Thursday, May 6, 2010

Xbox 360

Well, I finally broke down and bought a next generation system. At least, I think the 360 is still a next generation system. The Xbox 900 isn't out already, right? Anyway, as a long-time hardcore gamer, I spent the past decade or so surprisingly content to keep gaming on my Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube consoles. Heck, I even have a Dreamcast and an N64 that I break out from time to time when the mood hits. Granted, for most of those years I had a pretty good PC that I also gamed on, but it always stung me in the back of my mind that there were all these other great games out there that I wasn't playing. And, frankly, until recently I was just too poor to invest in any of Next Gen system. Well... and I guess it also took me this long to finally realize that I wanted to get back into playing on a system that isn't ten or 12 years or, or older.

After some serious personal reflection and debate between the PS3 and the 360, I finally decided on the 360 for a couple important reasons: namely, price and the list of exclusive games. The 360 is just cheaper, comes bundled with 2(!!) games and has a list of exclusive games that just interest me more. I still play my PS2 and consider it one of the best systems of all time, but I'm too big a Halo fan to pass on the option to play the latest games in the series. Even Final Fantasy has become multi-platform, so the 360 won me over. Yes, the PS3 has a Blu Ray player that I covet greatly, but I'm still uncertain that Blu Rays will catch on and dominate the market the way DVD and VHS did. Downloadable content is catching on just as quickly as Blu Ray, so the format remains in doubt. And if Blu Ray does take over, players are going to be plentiful and come down in price far cheaper than the $300 or so asking price for the PS3.

Anyway, having played the heck out of my 360 for the past couple of days, here are my thoughts:

Out of the Box:
I bought the Xbox 360 Elite Spring 2010 Bundle from The console came with one wireless controller, a 120 GB hard drive, a headset that I will never use, and the following games: Forza 3 and Halo 3: ODST. Not a bad bundle all things considered, though it strikes me as odd that it came with a composite A/V cable to connect to the TV. In case you don't know what that is, that's the exact same type of cable you used to hook your TV up to your Super Nintendo. I didn't expect Microsoft (or Sony) to include an HDMI cable or anything, but at the very least the industry standard should now be component or even S-Video. Composite? Pffft. If you have a next generation system that touts its ability to display games in full HD, you should include a cable that is capable of carrying an HD signal. End of rant.

The 360 controller is nice. It feels comfortable and all of the buttons are well placed. I hold all controllers up to the Super Nintendo standard, since that console had the best controller in the history of videogames. It doesn't quite equal the sublime, perfect layout of the SNES controller, but I can't really complain about it. It's basically a modified version of the controller S for the original Xbox, but with analog sticks that just feel... better.

But the best thing about this controller is that it's wireless, which matters a lot more than I would've thought. Until playing the 360, I never really realized how annoying cords were, and not having one dragging over my coffee table and across my floor changes everything. I can now play from any seat in the house, even if I can't see the TV! And being able to actually turn the console on from the controller is amazing. That's one less trip I have to make from my couch.

I'll probably talk more about this when I discuss the games I've played, but the 360 graphics are incredible.  And remember, I've been playing games for the past few years on my PS2. So far, every game I've played (and I'm guessing all) have native resolutions of 720p or 1080i. I've played with both settings, and they look identical to my eyes and on my TV, but both look amazing. The leap to true HD graphics is the biggest leap in gaming since the release of the CD-based Playstation after years of cartridge-based systems.

DVD Player:
If this is your only DVD player, you could do worse than this for your DVDs. There is some argument on the internet as to whether or not it upconverts movies to 720p or 1080i, but to my eye it does not, even though the picture is incredibly clear and crisp. It fails for me a bit in the colors, however, as the looked a little dull and muted in my opinion. Also, the player is incredibly loud, though it's actually quieter playing movies than it is playing games. It's not a bad DVD player, but it's nowhere near as good as my stand alone DVD player, so I've actually been going through the hassle of switching my HDMI cable between the two for when I want to watch a movie and when I want to watch a game. My TV only has one HDMI port.

Xbox Live:
I dunno yet, since I haven't gotten it online yet. Not being wi-fi ready right out of the box is a huge mark against the machine in my opinion, considering how this is the year 2010 and even my ipod has built-in wi-fi at this point. This wouldn't be such a huge deal if the wireless adapter wasn't 100 bucks! That's a heck of a lot of money to ask for a little dongle that only gets one piece of equipment online.


Forza 3:
This game was one of two that came bundled with the console. It's a really great racing game. Not a whole lot more to say than that. If you want a great racing game -- and every gamer should own at least one -- this is probably as good as you'll find for the 360. But having played through Gran Turismo 1-4 over the years, I've kind of been played out on racing games, which used to be my favorite genre. This game is more fun and more accessible than Gran Turismo, with a lot of assists and features for newbies (like a rewind feature, which is amazing), but it's still just a racing game, albeit a next generation one.

