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Xbox 360 Impressions

Xbox 360 Box
Manufacturer:Microsoft
Official Site:http://www.xbox.com/en-US/
Release Date:December 2nd (UK)
Reviewer:James Witherow (Toma)
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

Xbox 360: Worthy of the title ‘first next-gen console’?

You only have to look at the frustration and inflated eBay prices caused by lack of supply to see Microsoft have created a seriously desirable piece of kit. I was one of the lucky ones who got to open up the well packed box on Friday 2nd. Several sites have in depth reviews showing you what you’ll get in the package so I won’t bore you by running over that again.

What I thought I could offer our readers is another person’s perspective on the Xbox 360. I’m also a slightly unique in the sense that this is my first console, I’m 26 and an avid gamer but have always ended up spending my spare pennies on my PC. After all a modern PC has always had a performance edge, and if it didn’t it would in 6 months time. That’s something that always niggled me about spending money on consoles and the expensive games, it never really felt like a good investment. So what’s changed? Firstly this is one powerful console, there have been many arguments between the 360 camp and PS3 camp about which will be the most powerful but let’s be realistic, both will have more than enough power to create dazzling games for many years.

So first of all, what made me buy the Xbox 360 and having owned it for a few days am I satisfied? Gaming hardware has got to a point where it’s creating some great visuals. It’s not like the past when you were impressed with new graphics but were left wanting more. Even the five year old Playstation 2 can create stunning games like Grand Turismo, so the 360 lifespan looks good, especially with committed loss leader Microsoft behind it. While you can’t update your consoles performance, the games do at least make far, far better use of the hardware. As for whether I’m happy with my purchase, well I was slightly nervous jumping straight on the 360 bandwagon, but using the console over the weekend I’m left more than satisfied with my purchase.

As I said, this is my first console, I’ve done all my gaming on PCs. I’ve been fortunate to have a fairly well spec’d PC so what can a console really offer over a PC? Apart from the convenience of sitting round a big TV with mates of the sofa which is never the same with a PC, does it offer better games? Well the raw numbers put the performance over current PC’s and since the hardware is focused on gaming, and the games are written for that specific hardware its going to have an advantage over PCs for a while. How long is hard to say but what you can be sure it’ll cost a lot to do it. The launch titles are still going to be a learning process for developers trying to get used to the hardware. They only looked marginally better than something that could run on my PC, however they do have that little extra slickness to them.

Unfortunately I’m yet to receive any of the games I ordered. This has left me to spend my time looking at what you get supplied with the package which is probably ideal for the purpose of this article. I’ve put some good time into the features of the console and what you can do with Xbox Live and the Arcade section. Surprisingly you can easily lose hours without even owning a game. I’ve never seen such a well integrated, well presented interface on a consumer device.

Xbox Live is a big part of the 360, MS have really taken the strengths of a PC with broadband and carried that over to a console and given it a snazzy interface. You could be playing music directly off your mp3 player, then while playing a game change the audio track, send a few messages to your friends and resume your game.

Lets think negatively for a moment, several sour points have been raised about the 360. The large brick of a power supply, the crippled Core package, wireless adapter being an extra purchase, over heating power supplies, fan noise levels and bugs causing stuttering game play. That’s enough to put concern in some peoples minds but lets cut to the chase here, the power supply is large but not ridiculous and easy to tuck away. I haven’t personally experienced the over heating issues with the power supply but I do find it gets quite warm. I actually ended up turning it upside down due to the underside getting warmer than the top. This could be a design flaw, or by design I don’t know. Wireless networking has become common, and yet I’m not surprised Microsoft made it an extra. Most people probably won’t use it. The premium bundle costs approximately £280 here in the UK and I think if you look at what you’re getting that’s not bad value for money. The custom ATI graphics chipset would cost a lot more than that if you could get it for the PC. Also next year, as the PS3 launch date gets closer you can be sure it’ll drop. If only the games were cheaper!

There are a few areas that do leave a sour taste in the mouth though. Firstly I mentioned fan noise, personally I find the fan noise acceptable. You could compare it to a quiet PC. What I don’t like is the noise from the DVD drive, comparable to the 16x DVD drive you may have heard on a PC. At least on PC’s you run games off the DVD so the noise is less of an issue. The next point is the stuttering bug which you experience in several of the launch titles. If you run an Xbox 360 on a standard TV in the UK, you have the option of PAL-50 or PAL-60 for your display type. Unless you have an expensive TV (non-HD) TV then you’ll choose PAL-50, but various video and in-game sequences will stutter unacceptably. I found I had to run Pal-60, which since my TV doesn’t like it runs at a reduced quality. Had your own experiences? Click ‘Have your say’ below and share your experiences. The last point of disappointment I have with the console is the launch titles, I was hoping for more variety and less evolutions of current titles. I think they have managed to bring out something for most people but you may have to make do with one or two titles for a few months.

Some positives, we have a seriously powerful and flexible console that’s going to put a smile on your face. Xbox live is a real strength, you’ll miss out if you get the Core package as you’ll need the hard drive to save all the arcade games, demos and trailers you can download. The other advantage of the Premium package over the core is the wireless controller, if you have an interest in the 360 I’m sure you’ve read various articles that rave about the controller and all I can say is they are true. The convenience and comfort of the new controller is second to none. I guess after there first attempt they actually put some thought into this one.

You have to give Microsoft some credit for getting it out well before Sony’s PS3 and on the whole its well polished product. It’s just a shame we won’t see the full potential of the hardware for a while. That said there are some solid titles to keep us busy until then.

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