RudeMoody vs. The XBox 360

Author
RudeMoody
Editor
Aron Schatz
Posted
April 29, 2006
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17898
ASE editor RudeMoody takes the leap into the next-gen of video gaming and shares his personal observations on Microsoft's newest playtoy: the Xbox 360. (Part 1)
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Page 1
Since the days of the Atari 2600, I’ve spent a considerable chunk of my entertainment dollars toward a pretty sizable video game collection. I've owned just about every console that ever was, and have had hundreds of different games for every system imaginable. Looking back, I'd have to say that I've had the most fun with Microsoft's original Xbox and it's fantastic Live online service. Heck, "MasterAron", "Yodasmokes", and yours truly used to play the Rainbow Six games and Halo 2 every damn night of the week!

Still, when the new Xbox 360 came out, there really wasn’t any one particular title released at launch that I considered to be a “must have”. So, while still being a huge fan of the first Xbox, I decided to wait until there were enough REALLY good games out before picking one up. And then, MARCH came…titles like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Burnout Revenge, and Fight Night Round 3 were released. I saw the videos and screen captures. I read the ultra-positive, glowing reviews…NOW was the time for me to get one!

So, after a month’s ownership, I've decided to share my thoughts on the system itself, as well as some quick reviews on the games I’ve bought and played. I’m going to try and avoid reiterating too many common details/specs that have already been written about the 360, and try to focus more on my personal opinions and observations of the system. To start, here’s my list of the things that have impressed me MOST with the console, followed (of course) by the things that piss me off to no end...
Page 2
Other than that batch of great games I mentioned previously (which basically made me go out and finally buy an Xbox 360), there's quite a bit to admire here. Here's my thoughts...

<b>1. THE CONTROLLER:</b> Hands down, the Xbox 360’s controller is the best I’ve ever used. Basically, Microsoft took the old Xbox’s “Controller-S” and perfected it. Gone are the awkward, out-of-place black and white buttons, and in are Playstation-style L and R buttons (right above the L and R triggers). The start and back buttons were moved to the middle of the controller (where they should be) and there’s a sweet, light up X logo button in the middle that brings up the system menu and such (more on that later). The feel of the sticks, buttons and overall shape is perfect, and the actual plastic they've used to mold the controller has a smooth, pleasant feel to it.

The wireless capability works great as well, although I recommend that people consider picking up at least one wired controller. Why? For one, they’ll be no worries concerning battery usage or recharging the power pack, and two, the wired controller is lighter: the bottom of the controller doesn’t have that sort-of bulky battery pack, and I find it a bit more comfortable. Trust me, those features are important if you’re going to be up all night playing Oblivion…plus, I find no need for a wireless controller when I’m just sitting on my ass, five feet away from the damn thing. Overall, this controller is virtually perfect, and I can’t really think of any way they could have made it better.

<b>2. THE DASHBOARD:</b> The 360 gives you the ability to bring up the dashboard any time during gameplay. There were VERY good reasons to add this ability. First of all, gone are the times when things like Xbox Live voice/headset settings and soundtrack adjustments were reliant on the actual in-game coding. I cannot count how many times developers have screwed those features up in certain games. Now, you can add custom soundtracks and control the voice volumes and outputs in EVERY game, with a quick press of a button. Another nice feature is the ability to chat with a friend while playing a single player game. You can play Oblivion at 2 o’clock in the morning, and a buddy can send you a chat request at any time, which you can simply accept and KEEP ON PLAYING – you no longer have to exit the game: a very wise addition.

The dashboard itself is quite well-designed, with the ability to adjust its look via “theme” changes, easily check out your stored photos, send and read/record messages, etc... The accompanying light show when playing music is much improved as well. Also, the 360 will look up the audio CD you ripped to the hard drive and name the album and songs that are stored (or just played) automatically (the old Xbox didn’t do this, and typing out the song names with the “virtual” keyboard just plain sucked). Finally, the ability to download playable demos and videos is a long-overdue addition to a home console: no more reason to buy those overpriced Xbox magazines to check out the newest games. I’d wager that lots of people will probably spend the first few hours with their new 360 simply downloading every FREE game demo and theme available. That's what I ended up doing.

