Review by Arlondiluthel

"Overall, a good system with some not-exactly-necessary bonuses"

The Xbox 360 has been out for quite some time now, though I was a little tardy in purchasing it. This review of the Xbox 360 system will try to be as balanced as possible. It has many great features, including excellent online service (though, Linksys Router owners will have a slight headache getting it connected initially), a sleek look, and, of course, returning from the original Xbox, a hard drive. On the negative, the aforementioned hard drive is rather small, weighing in at a measly 20 GB (unless you buy the Elite version), there are numerous reports of the "Ring of Death" (I personally have yet to experience this tragedy), and the customizable faceplates seem a little excessive. Well, on to the core of the review.

The Physical design: The Xbox 360 sports a white, ventilated plastic casing with a dual-concave design, a rounded and concave front, which can be the standard white or any other color or design you choose with the customizable faceplates, a chrome disc drawer, and black power button. There are also two memory card slots on the front of the system. I would have to rate this as the sleekest of the current generation systems, with the Wii at a close second. On the downside though, the hard drive sticks up off the top/side of the system (depending on whether your 360 is laying down or standing up, a nice feature, I might add), and the customizable faceplates tend to be a minor hassle to change, and not all of them fit properly (I need to partially remove mine to sync a new wireless controller to the system). The Elite edition of the Xbox 360 is black instead of white.

The controllers come in both wired and wireless varieties, with the wired variety plugging into the console via a USB port (there are two in the front, and one in the back, primarily intended for an Xbox Live Vision Camera (sold separately) ). All Xbox 360 controllers (whether they are a standard controller, or one of the Guitar Hero, Rock Band, or Dance Dance Revolution specialty controllers) and the Xbox Live Vision Camera are compatible with Windows Vista. The shape of the controller is very form-fitting to one's hands, and includes two analog joystics, one "D-Pad", four face buttons ("A", "B", "X", and "Y"), a Start and Back button, the Xbox Guide button (the Xbox 360 logo in the upper-middle of the controller), There are also Left Button/Trigger and Right Button/Trigger (similar to the L1/L2 and R1/R2 on the PlayStation controllers). Around the Xbox Guide button is a ring of light, one quadrant of which is lit to signify which player you are during gameplay. When another player signs on to Xbox Live that is on your friend list, or you unlock a new Achievement (detailed later), the ring of light will blink, and a message will pop up on-screen informing you of this. The wired controllers are also equipped with the "Quick-Connect" feature from the original Xbox, which can help prevent your system from being pulled off of the table/desk/entertainment center when the family pet decides to walk between a player and the system. Wireless controllers will indicate when their batteries are at or below 50%.

One headset is included with the console, so there is no need to spend any extra money to get started on Xbox Live. The headset plugs into the bottom of the controller. It is a standard headset, with one earphone and a microphone, and can be adjusted to be worn on either side of the player's head. The boom of the microphone can also be adjusted so that players with larger heads are not "eating" the microphone".

The Interface: The current generation of the Xbox Dashboard is sleek, and uses the concave theme of the physical system. It has multiple "tabs", which can be navigated between by either using the Control Stick or the Triggers, and include Marketplace, Player Profiles, Games, Media, and Settings. Overall, very easy to navigate, with the ability to access the game or movie in the disc drawer from Player Profiles, Games, and Media. However, Microsoft has announced a complete interface overhaul coming this fall. With an HDTV, the Xbox 360 can support up to 1080p with the included cables. You may also choose to purchase an HDMI cable, if you are so inclined.

The Games: The Xbox 360 has a wide variety of games, from the amazing to the not-worth-the-cost-of-a-beer-at-a-ballpark awful. Whether you're into shooters (Halo 3, Gears of War, Unreal Tournament 3, Grand Theft Auto IV), RPGs (Lost Odyssey, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), action games (Devil May Cry 4, Ninja Gaiden 2), racing games (Project Gotham Racing 4, Forza Motorsport 2), fighters (Soul Calibur IV), music (Guitar Hero 2, 3, Aerosmith, Rock Band) or sports (Madden 09), there's something for just about everybody. Also, there is a vast assortment of classic and indie games available through the Xbox Live Arcade. From Gauntlet to Pac-Man to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night to UNO, there's an Xbox Live Arcade game for everyone.

Every Xbox 360 game has Achievements, which compile into your Gamerscore. Your Gamerscore tells everyone on Xbox Live how good of a gamer you are. Examples of Achievements range from mundane (completing the Tutorial in Oblivion) to extreme (get a 5-Star rating on every song on Expert in Guitar Hero 2). Some Achievements are downright weird (watching the end credits of a game seems to be a popular one). It is not uncommon to acquire up to half of the Achievements for a game on the first time playing through the game. Although some Achievements will require multiple game completions to get (such as Ninja Gaiden 2, with the Achievements for completing the game using only one specific weapon).

The bonus stuff: The Xbox 360 has a couple of not-exactly-necessary (though completely optional) additions to it. The first is the failed HD-DVD drive. The HD-DVD was the failed competitor to the Blu-Ray Disc. Microsoft made an $80 expansion drive to support the HD-DVD because the Xbox 360 was too far along in development for them to change disc formats. Luckily for consumers, that lead to a very short high definition format war. Another not-exactly-necessary addition is the ability to sync your Xbox 360 and your Windows Media Center libraries, so you can look at pictures stored on your computer, as well as watch movies and listen to music from your computer through your Xbox 360. Sure, it may sound great, but the syncing process is so frustratingly convoluted, and for whatever reason, impossible if you have a Linksys router thrown into the mix. The third unnecessary bonus is the Xbox Live Vision Camera. The premise behind it is so that games that support the functionality of the Camera will allow players to see who they're playing against. Gamers are not exactly most attractive of the "high school stereotypes". Why would I want to see the ugly mug of the guy who I just took out in Burnout Paradise?

Ths Summary: Overall, the Xbox 360 is a great system. It has a sleek design, the controller feels right, the games are numerous and a good number are great. On the negative, there are a handful of unnecessary bonuses, but luckily they are all sold separately. The one major downside of the Xbox 360 out-of-the-box is the slight difficulty of connecting to Xbox Live. But luckily, once you are connected, you will automatically connect when you power on the console. The Xbox 360 is a powerful system, and now that the most stripped-down version (which lacks a hard drive an comes with a wired controller) costs a mere $199, it is the least expensive current generation console on the market. If you are a gamer, this is the must-have system for all your gaming needs.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 09/08/08

Game Release: Xbox 360 Hardware (US, 11/22/05)

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