Angry Robot

Xbox 360 First Impressions

First, the hardware sucks. The box itself doesn’t look great, it’s like Microsoft tried to bite a combination of the iPod and a pismo Powerbook. But more importantly, it’s extremely loud. Loud as in you may need to raise the volume on your stereo to compensate for the crazy fan racket. Luckily, most of the noise dies down if you’re not playing a game, but still. Definitely not something that Apple would do.

Secondly, the hardware is extremely unreliable. I don’t say this from first hand experience, but second hand: many of my friends’ 360s have broken down, some within the first week of purchase. Some twice. And these were not the first-gen versions, but recent buys. So this is one of those cases where the retailer’s scam extra warranty thing may be worth the money, if it means you don’t have to send the box out to Redmond or China or wherever to get fixed.

One positive hardware note: the controller is nice. I’m glad wireless controllers became the default this generation, as anything that reduces cable clutter by even a touch is a good thing. But besides that, the buttons and shape of the controller feel great, and the ability to turn the console on and off with the controller is a big plus.

Software. The 360 OS, if you will. It alarms me to say this, but it’s nice. The overall blade metaphor works well and looks clean. And the thing has a sort of rudimentary multitasking going on. For example, downloads continue in the background (something apparently the PS3 hasn’t figured out yet), and if you play some music, it will continue under the game you’re playing, replacing the game’s score. Now I know that this in theory is something offensive to developers, and it’s a point I would concede. David Lynch wouldn’t want people listening to Ashlee Simpson instead of his carefully chosen score during Lost Highway, and developers must feel the same. But in practice, it’s a godsend. No game composer scores 100 hours of music, yet this is easily the playtime of games like Oblivion, so without the ability to play something else, my poor leaping tiger-thief would have to listen to the same endless symphonic loops as he robs and steals. It definitely leads to some strange congruences (Autechre during Gears of War is notably alienating), but the external music can be stopped with a few clicks from within the game if the music is throwing you off it.

There are some creepy undertones to the Live side of things. The other day, a friend said to me, “I see you were playing Oblivion again last night.” Erm, yes. Cough. But as I understand it, there is a feature equivalent to “do not disturb”. I haven’t tried it yet, though, but will soon. Yet, most of the additions to the old xbox’s Live features are well thought out and kind of neat. I wouldn’t mind people knowing what games I like, and the games list basically does that. And the process of setting up a voice chat is very simple and appreciated. That said, there a lot of bugs still. My friends didn’t quit their voice chat before starting up a game of Gears, and as a result they could still communicate after one of them had been killed, which is definitely a no-no. When a pal and I joined them, also without having shut down a chat, we couldn’t talk to them at all in the setup screen.

Live Marketplace is an intriguing creature, and its “Microsoft Points”. Why did Microsoft think they needed to create a new currency? Sure, it’s micropayments and all, but surely they could have gone the iTunes route. It’s annoying to have to check a conversion chart whenever you want to see how much Master Chief gamercard pics cost, or some other dumb shit. And yes, the idea of having to spend money to gain cheat codes, tutorials, or other advantages is unsettling. Hopefully gamers will simply not buy these things, and they will go away. But besides that, some of the downloadable content, i.e. the free stuff, is kinda neat to have – especially game demos. That’s really handy for “try before you buy”, and it saves you a Blockbuster fee for games you’re not sure you’ll like. And I must say, although I believe that old school games should be free, I will shell out the $5 or whatever to play Joust now and then.

That’s it for now; I may report back with more.