<b>3. THE GRAPHICS/AUDIO:</b> The first batch of 360 games didn’t really impress me, but after seeing titles like Fight Night 3 and the latest Ghost Recon, I was completely SOLD. Lots of 360 games are noticeably LOADED with all kinds of great looking special effects: bloom lighting, motion blur, advanced shading techniques, bump-mapping, etc...the kind of stuff that used to kill performance now appears to be rendered without breaking a sweat. You’ve all probably heard that the Xbox 360 supports HD, which was one thing I was kind of concerned about. My current TV, a 32 inch Sony VEGA, is just 480p, but when I put the 16:9 enhanced mode on and fiddled with the picture a bit, it looked beautiful. I know 720p and 1080i look even better, and people seem to equate that aspect with the next-gen consoles, but if you have a very good non-HD TV, don’t let it worry you: you’ll still be happy with the quality of the 360’s graphics output. In fact, one lesser-known benefit to the lower resolution is a noticeable increase in frame-rate in some games: Some people have complained of choppiness in a few titles, particularly Oblivion’s outdoor scenes, but I see almost no frame-rate dips – it is consistently smooth in the indoor scenes as well as outdoors. Call of Duty 2 is absolute butter in 480p resolution, but in 1080i (although still extremely solid), I could perceive a slight dip in performance. That was an unexpected surprise, and a sweet perk for those owning a “crappier” TV. Granted, the difference in performance in varying resolutions will probably disappear when the developers start REALLY getting comfortable with the 360’s power, but it’s worth noting anyway.

As for the audio side of the 360, I can’t see how it could be better, really. 3D sound is something most gamers are accustomed to these days, so it comes as no surprise that the new 360 sounds great, too. In fact, the general quality of the sound seemed noticeably sharper, thicker, and more defined compared to my old Xbox. Paired up with a nice 5.1 speaker setup, it doesn’t let you down in the least.

<b>4. XBOX LIVE ARCADE:</b> After a half-assed effort on the original Xbox, Live Arcade is finally as good as most users thought it could be. The ability to satisfy your gaming fix by playing retro, arcade and puzzle games is a welcome break from all the first person shooters and RPGs that we've been used to playing. (I’d personally recommend Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved as your first XBLA purchase, as it’s a highly addictive little shooter with sharp graphics and effects...think Robotron meets Tempest, only much better.) The one major thing that keeps you coming back to the Live Arcade games (as well as many retail, boxed titles) is the online leaderboards. These let you know exactly where your score stacks up to both the people on your friends list and the rest of the world. It’s a lot of fun to top your friends score, then send him a voicemail to that effect, mocking his sorry ass. It’s akin to trying to get your initials over your friend's in a local arcade way back in the 80’s. Lots of the XBLA games can be played multiplayer online as well, which is great, though I can’t believe how badly me and my buddy Yodasmokes suck at Joust. (Level 5 in co-op!? That’s it!? I MUST be getting old...)

<b>5. GAMERSCORE:</b> This was another great idea and a welcome feature of the new Xbox 360 system. Basically, you earn points for simply playing your games (online, offline, retail and arcade) and reaching specific goals in them. For example, you can earn GamerScore points for passing levels in a game, unlocking secrets, and getting high scores. Judging from the numerous internet articles and forum discussions on the web, this feature has turned out to be extremely popular, and it’s quite rewarding to see the “achievement unlocked” message after beating a particularly difficult section of a game, knowing that your online “virtual penis” just got a little bit bigger.

The second element that makes the GamerScore a great idea is the fact that it helps you gauge just how experienced other players are. If you meet someone online whose score is just 150 points, you know that he’s new to the scene, and would appreciate some outside direction...If some guy has 2,000 points, then he’s been around a bit, and has gotten pretty far in a few of the games in his collection. If you see someone with a score of, say, 50,000 points, you know he’s a pasty-faced loser that has WAAYYYYY too much time on his hands…he's probably single and jobless, too. (I'm so mean, but you know I'm right.) Ignore this type of person. He's too far gone to be of any use.

Another slick feature of the GamerScore system is the fact that you can check out a more detailed analysis of any user’s points, and see the score breakdown, game to game. This is also handy when trying to figure out if a friend has the same games as you, making it easier to setup specific matches online: very smart.
Page 3
As you can tell, I’m REALLY digging my Xbox 360. It’s got great online features, the best controller ever designed, an extremely well thought-out dashboard, and (most importantly) some terrific, not-to-miss games. So, what DON’T I like about the new system? Well, there ARE a few things that irk me, to say the least…

<b>1. THE NOISE:</b> I understand the need for some sort of cooling system in the current and next-gen video game systems, but COME ON! This thing’s liquid cooling system can sometimes sound like a harrier jet during takeoff! To add to the racket, the high-speed DVD drive whips up quite a bit of background noise as well.

