So it’s been a little over a week now since a new Xbox 360 has taken up residence in the spot formerly occupied by the original Xbox. So far — it’s been McDonald’s. I’m lovin’ it. A few initial impressions with the system:
The Hardware – I went with the premium package, so I have the harddrive and wireless controller. The hardware design is actually quite nice. I remember scoffing at the new ‘look’ when they first revealed it, but it has definitely grown on me. It’s a slick looking machine. The controller, which as you probably already know, is very similar to the S-controller of the original Xbox, with the black and white buttons being replaced with shoulder buttons. I’m not a huge fan of them, but they beat the old design. I hated the black and white buttons. I have the wireless version of the controller, and it is comparable to Nintendo’s Wavebird (the peak of controller design). I do like the option of having a rumble feature on the controller. Being able to turn the console on and off from the controller is also killer. So far my only gripe has been the heat. It gets really hot in my entertainment center and I have to make sure and leave one of the doors open for increased air circulation.
Graphics and Sound – I have a decent TV, a 27″ Sony WEGA but it’s not HD. It’s a standard definition TV (SDTV) with 4×3 aspect ratio. I currently have the Xbox 360 hooked up to the composite video connection (the Yellow RCA hook-up). I have component video inputs, but I have my DVD player hooked up to those. After testing the Xbox 360 component video to see if there’s a difference, I switched back to the composite hook-up as I didn’t see a huge improvement. I also have an older Pioneer receiver (with Dolby Pro-Logic, it’s old school) and it sounds fine.
Since I’m almost exclusively playing Dead Rising, I can attest to the complaints of the game text on a SDTV — they suck. Outside of the text, though, the game looks great. This is next generation, of course, and Dead Rising has done a good job of ushering me into it. It’s got the little details that matter. More on Dead Rising later.
Backwards Compatibility – I’m not sure where I stand with Backwards Compatibility. It’s definitely a nice feature to have, but I wonder how much I’ll actually use it. If I can get my Halo 2 fix, I should be fine. Halo 2 was the first game I tried to test the backwards compatibility, and it worked without a hitch. After updating the 360 to handle it, I jumped into the single player game and everything looked and felt fine. I jumped on Live and that’s where the problems started. I tried to download all the map packs and it crapped out trying to download the last one. I’m hoping it was just network congestion (or something) but I’ll give it another try later.
I also played Forza Motorsport, which also looks and plays just like it did on the Xbox. Backwards compatibility looks solid.
Xbox Live and Live Arcade – This is definitely where the Xbox 360 shines. The interface (which is soon to be updated) is clean and easily navigated. There are a ton of options — downloading demos, movie trailers, themes, everything. The friends system is still great, being able to chat, text message, and invite friends to games is excellent and simple. The Xbox Live Arcade is another great system. Being able to demo just about anything has become mandatory and the options for what you can get are constantly expanding. Right now I only have Hexic (which I think comes bundled with the system) and the demo version of Smash TV. The interface is slick, the downloads are fast and I can see myself spending a lot of time (and probably money) in the XBLA. I love the scoreboards as well.
Gamercard/Gamerscore – Here is where Microsoft has hit it out of the park. They know gamers are a competitive bunch and almost all of us love statistics. With that in mind, the Gamercard and Gamerscore are right up our alley in this department. Say hello to the worldwide “High Score” screen. Each game has a set number of “Achievements” worth a certain number of points. Each time an achievement is earned, your Gamerscore increases. As you can see from my Gamercard, I’m at 185 points, mostly from Dead Rising achievements:
It’s a perfect way, really, to sell games. I know there are a handful of “Achievement Whores” on the Evil Avatar forums, who will rent games for the sole purpose of getting easy Gamerpoints. I know that I’ll fall into the category at some point, where I’m playing a game I hate because it has some easy achievements
Couple this with the interface of Xbox Live on the web, and you can easily compare your achievements to your friends, brag about how you are a serious Zombie Slayer and let the trash-talking begin.
There are actually quite a few little websites and apps that are springing up around the Xbox 360 and specifically the Gamercard. I’m using My Gamercard.Net and the Xbox Live generated card here on the site. There are others, like Glop, LiveCard.net, you can get a Dashboard Widget for your Mac or Konfabulator for the PC, and of course there’s the handy WordPress Widget for your Gamercard. Customization is the way to go. We’ll be seeing tons of new looking Gamercards all the time.
Get your own Gamercard Sig.
There’s another site which will graph your Gamescore:
Of course there’s a downside to all this data and interactivity — people can keep tabs on you in a whole different way. I remember listening to a podcast where the guy was supposed to be reviewing a particular game, but was actually playing another all the time. His boss (or maybe the PR guy from the review title’s company) noticed that his recent activity hadn’t included the game he was supposed to be reviewing. Busted! So maybe all this cool Live data is just gonna get us all in trouble. Especially when Halo 3 launches. “No honey, I was at work. Honest!”
Conclusion: The honeymoon period is still in full effect. I have very little to complain about here. Microsoft has really put together a slick console that is firing on all cylinders. The online components, the improved look and sound, the excellent wireless controller, and of course, great games. I am extremely pleased with my new purchase and I look forward to some serious gaming in the near future.