Review by mikaa

Reviewed: 02/06/06

Not a bad piece of hardware, marred by bad choices and rabid fan-bases

I'll be blunt - I don't own a 360. I do not own an Xbox. I used to own the latter, but I gave up after it broke down after a week (it was a Referbished system). In fact, my time with the 360 consisted of over two months with a demo unit and visiting a friend's house to play it as much as I could.

So what qualifies me to review this piece of hardware, eh? Not having it to look at over my shoulder, why should I even bother reviewing the 360? Maybe the fact that I am not biased towards it, in that I would not bash it in favor of the Playstation 3 or praise it for being an Xbox. Yes, I favor the Revolution (and DS), but in my mind, Nintendo's new system is a completely different idea, not a multimedia platform that Sony and Microsoft seek to present to the world.

SO! What do I have to say about the 360? For one, the design. Easily the most streamlined design I have ever seen in a system since the ancient 3DO system, I'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 360 and a stylized PC. Kind of ironic that Microsoft would design the 360 to look like a cross between a PC/DVD device and a game system, considering that Nintendo did the same with the NES (though that was more game machine and VCR - had to be there). The controllers have been remodeled (more later) to fit with the design, and the menu system is not unlike what you would find in a Flash-driven internet menu.

Of note on the console itself is that you now have the option of adding a hard drive (20 gig with the system, approx. 15 gig seperate) to the system, which means many things to gamers. For one, while the vast space is a good thing for gamers like me who like to download their music CDs to the vast storage spaces and play them on the system (this option useable in ANY game, verses developer's choice as per the Xbox). Another perk is that you can download Xbox Live demos, extra game content, and player-made goods to it as well. On the down side, the hard drive is not available for the "Core System," which means that developers will view it as not needed for their games, as not everyone has one, unlike the Xbox. This is not the worst, though:

Unlike the PS2 or Game Boy Advance, the Xbox 360's backwards compatability is not run via the system's hardware, but from an emulator that is downloaded onto the harddrive. While most would not think much of this, anyone who knows about emulators knows that compatability issues always pop up early in the program's life, and the case is no differient here. Thus far, Microsoft has updated the list of compatable titles at least twice, but while several key games have been added (Mega Man Ann. Collection, Dead or Alive 3, the Splinter Cell games), other key titles (Dead or Alive Ultimate, Burnout Revenge, Need for Speed: Most Wanted), many popular, are not compatable. What really hurts this is that many games not compatable are games that are found on both the Xbox AND 360, almost giving the feeling that gamers are being hearded to buy the more expesive versions.

Also of note on the older games for the new system, both Halo and Halo 2 work WITHOUT the harddrive, though whether the Map Pack does is unknown.

Now, what if you want to play Xbox Live with, say, Halo 2, on your 360. Will it communicate with an old Xbox? Yes, folks, it will. Xbox Live is just the server, the games communicate no matter what system you are running. This is very nice, and only made better by the vastly improved Xbox Live stats system for 360 games.

Speaking of games, how does the controller handle (made you think I would go on the games, eh? Wait...)? To be honest, it is easily one of the top five favorites of any controller I have ever handled, right up there with the Game Cube, SNES, Genesis, and Dreamcast (I like it, big whoop, wanna fight about it?). Learning from the disaster known as the "Controller L" type, Microsoft redesigned the controller to look more like a very streamlined PC controller with the button arrangements resembling the Xbox S. Note that the Black and White buttons now double as additional shoulder buttons, and I could not be happier. No longer will you have to awkwardly move fingers to press oddly placed buttons, now you can just tap away. Also of note in the controller's design is the center button. Whereas the original Xbox's controllers had a big logo sitting pretty in the middle, the new button activates a pop-up window, which displays various information, including vital Xbox Live data. Just a press of the button, and you are ready to go. Also, around this button is a ring of lights that symbolizes which controller controls which player. Nice touch, especially with the wireless controllers.

