Posted on 8-May-2006 09:44 by H Willan.
Filed under: Reviews
I recently had a Microsoft Xbox 360 on loan to have a play and review. Here I give you an overall impression of an XBox 360 from the time we had it for.
The package sent contained, the unit itself, power supply, two cordless controllers, 6 games and the remote.
The games included with the package (from top left to bottom right) were: beatem' up, Dead or Alive 4 (DOA); first person shooter, Far cry Instincts:Predator;car racing game, Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR); first person stealth game, Perfect Dark; and the role playing game (RPG) Kameo and the first person shooter, Call of Duty 2.
I won't go into great details on the games, but will say this for Kameo: it's always good to see a new idea come forward and I think the developers of this game have done well. The game appears to have a lot of playability to it by providing the gamer with a host puzzles and the means to solve those puzzles through use of their morphing character. Throw in some good old beatem' up action and here's a game that combines a number of genres and does it well. The interface was pretty easy, the in-game camera was good (ie, wasn't annoying) and the game moved at a reasonable enough pace to hold the interest of myself and my friends, which is hard to do these days.
Perfect Dark is also worth mentioning, in that it's a Splinter Cell style game that offers a slower pace to the action with the use of your available arsenal/toolkits to move through the levels.
As for the others, none of them particularly took my fancy. There wasn't anything I would say makes them stand out. I've evolved past a game simply needing nice graphics for me to be interested, there has to be some substance that I can get my teeth in to, not that I'm saying nice graphics aren't good. Of course, all of this differs from person to person, much like art.
Returning back to the console itself. The construction of the 360 is good. It has smooth curves and looks attractive in the cream/white.
It's quite a heavy beast, especially when compared with my PlayStation2, Nintendo Gamecube or even my old xbox.
Inputs & Outputs
It comes with a massive external power supply that even has a light to indicate it's operational state.
The power adapter ends in a large connector, with small release buttons on either side:
This clicks nicely when plugged in and eliminates the risk it of coming loose. Though this left me wondering why it was designed like this as I don't know to many people who move their consoles around, especially seeing that the risk of "cord yank" is eliminated by the controllers being wireless.
The audio/visual outputs have a TV / HDTV (High Definition TV) switch, which shows there is high res support out the box. The connector I had also came with a SCART adapter for the component plugs. Now if only I could get someone to send me an HDTV...
Once I'd connected all the various plugs (including Ethernet) I fired up the console. The splash screen comes up almost instantly and once through the animation brings up the four tabs; XBox Live, Games, Media & System.
The "XBox Live" tab allows you to go online, message your friends and interact with the "Live" component of games.
The "Games" tab shows you information about games you've played, trailers and demos.
The 360 takes a new profile approach to storing your game info. When someone picks up a controller, they must "sign-in" as a profile user. This means that you can have multiple people with multiple profiles all playing through the same console. Of course this caused a moment of confusion when we stuck in the first game (PGR) and simply wanted to start racing head to head with one another.
There was actually a requirement to read what the instructions were saying! At first this is even somewhat annoying, as you simply want to game and you're suddenly presented with the concept of signing in and setting up your profile. However, once you get used to the idea, you realise the benefits and it becomes second nature.
"Media" tab lets you use the 360 as a pass through to playback music, watch DVDs, manage your media player and interact with the hard disk add-on (and I will come back to this tab later):
Finally, the "System" tab gives you access to all aspects of console configuration, including parental locks, refresh rates (50/60Hz), memory card management, network settings, etc etc.
Returning back to the Media tab
I was quite interested in having a play with this. Unfortunately I discovered quickly that you must be running Windows Media Center edition on another PC to actually support "Video" playback (obviously for DRM). However, I figured that "Windows Media Connect" should be enough to allow some audio/picture streaming and a quick look online confirmed this.
I downloaded the latest version (which requires Windows Genuine Advantage validation) and setup some specific folders to share, rather than exposing everything. It was trouble free actually, and once completed I could play music through the 360 and view a slideshow of pictures (even together if you wish).
The music player is again fairly basic. List by genre, artist or album, then play specific tracks or the album, create/edit playlists of combinations. I didn't see a short cut for random playing of a genre but then again I didn't look to hard.
The music player supports a huge amount of visualisation options that can be changed with the should triggers. They can also be switched into full screen mode.
The picture viewer is fairly raw and simply orders all folders alphabetically, flattening the folder trees, which the shows all folders by their name. You then navigate into the folder and can view specific pictures, or opt for a slideshow.
There are delays as it copies large picture files from the remote computer to the 360.
However it is nice that the 360 performs display rotations and scaling for the TV. It does a good job of sorting all this out, so it offers you a convenient way to view your digital pictures with friends rather than simply gathering around a laptop or PC.
The controllers themselves were fairly weighty but it is nice to use wireless controllers and I noticed no lag between my actions and the response.
A nice touch is the green light around the 'x' symbol which has four quadrants, one for each controller. A quadrant is turned on depending upon which controller you are active as.
The green light around the power switch on the console then copies this by lighting it's quadrants to match the active controllers.
Had they the room a battery compartment could have been placed inside each handle themselves, and sealed them with a screw cap. Unfortunately the battery compartment appears almost as an after thought on the underside of the controller. Kinda like, "Hey! It's wireless, where are we going to put the batteries?!".
There are also interface connectors front and back to add in the Live headset directly to the controller. The controller takes two AA size batteries.
Overall my impressions of the 360 were positive. The only downside that I would have to note would be the loud noise the ROM drive makes as it's streaming off the game disks. It is quite noisy, so playing quietly at night (with the sound turned down) really isn't an option.
I personally didn't notice the console getting hot, but only ran it for about 4 hours when playing with it.
As with all consoles during their initial release the developers are still exploring the limits of the hardware. Though this should be faster with the 360 as it's based on PC hardware.
"Lost Planet" which is an RPG trailer included with the console was an example of this. It certainly punishes the console as a number of in game screens were noticeably dropping frames, still it does look nice and appears to have an interesting enough plot (graphics aside).
If asked whether I'd buy a 360? Yeah, I probably will, but not until their price has come down considerably. Of course by this time, the console will be into it's n'th iteration of hardware revisions and with luck the ROM drive will be a lot quieter. Of course coupling it with Windows Media Center would be interesting to provide a more complete entertainment centre experience.
Next generation console, with more "visually" appealing games
Wireless controllers out of the box
Hard disk expansion add-on
Noisy ROM drive
Requires Windows Media Center edition to stream movies from another computer