without the hassle of a memory card. When you play a game you'll usually notice something like 50,000+ blocks. You will never have to worry about filling all of that up.

Another great feature of the hardware is the ability to download music onto your hard drive through the usage of CD's or CD-R's. That's right, by popping in a burned copy, or bought copy; of a CD you will be able to save it right onto the hard drive for listening enjoyment at a later time. What's more, some games, such as Electronic Art's Madden franchise, will allow you to use "Custom Soundtracks." This is basically the ability to use your own music inside of the game. A very nice extra. You won't find a plethora of games with that ability, but the few that do make the most sense of it. The Xbox is also capable of playing DVD's; but this requires that you first purchase a DVD Remote to go with the system -- usually running you about $29.99. You can play any DVD, new or old, like you would be able to in any DVD player, but it will have been through your Xbox. Two very nice additions to the console that take it out of the "pure gaming" realm and give it some more depth by allowing a couple of other multimedia functions.

The Xbox is an absolute beast in performance, but not only does it have the best technical specs out of the its competitors but it also has the greatest online program. Xbox Live is a service setup by Microsoft to run games from your console to any other console(s) to play any supported multiplayer game. Games like MechAssault, Crimson Skies, and the recently released Halo 2 are big on Live. Make no mistake, these are not the only games that use the Xbox Live service, but they are among the most popular to be released on the system. Unlike Sony's "free online" capability Microsoft charges you a fee of $5.99 per month on your credit card in order to use, but you can buy 3-Month Free and 12-Month Free subscription cards for around the price of $49.99. One of the biggest reasons to own an Xbox is because of the great online plan. You may have to pay monthly, but you'll definitely be getting what you pay for. It requires users to have a broadband Internet connection, so you won't experience hardly any lag whatsoever from those gamers who might still be using 56k as their primary source of online capability.

Now, there have been some mentioned games using Xbox Live, but the overall game selection on the system is equally as impressive. You have titles like Ninja Gaiden, Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Crimson Skies, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, etc. on it. All of those listed are exclusive to the Xbox, so outside of a superior system the fact it holds some of the highest rated exclusives is a major plus. The only problem I could conceivably think of it with the Xbox is a somewhat lacking variety of gaming genres. It may be true that it has some great games on it, but most of them are either of the Action genre or First Person Shooter genre. It's the one thing holding the Xbox back from being one of the greatest ever released. If you're into the FPS and Action genres this is clearly a system to get, but if you are looking for a little more variety with your gaming then the Xbox might want to be given more consideration.

What Microsoft has managed to do with the Xbox is nothing short of phenomenal. They came into the console market completely laughed out and are now nearly ending the generation in second place worldwide and is America's most liked system -- competing with the PS2. If you need a console that is as close to a PC as you can get and having some great games then the Xbox is definitely something you need to look into. If you aren't all that interested in the titles it does offer, then it might be wise to hold off until there is something that does spark some interest.

Final Score: 9.0

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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