Now to that question: Wireless or Wired? Premium owners know that the Wireless, coupled with the US$20 Plug and Play adaptor, are almost superior to the Game Cube Wave Bird controllers (easily the best wireless controllers for the current generation), with a very good battery life. The Wired controllers connect in the front via USB ports, and do have a decent range.

But which should you go with, Wireless or Wired? The Wireless are a whole ten bucks more (US$49.99 Wired, US$59.99 Wireless), and no Wireless third party controllers will be available till this coming '06 Christmas season. So, which to go with?

If you are into PC gaming and have an XP compatable computer (and internet access), I would advise getting at least one Wired, as they are great for PC gaming, especially for emulations and the odd PC sports game. You do have to download a special driver to run the controller (search for "Microsoft" and "controller" to find it), it is a good 3 Meg download (tolerable if you have a good dial-up, like me), and works wonders. Third party wired controllers, though, do NOT work with PCs. If you are not a big PC player, or prefer to use the keyboard, go with the Wireless all the way; it's expensive, but boy, they are comfortable. And no wires for the little tykes to cut or for the dog to chew. Or to trip over and crush your favorite Game Boy game. Like I did. Grr...

Before I get into the system specs and games, one last little detail: extras. Notable extras are the US$40-60 memory cards, which are needed to go online or save data without a hard-drive. Realistically, you're better off spending the difference getting the harddrive, since the 64-Meg cards are vastly inferior to the 20-Gig space, though kiosks at your local retailer do allow gamers to plug in their memory cards to download free demos and goodies. Kind of like SNK back in the arcade days. Nice touch.

Also of note is the customizable face-plates. Like the Game Boy Micro, interchangeable face plates are available for the 360, with many differient designs already available, with more planned. Many themes are present and promised, though why you would want anything other than the gorgeous woodgrain cover is beyond me. ^_^;;

The remote that comes with the premium system is a familiar tool if you ever fiddled with a sattelite TV remote, and easy to learn if you never played with one. No special device is needed this time, so watch those DVDs or CDs at your leasure.

Now, to the system specs. Or, rather, my description of said specs. I won't go into too much detail on this, as if you are like me, you just want to know how purdy it is or how good it handles games. Well, the 360, in both norm-def and high-def is gorgeous. Graphics, while better than virtually any current-gen system for the most part, are not as great as many were hoping. This is mainly due to the fact that the compression software that Microsoft issued to developers is barely good enough to store what games we have available on the system's proprietary DVD-9s. Though Microsoft has promised that by this coming Christmas that we shall see a drastic improvement in compression, this is an irritating development, showing that the system was rushed just a bit (like the emulation problem was not bad enough).

But even though the games might not hold as much data as the coveted Blue-Ray disks that Sony promises for its PS3, do keep in mind that, while not able to handle as much data, DVD-9s are vastly inexpensive compared to Sony's media, ranging from US$50 for first-party titles and US$60 for third-party. Expect, per usual tradition, budget titles to pop up, as well as prices for current games to drop come summer or fall.

On the topic of game media, Microsoft has stated (at the time of this writing) that a HD-DVD drive (the media that is the direct rival to Sony's Blue-Ray High-def disks) is planned as an expansion for the 360, but will not support games. I cannot begin to count how many people I have heard gripe about this, and while a down-side, do recall the glory days of the Sega Empire, when adding on additional game devices nearly destroyed them (and eventually did, anyway). On another note, it is an interesting sign that Microsoft is willing to adapt the 360 as a full-blown multimedia device; all they need is a keyboard and mouse and we will finally have the dreamed fusion of PC and consoles (of which many have dreamed for and tried (and failed) since the 1980s and early 1990s).

