Saturday, December 22, 2007

Retrospect on the Xbox and Xbox 360 - Editorial

In 2004, I finally decided that I did not like the route PC gaming was taken. I am not a fan of massive multiplayer online games and I had an unpleasant experience with Blizzard Entertainment's "tech support" during the World of Warcraft beta that turned me off of that game. I certainly did not like the tech demo that was Half-Life 2 and Valve's God-awful Steam service, and most real time strategy titles were sub-par compared to the standard that Blizzard Entertainment had set.

At my core, I am a first person shooter fan, and while solid shooters were still being released on the PC, the genre was beginning to change drastically and flow in a new direction, so I decided to follow that path. In October 2004, I bought an Xbox console from Microsoft. Sure, it was 3-year-old hardware and ironically it was slightly more powerful than my PC at the time, and I also had to get re-accustomed to a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard, but the Xbox had really shown me how far along console gaming had come where I only saw stagnation in the PC market.

The Xbox allowed me to simply play any game I bought without an install process or spending hours tweaking drivers and settings. It featured an HDD for saving games, ripping music, and downloading new content off of Xbox LIVE. Heck, console game's could now even be patched via Xbox LIVE. While unfortunately I could only play in 480i (and games only supported up to 480p), the Xbox allowed me to play my kind of games in a hassle free environment which saved me the single most important thing of all: Time.

It also saw some great exclusive titles that were not available on the PC for the longest time. Halo: Combat Evolved and its sequel Halo 2, Jade Empire, Fable, heck, the Xbox was old but powerful enough to run Doom 3, and Halo 2 was so hugely successful that it outsold it's two closest rivals of 2004, the PC versions of Half-Life 2 and Doom 3. A console shooter had tromped its PC buddies, and despite the PC fanboys' whining and trash talking even to this day, the console market had really taken a giant leap forward as the platform for the hardcore gamer.

In Novemeber 2005, Microsoft launched their successor to the Xbox, the Xbox 360. The first of the next generation consoles to hit the market, it met with solid reviews and was sold out, however like any other new tech, I decided to wait for Microsoft to work out the inevitable bugs and to also release some triple A titles that would justify the cost. I also needed to save up for a high definition television so I could properly enjoy what this new generation of consoles had to offer. I faithfully gamed on my Xbox for another year, and in Decemeber 2006, I decided to buy an LCD TV, and a few days later, I picked an Xbox 360 Pro console.

The Xbox 360 is another great leap in console gaming, not only integrating Xbox LIVE and an online community natively to the console, but also providing a unit that really is the media hub of anyone's entertainment centre should they so choose. Out of the box, the Xbox 360 not only plays its ever-growing library of Xbox 360 games as well as over over 450 Xbox games (via software emulation), but it also natively plays DVDs, CD's, and connected to Xbox LIVE, you can visit the Xbox LIVE Marketplace to download demos, trailers, extra content, themes, gamer pictures, etc. You could even download classic arcade games via Xbox LIVE Arcade. Unlike the Xbox, everyone can access Xbox LIVE with an Xbox 360 for free with a Silver Membership to get content, but you need to pay for a Gold Membership if you want to play online. I was so impressed with the new Xbox LIVE when I first booted up my Xbox 360, that I spent a solid week simply exploring it and downloading all the content I could, I didn't even touch a single game!

With Updates released over the last year, as well as additional hardware releases and revisions, you can now rent movies from the Xbox LIVE Video Store, purchase Xbox Originals, connect to Windows Live Messenger, watch HD-DVD's, and connect your Xbox 360 to an HDMI port. What you can now do on a simple "gaming" console, with a simple controller, is remarkable and really demonstrates the concept of convergence.

And then of course there is the games. Titles like Gears of War and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion wowed me at first, and this year has been solid with releases like BioShock and Halo 3. The Xbox 360 even added a new concept to game playing in the form of Achievements. With every Xbox 360 you create your Profile, and as you complete certain things in an Xbox 360 game as outlined by the game's developers, you gain Achievements and Gamer Points that go towards your Profile's overall Gamer Score. It's something extra to boast about and to be proud of, and I personally love Achievements. They are very addictive, adding some extra flare to a game, however the downside is the player can become specifically focused on getting Achievements, which would lead him/her to play the game in a fashion that he/she wouldn't normally have played it, possibly diminishing their overall fun factor. Lord knows I've cursed and sworn over some of the Achievements that I've earned. Overall, however, Achievements are a great addition and incentive for gamers to play through a title a few extra times to rack up as many Gamer Points as they can.

I've throughly enjoyed my Xbox 360 and the refinements and leading changes its made not only over its predecessor, but also in the gaming market as a whole. The only major con, and the biggest shame with the Xbox 360 would be the reliability of its hardware, or lack thereof. To date, I personally only know two people who have never had to send their brand new Xbox 360 in for service, and the reliability of the Xbox 360 was so bad for the first year and a half that Microsoft has massively extended its warranty and made various hardware revisions internally. Anyone who's had to deal with Xbox Support also knows how thorough and expedient that process is (yes, that's sarcasm), though I'm happy to say that aside from the disc tray jamming upon ejection after almost every boot up, the refurbished unit that Xbox Support sent me has been performing perfectly for 7 months, about twice the length of my brand new unit.

When its all said and done, however, the Xbox 360 is not only a great gaming console, but also a serious multimedia device and the platform of choice for the hardcore gamer, PC fanboys who are still stuck in the past aside. Console gaming has evolved a long way in this millennium, and I'm looking forward to see just where Microsoft will take gamers next. Though it gets little use, I plan on keeping my Xbox until it breaks as it's quite the solid piece of hardware, and of course until the next great thing comes along, the Xbox 360 is my platform of choice.

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