More cars and photorealistic graphics distinguish this from most other games, but it's still just a car going fast around a track. I'm glad they included it for free, since I probably wouldn't have bought it on its own. But it's fun and worth playing when you, um, feel the need for speed.

Halo 3: ODST:
The other game included in the bundle, ODST is another game that benefits from having been included for free.  Don't get me wrong... I'm a Halo fan and this is a great game that does the series justice, but all things considered it's little more than an expansion pack for Halo 3. It's a prequel that takes place as a side story between parts two and three, doesn't feature the Master Chief as the main protagonist, and has one main city as its primary location. So while the mechanics are all there, the action is fast and furious, and it is fun to play, it comes across feeling a little like Halo light.

But what's there is awesome, and serves as a great introduction to the world of Halo on the 360. But I'd rather have Halo 3, but Microsoft knows that so why give me something for free if I'm already obviously going to pay for it? Graphically, it's a lot cleaner and more impressive looking than Halo 2 on the original Xbox, but the graphics are so dark (because the game takes place at night) it doesn't really do much to show off the next gen graphics. As a multiplayer game, I'm sure it's fantastic since it includes all of the modes and maps from Halo 3, but since I don't have Xbox Live yet, I'll have to wait and see. Good free game, but I'd rather have something a little more substantive.

Assassin's Creed:
Now this is a next generation game.  Assassin's Creed is an open-world, third person game that pits you as an assassin fighting against the Knights Templar set against the backdrop of the Holy Land during the Third Crusade. That's quite the summary, but it really has to be played to be understood. Or maybe it has to be experienced.

This game is without a doubt the best looking game I've ever played, and considering that it came out 3 years ago, I can't wait to see what the sequel looks like. The open-world of the cities your character explores are gorgeous, huge, and ridiculously detailed. Just climbing the buildings and jumping from rooftop to rooftop is good fun. Some wacky controls and repetitive missions keep this from being the true masterpiece it set out to be, but I'll get into that in a more in depth review once I play through it a bit more. But my first impressions are that it's an astoundingly beautiful technical achievement that is incredibly fun to play. Thumbs up.

Gears of War:
It took me a little while to warm up to this game, since it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. If you go into this game thinking you can play it like, say, Halo, you're going to die. It's an action-heavy shooter, but one that's kind of slow paced, placing an importance on finding cover and planning your tactics very carefully. Once I started to understand that design choice, I got into it and enjoyed it a lot more. But I still died. A lot. This is a hard game, but very satisfying. Every small encounter feels like a real battle, and each enemy you take down feels like an accomplishment.

Graphically, it's a technical achievement with big characters, expansive environments, and detailed textures. But everything does look very gray. That was an artistic choice I know, meant to give things a rundown, industrial look, but it does look very bland in places, even though the technical merits are outstanding. There is also a sequel out, but I picked this one up for ten bucks. I give it two way up.

Mass Effect
This is the one game I haven't really played yet, because it seems the most complicate, the most epic, and the one that actually requires you read the manual before playing. It's seems to be a really cool, really epic sci-fi/RPG with third person battle, leveling up, and space exploration. The graphics are amazing and the whole thing feels really cool, but I bought too many games too quickly and this game lost out because it's the least immediately accessible. But I bet it will be the most fun, so I'm also kind of saving it until I have a lot more time to invest in it with out distractions.

Also, it's a bit too similar in style to Halo and Gears of War, what with it being another sci-fi action game, so I tend to cycle through Assassin's Creed and Forza to break up the monotony of shooting through hords of aliens. Though Mass Effect is much deeper than either Gears or Halo.

The Xbox 360 is awesome. This is a great gaming system with amazing power and a phenomenal library of games. I still wish I had built-in wi-fi and a Blu Ray player, but I'm still happen I choose the 360 because the available library of games just interested me more. All I can really say about the console is that I started writing this review about a week ago, and it took me this long to finish it because I couldn't put my controller down. I suppose I should call my girlfriend one of these days and make sure she's still in town.

1 comment:

Justin Garrett Blum said...

Wow, when you break down, you really break down. Elite bundle, a bunch of games, etc.

I have a 360, too. Haven't played it in a while. The last game I got for it was Batman: Arkham Asylum, which is actually pretty awesome, but I didn't get too far before I got distracted by something.

I'd have gotten Assassin's Creed 2, since the first one was supposed to be notably flawed, but the problems were totally fixed with the sequel. But I suppose you picked up AC because it was cheap.

I have two huge issues with the 360. One, the basic console doesn't come with a hard drive. Two, you have to buy a wireless adapter to get onto your home wi-fi network.

That's some bullshit, and FYI, if you have a laptop, you can get around it by connecting to wi-fi through your laptop, stringing an ethernet cable between your laptop and your 360, and bridging the wireless and LAN adapters on your laptop. Which is what I do since my cable modem is upstairs, and my 360 is downstairs.