Like a 12 year old waking up at 4:30 in the morning of Christmas to open his presents, I bolted down to my local video game retailer today. And when I say bolted, I mean it. I did not just walk on the sidewalk, I ran. Yes, I am a grown man. This is what a new video game console can do to a person.
The Xbox 360 (360) has more pizzazz behind it this time around because it is the first to market in the “next-gen” crowd. Sony and Nintendo have no tangible wares to show us. Even at this year’s E3, Microsoft had the competition beat with many more playable games.
The roles have reversed. Last time it was the PlayStation 2 that launched first. Time will only tell if Microsoft comes out on top. However, past trends mean nothing in the video game business. The SEGA Dreamcast, after all, launched before the PlayStation 2. Sadly the Dreamcast didn’t make it very far.
Microsoft has something SEGA did not. Xbox Live on the original Xbox was seen as a success. Even if the Xbox was a financial failure, the online service took off.
Xbox Live is better then ever now at “version 2.0” on the Xbox 360.
Unpacking The ‘Box
The box that the 360 is packaged in is so large because it holds quite possibly the worlds largest power supply. It is nearly as long as the 360 is tall. I also must say that the setup documentation is pretty weak. There are no explicit instructions on how to pair the wireless controller to the 360 itself (more on that in a minute).
I purchased the “premium” 360. It is really the better deal. It comes with a wireless controller, headset, Ethernet cable, Component HD AV Cable, and the “20 Gigabyte” hard drive. For a limited time, this “premium” pack also ships with a Media Remote.
The remote is a nice freebie but is watered down from the Universal Remote you can purchase separately. This bundled one does not have number buttons on it that would allow it to work as a universal remote. For $400 they could have thrown the nice one in the box.
For the record, the Component HD AV Cable has both component (red, green, blue) and composite (red, white, yellow) on one cable. This allows you to hook the 360 up to any flavor of TV. The Core System only has a composite cable.
The detachable hard drive was a smart idea. It is very easy to detach and reattach. This will be great to take with me to a friends house, as many game save files for the Xbox could not be saved to a memory card.
My only question is how will I be able to transfer my data from this hard drive to a bigger one in the future? You know, like game save files. As in the game save files that are on my original Xbox that I have no way of transferring to my 360. As with that, I do not think Microsoft thought of a way to easily migrate the data from one 360 hard drive to another.
The 20 GB hard drive does not actually have 20 GB of storage available for you to use. This is not merely a difference between bits and bytes either. You will see, if you look, that there is only 13 GB of storage left.
The preloaded content does not account for this either. This was a bit of a shock to me. When I am told I am buying a 20 GB hard drive for $99, I expect to get close to a 20 GB.
The 360 uses partitions on the hard drive to cache the games. The original Xbox did this too. You just never knew about it because it only told you there were "50,000+ blocks available.”
This is bad marketing. I do not know if I will ever use 13 GB of space on my 360, but I do not like being lied to.
Setting everything up was easy enough, until I got to the part where I had to “connect” the wireless controller to the 360. There is a button on the front of the console, and there is a button on the front of the controller. Push button #1, then button #2, and it works. With most wireless devises yes. Not so easy on the Xbox 360. You have to push the button on the front of the console, the button on the front of the controller, then push and hold the big Dashboard button in the middle of the controller.
At least that is what I think you have to do. There were no instructions for this. But I am pretty sure that is what ended up working. I just started pushing buttons in frustration. I eventually was able to use my wireless remote.
One very important note: If you have the ability to use a component connection to your TV you will be better off. I have an Enhanced Definition TV (480p) so I have the choice. While I do not get true HDTV, it is better then a composite connection.
The Xbox 360 was built with HDTV in mind. Games look clearer and crisper with a component connection. I tried out both, and you can tell. I played Kameo and Need For Speed Most Wanted first with component and then composite. There is a difference. There would be an even bigger difference if I could play my 360 on a 720p HDTV set.
