Friday, February 17, 2012

Xbox 360

Jump in, for there is no power greater than X.
Review By Roel
INTRO: Many have scoffed at the 360, saying either the PS3 will look so much better, or just ragging on it because it's made by Microsoft. I am here to say that the 360 is a worthy purchase for any gamer and the features it packs will change the way we play games, how's that for a revolution? 

The 360 does more than any console to date and thanks to it's manufacturer can interface with your Windows computer and share data in a way you wouldn't think a console could. The graphics are stellar whether you have jumped on the HD bandwagon or not, and the controller is nothing to sneeze at(or on for that matter). All of this would mean nothing however if it didn't have good games, which it does I am proud to say. Whether you are playing Perfect Dark, or Project Gotham the 360 shows you a glimpse of the next generation now, and shows what a console can be.

SYSTEM DESIGN: Alright, we all know it's what's on the inside that counts, but it is nice not to have to say that your favorite system looks like a 15 year old VCR. Lucky for the 360, it has a good design going for it. It basically is curved in on both top and bottom(if you have it in the vertical position) with vents on either side. It has two memory card slots on the front with 2 USB ports for controllers and portable devices which are behind a flip down door, with one extra USB port on the back for a total of 3. If you listen to the idea behind the design they say the double concave has something to do with inhaling and all that jazz, personally I think the designers shouldn't try to put some kind of philosophical spin on their design and just say hey here's what you get, don't like it? 

Oh well. Anyway the system also sports customization in the form of faceplates. Don't like the standard white one? Go drop 20 and get one with a wood grain, flames or maybe something different entirely. The mere fact that you have the choice helps the aesthetic design. Another nice touch is that the system has no visible controller ports(the two in front are hidden by a flip in door), which makes using the wireless controllers even nicer as the system was designed with them in mind rather than it being an afterthought. Overall the system has a winning design that really sets it apart from it's predecessor.

INTERFACE: The system interface is very sleek with different sections called "Blades" for different aspects of the console: Live, Games, Media, and System. The only negative is that it will take a few hours of use to get accustomed to the menus and where everything is, which isn't too bad, just something you usually don't have to do with a game system. The system is also customizable in this respect in that you can download new themes from Live or acquire them from games(Perfect Dark Zero LE has a theme you can download for example). When taken as a whole the interface is useful and easy on the eyes, with the option to switch it up to match your tastes.

FEATURES: Here is where the system absolutely, positively, without a doubt, DESTROYS the competition. There are so many great features I don't really know where to begin. Music is a key part of the gaming experience, and it wasn't until the Xbox came along that one could even THINK of listening to their own music in game. With the original Xbox hard drive you could rip your favorite CDs to the system and listen to them in supported games. The 360 takes this to the next level with custom soundtracks in EVERY game. So whether it's Halo 3 or Oblivion, you can "boogie down" to all your favorite country tunes(well I guess you COULD listen to something else, but I'm not sure why you would :) Another way 360 takes custom soundtracks to the next level is the number of methods you have for listening to your music. 

My favorite way is to stream it across the home network. All you need is an XP SP2 machine running the Windows Media Connect application. This allows you to stream you music across the network, removing the need to re rip all your songs to your box. If streaming your music from your computer wasn't enough you can even pop is a compatible MP3 player and stream music off that. Over at a friends house and wanna hear your favorite tunes? Pop in your shuffle and jam on. Another cool feature is the other things you can stream from your computer to your 360, movies and pictures. 

To stream pics all you need is the windows media connect app running and it will share out your pics too. As far as movies goes, that is only possible with a Windows Media Center edition PC, which I don't have. I hope they will allow SP2 to do this in the future, but I haven't heard anything. Then there are the things we have come to expect from the system, they include DVD and CD playback, both of which are fine and it is worth noting that you no longer need a remote to play DVDs, they work out of the box now.

XBOX LIVE: Okay live is back and better than ever, There are now 2 levels of membership, Silver which comes free with every console, and Gold which is the current paid Live service, unless you just want to talk to friends and download the occasional content, Gold is where it's at. The new marketplace is a great idea, it allows you to download demos(removing the need to buy magazines for demo discs), trailers and other content for prices that vary(and there is also a lot of free stuff too). 

The Xbox live arcade is back and ruling still with new content such as multiplayer Gauntlet, and other arcade classics. If they could get Sega on board to give them access to their back catalog they might be able to give the Revolution a run for it's money in the classic game department. All of this is well and good, but we all know the whole reason for live if really the online multiplayer which is hack and in this reviewers experience nearly lag free. With all this live related content there really is no excuse not to have live this time around.

CONTROLLER: When I first gripped the controller it felt a little stiff and odd, but after several hours with it, I have to say it is one of if not THE best controller for any console yet. Everything is basically the same except black and white have been replaces with so called right and left bumpers which are basically the R1 and L1 from a PS2 controller. 

Also worth noting is that you can power the system up and down by using the Xbox guide button in the middle of the controller, which also gives access to critical information and options at the push of a button no matter where you are or what game you are playing. Other than Start and Back being to the left and right of the Guide button nothing has changed that drastically. The best thing about the controllers is they are wireless, that's right no more cords(unless you want them, in which case you can buy a wired controller)!

ACCESSORIES: Since I am reviewing the premium package I might as well discuss the accessories that come with the system. The obvious feature is the HDD which allows ripping music, saving games, and backwards compatibility(the HDD is needed as the compatibility is through emulation patches). There isn't much that needs to be said about the HDD so we will move on. The premium also comes with a headset which is much better than the original thanks to swivelling and a over the head design. 

A remote is also included to work the DVD player though the controller works fine too, and a neat feature of the remote is the fact you can open the disc tray with it, as well as shutting the console down. Finally the Premium comes with a wireless controller rather than a wired controller like the core package. What is the best gesture of all is that anything requiring batteries(remote, controller) gets a set of Energizers to get you started. Flawless execution on the accessories front.

GRAPHICS: The next generation is here and these graphics prove it. Whether it be the visualizer for the music(a feature built into the system) or an insanely detailed brick wall in Perfect Dark the 360 will blow you away. After playing PDZ and Project Gotham 3 for a while I can say nothing but good things as both have amazed me. The textures and lighting effects are bar none with HDR Lighting(basically the screen goes white around light sources for a second resembling walking out of a dark area into a light one) being used very nicely in PGR3. If you have HDTV it is even better, with details being much more noticeable. Fret not though, after playing both HD and normal modes, I can say that even on a normal TV, the 360 will blow your socks off.

SOUND: Really at this point sound is almost an afterthought when it comes to a system, you just have it support surround sound and leave it up to the developers. The 360 does this, and there really is nothing more than needs to be said.

GAMES: So far all I have played is PGR3 and PDZ but with games in the works like Oblivion and FFXI(with rumours of FFXII and Dragon Quest IX) the 360 is looking bright. Thankfully it has the support of the Japanese developers such as Square and even Mr. Sakaguchi's company itself. So expect good things to come, and have fun with the current titles, as both the current and upcoming are great. The only real complaint at launch is there are no RPGs, but this will change so don't worry too much.

OVERALL: This is the first system launch I have been apart of, and I must say I picked a winner with the 360, from the graphics to the features, this box is positively the best home entertainment experiences to be had. This reviewer gives the 360 2 thumbs up.



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