Friday, December 09, 2005

Xbox 360 Initial Impressions

I finally got my 360 and it was not without drama. As I mentioned before, I didn't get one at launch, but I finally managed to snag one off of the mythical second shipment. Not sure how that happened. When I called the store on Tuesday I was told that they only got 2 units in, one was for a preorder and one was for someone who needed their busted unit replaced. 20 minutes later the store calls home and tells me (well, not me, my brother-in-law if you want the truth) that they had an "extra" one. Um, OK. No, I didn't ask where the extra one came from. My initial thought was that maybe they were going to give me the one that was being returned as defective, but all the parts were safely entombed in plastic upon opening the box, so I'm pretty sure that tampering was nonexistant. There's still some preorder credit business I have to work out with the manager, but I wasn't about to leave my console there over a measly 20 bucks.

Setup was uneventful. I think that Microsoft must have controlling interest in a plastic company as pretty much everything was nestled in it's own bag. I gave them to the baby to play with. In minutes she was sleeping, so mission accomplished. I kid! All the cables were plenty long enough to accomodate my setup, which was refreshing. Usually I need to move things all over the place to get it the way it needs to be.

The unit itself looks pretty nice, certainly better than the Xbox. I've heard the words "sleek" and "sexy" bandied about but personally, I think it's rubbish. A 350Z is sleek and my wife is sexy but their sleek-and-sexiness is important because neither one of them have been shoved in my entertainment cabinet where noone can see them. The PSP was sleek and it had shit for games. The iPod is sexy, but my Creative Zen player had more functionality and cost less, so let's not get too caught up in how the damn thing looks.

The controller isn't something I think about, which is probably the biggest compliment I can give a controller. The original Xbox controller was a painful exercise in anti-ergonomics. The 360 controller is very much like the WaveBird (big surprise there) in that it's small, it's wireless and all of the buttons are very easy to find. I do like that I can press the Guide button and turn the unit on from the seat, but seeing how 9 times out of 10 I'd have to get up to put a game in, it isn't as useful as the remote for your TV.

They've done some really cool things with how all of the different parts of the 360 work together. I haven't spent much time with the media streaming functionality as I'm usually playing games that require me to pay attention to the ingame sounds, but should I ever get my hands on a racing game, I'll definitely be looking into how to stream music off of my iPod. The ability to pause your game and interact with the dashboard is very cool, although it's not as robust as I had imagined. There are still a fair number of things that will end your game session, but I guess that's to be expected. Not having read too much about it ahead of time, I expected a lot more. Curse my foul ignorance!

Games look good. Call of Duty 2 is pretty damn good looking and has a ton going on at once. Those pesky Germans are at it again, and it's up to you to recreate some of WWII's hairiest battles and lead the allies to victory. Or something. Perfect Dark Zero looks kind of plastic-y, like the special effects in the Star Wars prequels, and the movement speed is slow to the point of being distracting. Condemned has some nice menus but I haven't touched a lick of gameplay. The games aren't anything I would expect from a Next Generation system however they're exactly what I'd expect at launch, if that makes any sense. 6 - 12 months from now, the games that will be coming out for this thing will be probably be nothing less than staggering.

The Xbox Live Marketplace is where this thing really shines. On Monday, the trailer for X3 was available online. I watched it on my laptop and thought it was pretty cool, despite Dr. Frasier Crane being cast as Beast. By Thursday I could download the trailer to the 360 and watch the trailer in glorious Hi-Def on my 92" movie screen. That's cool. There's a ton of game related content to purchase as well, including themes for your 360 and pictures for your Gamercard. There are also demos of classic arcade games like Joust and Smash TV as well as new games such as Bankshot Billiards and other more puzzle-type games. I think that Bankshot Billiards is the most expensive at 1200 points (around 15 bucks). Given that it's a full blown billiards simulator that allows you to play online with other people, it's an incredible bargain for 15 dollars. I know it seems silly to pay 400 bucks for the console, just so you can play pool, but these kinds of games are games that the casual gamer can play, which is always a good thing. Also, it provides a distribution model for developers that create simpler, non-multibillion sellers. Basically it allows independent developers to bypass the retail chain altogether and get their games in front of folks that usually wouldn't look at them. The fact that you can download free demos of the games is brilliant too. This, and the ability to offer gamers things like new content, or just theme packs for them to customize their 360's, is what will really set the 360 apart from the other consoles.

It's too early to say whether or not the wait was worth it, but so far things look promising. The games that come out in another few months, once the original launch games have been exhausted will really tell the tale. In the meantime, who's up for some 8-ball?

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