High Definition is what Microsoft is pushing with the 360 - whether you have a HDTV set or not.
Setup For The 1st time
If you are transferring a Live account from the original Xbox to the 360 you will need a Microsoft Passport account. There is easy way around this. Setting up a Passport is relatively quick. It has gotten better over the years - believe me. Head over to Xbox.com and sign up for an account. From that site you can attach your Live Gamertag to it. This is crucial to making a smooth transition of your account to the 360.
If you do setup the Passport account correctly, you only have to input your Gamertag, email, and password on the 360’s initial setup screen and all is transferred.
If you do not use the Passport method, I foresee a call to Microsoft Technical Support in your future.
On your initial sign on to Xbox Live there is already an update! This is not for Backwards Compatibility. That is handled on a game-by-game basis.
You also have the option of setting up an offline account. But so much of the 360 - and the games - are built for Xbox Live. This is a blessing and a curse. You will change your mind as to which one it is many times. But for now we are going to call it a blessing.
“Xbox OS 2/Xbox Live 2”
Lets face it, the Xbox user interface was not the best. It was downright frustrating to use at times. A great deal of software engineering has gone in to the 360’s user interface and overhaul of Xbox Live. It shows from the moment enter your Live info to managing data to downloading content from the Live Marketplace. The “Blades” interface is well organized and very accessible.
It cannot be said enough, the 360’s user interface is one of the best improvements over its predecessor.
You navigate the Blades by pushing left or right on the D-pad to get to System, Media, Games, and Xbox Live. Each section is well organized and the so much nicer to use (then the original Xbox’s interface).
Xbox Live Arcade
Xbox Live Arcade is quite possibly the best part of the 360. It is back and better then ever. The list of Arcade titles is not huge at the moment; it is promised to grow with a long list of prominent developers pitching in.
If you do not care for much, or any, of the 360’s launch lineup take a look at Geometry Wars Evolved. This game, developed by Bizarre Creations, is the gem of the lot. Geometry Wars Evolved is the essence of arcade gaming. It is fun, addicting, and I have found myself spending way too much time playing it when I have “real” 360 games to play.
You could even go as far as saying that Geometry Wars Evolved is the best of the launch lineup. The full version is only $5 too.
Hexic HD, the arcade game that comes free on the hard drive, is a Bejeweled like game with a twist. It is another fun arcade game to pass time with.
Nothing else really caught my eye in the Live Arcade list of games. I am waiting to see more from PopCap though. Bejeweled 2 from PopCap is good. But it is Bejeweled, which is a good game. PopCap has some other arcade games in their library that I look forward to soon on Live Arcade.
Free demos are available for all the Live Arcade games. Most are adequate to get a feel for a title. The Bankshot Billiards 2 demo is too limited though. You only have a minute and a half to play a game of billiards. You cannot finish a game against the CPU in that amount of time. This is a $15 title. I expected more out of this demo.
The Launch Titles
Unlike my Xbox 360, the games I ordered did not come in yet. I made my way to Satan’s Warehouse to pick up a few games I had not pre-ordered. A new 360 with no games to play would be a crying shame. I settled on Kameo: Elements of Power, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and Condemned: Criminal Origins. Three titles I was most likely going to pick up anyways.
Kameo: Elements of Power
I had a problem with the Kameo disc. I guess it is not an isolated case. Others have had this same issue. When you insert Kameo, it tells you to place the disc into an Xbox 360 console (the screen you see if you put a 360 disc in a normal DVD player). I returned it and this second disc works just fine.
Kameo really impressed both my friend and I. We were ready to sit down for a good laugh at Rare’s new adventure. Kameo is the game to show off the power of the 360. The graphics are impressive. The animated backgrounds are surreal. The horseback scene where you are blazing through hundreds, thousands of orcs is amazing. The texture work truly shows this is a next-gen title. The use of particles; the texture detail shows that this game would not be what it is had it come out for any other console to date.
Sorry to be such a tease, but it is getting early and I need to get some sleep. More to come soon enough!