On the plus side, it does throttle down the fans when not in use (like modern PCs), but if you don’t have your 360 in a closed entertainment system (make sure it’s ventilated though – those fans are in there for a reason) or are playing with the game’s audio way down, it’s definitely noticable, and quite irritating.

<b>2. PAYING FOR “FLUFF”:</b>As you may know, Xbox Live now has an online marketplace that lets you purchase full versions of Live Arcade games, add-on packs, as well as dashboard themes and gamer pictures…wait, PURCHASE dashboard themes and gamer pictures?! Yeah, right... Considering there are many themes and Gamertag pictures available for FREE downloads, it’s a stupid idea. My assumption
is that they put this crap up for sale so you have something more to buy when you don’t have quite enough to buy any actual GAMES...regardless, it feels a bit stingy for the gaming companies to do so. Tsk tsk...for shame.

<b>3. FACEPLATE CHANGING:</b> While it looked like a cool idea to many at first, I think it’s absolutely retarded. Sure, you can change the front of your console’s face with a simple click, but what about the rest of the unit? It’s still white, and it just looks dopey and incomplete. Plus, they’re charging 20 bucks for the damn things. No thanks, I won’t be “pimping my Xbox 360” any time soon.

<b>4. AVAILABILITY:</b> It’s simply embarrasing that the 360 finally had some system-selling titles in March, and you couldn’t buy the friggin' thing ANYWHERE! Recently, it’s been much easier to score one, but how does the big "M" expect to compete with the PS3 if they can’t take advantage of their head start? It took me a week to find one, and I work in the industry, for crying out loud!

<b>5. LAUNCH DATE RUSH JOBS:</b> Simply put, stay away from most of the crap they dumped on us at launch. Titles like Gun, Ridge Racer 6, Tony Hawk...they simply don’t do the system justice. Heck, even the much-touted titles Perfect Dark Zero and Quake 4 look and run like CRAP compared to the newer stuff. March is really the month the 360 came to fruition....

<b>6. FREEZES/GLITCHES:</b> I’ve had Fight Night Round 3 freeze up a couple of times between loading, and I’ve seen Call Of Duty 2 crash on three occasions (in the same spot, no less). Other than that, the system’s been perfect (about 40 hours into Oblivion and it has yet to crash), but this is STILL disconcerting. As far as I know, I have a 3rd generation Xbox 360, and the well-documented overheating/crashing issues were supposedly addressed at this point. Let’s hope these are software issues, and that it isn’t going to be an ongoing problem with the hardware.

Then again, I’ve been through three PS1s, two PS2s, and three Xbox consoles…I suppose that’s what happens when you design a system to be powerful AND try to keep the price down. I’ll be happier the day they make a “hardcore” version of a console an option, with things like bigger hard disks, superior cooling, and higher quality DVD drives. I’d rather pay the extra cash up front for reliability, than buy the same damn system three times over.

<b>7. TOO MANY MULTI-DIRECTIONAL SHOOTERS ON LIVE ARCADE:</b> OK, let’s see here: we’ve got Robotron, Geometry Wars, Mutant Storm, Smash TV, AND Crystal Quest. One question: WHY? What about 360 updated versions of Missle Command, Galaga, or Pac-Man, even? Enough with all the Robotron clones, please; a little more variety in the titles will be appreciated. At least Geometry Wars and Mutant Storm are really good.
Page 4
OK, that’s enough negativity. Now...to why I REALLY think this system is worth checking out...the games themselves! Stay tuned for part two of my Xbox 360 coverage, and for the FULL lowdown on my favorite next-gen titles. In the meantime, here’s my list of must-haves, and other titles seriously worth forking over the green for.

Bottom line: Go for it: don't be afraid to make the jump to the new 360 - it's finally got games worth buying the system for.

- RudeMoody (Yeah, that’s my XBL GamerTag, too.)
<b>
RUDE’S 360 “CREAM-OF-THE-CROP” (mini-reviews coming soon):

1. The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion
2. Burnout Revenge
3. Fight Night Round 3
4. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter
5. Call Of Duty 2

ALSO WORTH GETTING:

1. Condemned: Criminal Origins
2. Kameo: Elements Of Power
3. Project Gotham Racing 3
4. Dead Or Alive 4
5. Battlefield 2: Modern Combat

TOP 5 LIVE ARCADE TITLES:

1. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
2. Mutant Storm Reloaded
3. Zuma
4. Hexic HD
5. Marble Blast Ultra</b>

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