Review by Mephistofun
The XBox 360 has been around for some time now and, after a year of owning mine I feel qualified to review it fairly. If you are considering buying one you may have read about 'The Ring Of Death' and I'll make it clear from the very beginning that I am a victim of it but don't let that lead you to believe that I hate this system. I so wanted to love it and I know a great many people who still enjoy theirs.
It is not the most powerful console out there but it seems that developers find it easier to code for and most of the multiplatform releases you tend to get are slightly more polished on the 360. It has a lot of good developers producing software for it, mostly 3D shooters but a range of games that, so far, the Playstation 3 only seems to be able to match, never better. It does fall down on party games and home multiplayer. There are the odd four player games for it but Microsoft want you to go on Live to play with other people and this is part of the consoles darker side.
Your XBox 360 will, from the moment you turn it on, hassle you to go on line. Go on line just once and it will forever more start up on the Live screen instead of the usual default screen. the other down side to Microsoft hard selling Live is that the developers are often pushed to make the online content the largest part of their product. The best games actually have a very small single player content and at the time of writing this it seems to be a trend, particularly in shooters, to make the single player experience last about 6 -8 hours. A rip off if you are not going onto Live. That said you have Mass Effect weighing in at around 30 -40 hours and several others so I may be being a little hasty but read reviews carefully before you buy games. Games that cost £50 and last five or six hours do not make good value for money.
Lots of games will offer online content, making you wonder quite often why that content wasn't in the box in the first place. I hate to sound cynical but they really want you to go on Live. There is even a prompt for live in every game, it's on every disc and your 360 will beg you to go on every time you go back to the startup screen. If you find none stop advertising offensive (and I do) this is not the system for you.
On the plus side the Live thing is quite good. Not all of it is free and not everyone can get onto it (ADSL Cable users beware) and Miscrosoft have a tendency to let Live run itself. As a result you will come across a lot of abuse and bad language. Stick to playing games with people you know and it's fine but I personally found Halo 3 to be ruined by foul language and bad gamesmanship. It was one of the reasons I stopped playing Live, sadly my 360 disagreed and forever after that kept harassing me to go back on again.
The system itself is hot. You will have to put it somewhere well ventilated, even the newer, more reliable Elite can cook itself and the old Core and Premier Systems is very fragile. My core actually drowned out my washing machine. My washing machine is very quiet but the 360's moving parts are a lot smaller so why it has to sound like a hairdryer I have no idea.
I found also that, even when it was working fine it did freeze regularly. I'm a heavy gamer (no not because I eat too many pizzas and don't get out much. I play a lot of games and for long periods) and the more processor hungry games tended to stall and sometimes freeze altogether. I'm no technician but this is not something a console should do. The 360 actually has a very good self diagnostic system. If you buy one you will become quite familiar with some of them.
Disc Read Error is a favourite. It seems to like asking you to clean brand new, sparkling discs for no apparent reason. My personal favourite is "This is an XBox 360 Disc. Put this into an XBox 360 to play it." Whatever genius at Microsoft thought of that one needs a medal. I laughed for days after that, particularly since the second time I put the disc in it played it just fine.
There is also a ring system to tell you which bits of the 360 are not functioning, the first time I've seen it on a console. Then again this is the first time a console has broken down on so many people.
The pad is great. The analogue sticks are well sprung and accurate and the buttons easy to get too. It's more comfortable that the PS2 and definitely more comfortable than the old Xbox lump. The D pad is the worst I've ever used. There is a large 'lip' around the D pad that, with a little sand paper and an invalidated warranty can be fixed but as a direction pad it fails abysmally since it is almost impossible to get the thing to point in a specific direction. Most games relegate it to menu switching and even in those circumstances it occasionally causes you problems.
The HD is easy to install. You literally plug it in and set up is very simple, as you would expect from a console. It's still not the easiest, the Wii has that award sewn up, but it is pretty simple. Networking should be a cinch but you need to check that your broadband is the right speed and type. This isn't the 360's fault most of the time, it has to have a very fast connection, but do check before you buy.
What is the 360's fault is the very low reliability, lack of decent games for family and younger kids, low value for money and the constant bombardment of the Live and Microsoft logo. I know Sony and Nintendo have their logo's on their disc and their games but never do they ram it down your throat as forcefully as Microsoft do.
In short this is the weakest of the three systems for value for money and even with the more reliable machines being rolled out now I still believe that value is still quite low. To play socially you are often forced to go online. To get the full version of a game you already paid between £40 and £50 you must go on line and pay a bit more. Remember also that you have to pay for Xbox live even if you go for the Bronze option (nobody gets internet access for free!) After all that, should you choose a core system or old Premier System you have a statistically higher chance of it going wrong.
If you are in your late teens or adulthood then the games are pitched at you and you'll love them but should you choose the 360 beware. Keep it cool and keep your receipt. Mine has gone, so has everyone else's I know and whilst Microsoft will replace it, it is still a 360 when it gets back and you still find yourself praying you don't get three winking red lights.
Superb software can't save this white (but rather fetching) elephant. I so want to rate this higher but in the history of consoles there has been none so unreliable as the 360. Live drags it from the bottom of the heap, along with Sony's machine costing so much that some buyers need a second mortgage, and Nintendo's focus on the casual gamer making XBox 360 very popular. There are better systems. Given that you have 3 machines in this generation of consoles need I name them?
I love the games but the system is a stinker. There are some great titles for Microsoft's Live pushing console, some absolutely unmissable classics that have pushed the boundaries of gameplay and gaming in just a few short years but this system is crippled by shoddy workmanship and inadequate testing. I don't mind updating an operating system with bugs in it (Vista anyone?) but 'updating' a big hefty lump of hardware costing £200+ around a year after launch is cheeky to say the least. Sorry Xbox 360 but in the end I should have waited for Sony or took a risk and joined the Wii crowd. I hope you think carefully before buying. You'll have fun but will it last?
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Xbox 360 Hardware (EU, 12/02/05)
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