So, enough about the system design and hardware, the game selection! To be blunt, one cannot write a review about hardware without talking about the software to run on it. Given the almost pathetic handling and selection of the Xbox emulator (maybe Microsoft should hire some of these web programmers, eh?), both Premium and Core owners have to make due with what little launch games we have available, drooling over what is to come. Of notable status for the library of 360 games already available is Dead or Alive 4, quite possibly one of the best looking (and, if the small bit I played of it was any indication) and best controlling fighter I have played since Street Figher III (take that as you will); Call of Duty 2 (NOT to be confused with CoD2: Big Red One for the other consoles; this version is a port of the PC release) is one of the best controlling and playing FPS (First Person Shooter) that I have ever played; Quake 4, while a bit awkward at times, is classic fun at its best; Condemned adds a whole new meaning to survival/horror; and Project Gotham 3 is possibly the best racer I have ever played, second only (maybe) to Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition.

Naturally, the launch lineup is somewhat weak, but if one takes a look at the planned lineup for this year, one can only be shocked at the sheer ammount of PC ports coming up. While the Xbox console series is not a stranger to PC ports (the initial line-up for the 360 has at leat four games that I know were on the PC, with two being direct ports instead of multi-platforming), upcoming announced titles include the Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II, Star Trek's newest simulator, Star Wars - Empires at War (!), and, if you buy the rumors, Fear. Rumors or not, and despite being PC ports, the hardware of the 360 is more than adequate at handling such games, and the controller is possibly the best for console gaming PC games.

This is not to say that more traditional games are not coming down the pipeline. Final Fantasy XI has been announced, along with a couple more RPGs. Amusingly enough, word has it that many developers are joining to develop games (most notably of the RPG genre) that are attractive to both the Japan market (where the Xbox series falls behind in sales to the GAME BOY ADVANCE SP MODEL) and US market. This is actually a very good thing, after you consider that the Xbox is not noted for RPGs outside of Jade Empire and Elder Scrolls (yes, I know there are more, but name ten Xbox RPGs. Now name twenty PS2 RPGs. See what I mean?).

Finally, the biggest question of all - should you get an Xbox 360? The answer will vary based on who you are and what kind of gamer you are. If you are a Sony fan-boy/supporer, go ahead and scoff; I won't try to convince you. If you love the Xbox, go ahead and grab one - everything you love is there. If you are not sure which to get - the PS3 or 360, the 360 should drop in price soon, and looks to be cheaper than the PS3 (both games and software). If you are looking at the Revolution, that system has access to far more games (thanks to the "Virtual System" angle), and is a choice based on conventional gaming verses the "Revolution" that Nintendo promises. If you want a system that has great multimedia abilities and will work, wait a bit and then get a 360: Microsoft has finally begun to curb the defunct systems, and the downloadable music, Xbox Live (arguably the best online server available for consoles), and being able to stream your movies from your PC, add up to one nice box.

By no means is the system for everyone (I'm personally planning to get a Revolution first, but that has more to do with the fact that I want to play ol' SNES games), but even I, a loyal Nintendo supporter (not to mention a portable junkie - look at my other reviews), wish to have a 360. The Star Trek game and Star Wars: Empires at War both are more than enough to make me drool, and that doesn't include great tiles like "Too Human" and "Call of Duty 2."

In short, do your homework, get good grades, oh, wait. Just do some research, ask others, and decide if the system offers what you want.

Score: 8 of 10

-Best Features: Xbox Live, 20-GIG Harddrive space, listening to downloaded musics while playing ANY 360 title, playing old Xbox games
-Worst Features: Emulation of Xbox games is slow and limited at this time, small library at launch, negative press due to limited supply of systems and (possibly hyped) PS3 news, not being able to carry over Xbox 1 harddrive data
-If You Liked: The ol' Xbox is still a nice multimedia system, as should be the PS3, though a differient beast all-together
-Guilty Pleasure: Sitting in GameStop for three hours playing the demo of Call of Duty 2, then playing the full version and blowing through that demo level with such skill as to make your friend's jaw drop.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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