I’ve tried to completely ignore the Xbox 360 until the pre-meditated hype dies down. But a friend of mine recently picked one up and has been showing me screenshots and bragging like a bastard, so I decided to drop the $750 deposit and rent one for a few days.

The ‘package’ I got came with 2 wired controllers, a memory card (yuck!) and the standard cables – composite and component. I also had my choice of 2 games. Since the pickings are slim, I decided to go with 2 truly ‘next gen’ games… or rather, games that were developed specifically for the 360 – Project Gotham Racing 3 and Perfect Dark Zero.

I didn’t even bother hooking it up to my TV (a 27″ Sony Trinitron) but instead, went straight to my new monitor. It has component inputs, which worked out lovely! The colours were great – super bright and vibrant and the picture was really crisp. So, it looks nice… but how does it play?

Dashboard/Xbox Live

When you fire it up, you’re brought to the dashboard. You’ve no doubt seen screenshots so I won’t go into detail here. It’s a nice little tabbed system that let’s you change your personal and system settings, see your game progress and navigate Xbox Live. It looks pretty nice and is easy enough to navigate through the ‘blades’, but I found it to be a bit clunky and redundant.

I was hoping to see more customization in the way of how you interact with the console, but it fell short in this department. For instance, if you’re in a game and you hit the guide button, you see a little snapshot of your gamercard, you can access your personal settings and play music. Where’s your friends list? I thought for sure you’d be able to check in on your friends while in game, but no dice. You have to go back to the Dashboard to do this. Which brings me to another point. I was expecting to be able to determine what happens when I turn on the console – go to Dashboard or start game. It fires up the game straight away. To get to the Dashboard, you have to hit the guide button, then confirm that you want to go to the Dashboard, every single time. Another missing option – disable redundant confirmations. Adding one more option here would solve this problem. “Do this every time”, just like “Yes to all” that you see in your OS.

It was super easy to connect the 360 to my PC through my network. Using Windows Media Connect, you can determine which directories are accessible by the 360. Then, via Dashboard, you can load up some photos, videos or music files. One of the best new features is the ability to stream music from your computer during gameplay. Once you start playing music, the in game music automatically shuts off and you’ve got your own custom soundtrack. The playlist organization is pretty lame and very restrictive, but hey, at least you don’t have to listen to nu metal or that horrid krunk-crap.

Xbox Live Marketplace is the shit! You can download avatars, dashboard themes, game trailers, demos, full games (from independent developers) and lots more. They’ve setup their own currency (Microsoft Points, I think?) which you have to purchase in order to obtain some of these things. But demos and trailers are free. For the most part, there’s trial versions for the games you can purchase as well. I really think game demos via Xbox Live are the shit! That’s the ticket right there! Imagine if they had a demo of every game released on the platform available on Live for free – so rad! This could even go a step further and they could open up public beta testing or do special promos for new demos before the game is released. The possibilities are endless. Let’s just hope they use this to our advantage. One complaint I had with downloading content is that you aren’t able to do anything else while something is downloading. Some game demos are upwards of 400mb and if you have a slow connection, you’re gonna have to sit there and watch it download until you can use your 360 again.

My Biggest Complaints

Holy fuck it’s loud! I’m not joking… this things gave me a headache, literally every time I fired it up. There definitely is a need for wireless controllers – so you can sit as far away from the console as possible! I had it sitting up-right the entire time – maybe it’s quieter sitting flat?

Looooooad times are brutal. This might be due to the fact that I didn’t have a harddrive. But then again, I’ve read several articles citing Microsoft as telling developers not to utilize the harddrive for optimization or depend on it. A few months ago, I watched an interview with the lead developer of Gears of War and he was saying how they were actually using available memory to load processes while you’re playing so you don’t notice anything loading, which in turn eliminates load screens. Hopefully more developers figure out how to do this so we don’t have to sit through load screens between every single screen. PGR3 was the worst for this. I can’t deal with long load times – I get crazy frustrated and totally turned off the game. Hence the dust on Battlefield 2.

The Games

Project Gotham Racing 3 looks amazing! The car models are stunning. Reflections on the surfaces and glass look phenomenal. I mashed so many cars looking at the scenery. The real-time rear-view and side mirrors are pretty distracting as well. You actually have to look to the side to see them, but they actually, really work. You see what you’d expect to see – totally blew my mind! My only real complaint about this game is the load times you’re faced with so frequently. But again, this could be due to the lack of harddrive. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.

Perfect Dark Zero was totally disappointing. I had heard great things about this game and it really looked ‘next gen’ to me from the screenshots and video footage I’ve seen. But it sure didn’t feel next gen. Sure, there’s some stuff you can interact with, but you can’t even compare the physics to Half-Life 2 or F.E.A.R. My jaw hit the floor when I realized I couldn’t jump. Seriously – no jump in a fist person shooter! Did Nintendo develop this game? There’s not even an auto-jump when you approach things. No jump… period. Not only that, you can’t run or lean. You can hide behind cover – when they say so. There’s certain spots where an “A” appears if you can take cover behind something, but you’ll usually take some bullets waiting for it to appear as it doesn’t pop up for a few seconds once you’re in range of it. Super lame. I only played the first couple missions before giving up on it.

Geometry Wars showed me some of the most beautiful visuals I have ever laid eyes on. I downloaded the trial and played it more than the other 2 combined. It’s crazy addictive and simply stunning to look at. Hannah walked up behind me while I was playing it and just said “Whoa.” and continued to stare. So cool, so beautiful, so incredibly addictive. Once (if) I get a 360, Geometry Wars will be my first purchase on Live.

The Verdict

I’m not going to get a 360 for a while. There’s only a couple titles I’m interested in playing and it just doesn’t feel like it’s there yet. There’s all these great aspects to it, but they’re not tied together properly and it honestly feels incomplete. I think I’ll hold off until more games are released and hopefully by that time, the Dashboard system will see some updates.

11 Comments

I agree with a lot of what you say, there is a lot of room for improvement with a few aspects of the 360. But a lot of the problems are more picky and easy to fix rather than fundamental. (Like the game loading straight away, and the non multitasking in downloads – MS are already working on these issues)

You can access your friends list from the guide button in game, and I’m sure you can talk to friends while they’re playing other games, or watching DVDs (though not while playing original Xbox games).

I wouldn’t know cos I don’t have many friends yet (alll say ahhhh).

I haven’t really been too bothered about load times. I’ve got PGR too, and apart from some of the longer point-to-point tracks load times are no worse than any other platform I’ve played on. But I do have the HD.

Marketplace is cool. It’s nice being able to DL the Quake 4 demo etc, and being able to get videos that are fully TV ready. There’s certainly a lot of scope for some really exciting stuff here, but as you said it depends on how they sell it.

The Arcade is great too, but I suck sooo bad at Geometry Wars it’s not funny, I’ve never been any good at shoot-em ups, and the fact that people have scored4m+ on this game blows my mind.

I’ve been meaning to do a review on my site, so I’ll get on that ASAP…

Thanks for the in depth review of the 360. I’m glad you mentioned load times because that’s one thing that always bothered me about the PS2 and the Xbox when they were first released. In fact, playing Burnout 3 on the Xbox straight from the disc was so horrible I had to copy it to a friend’s Xbox internal drive just to make the load times reasonable. And even then they were longer than I hoped for.

I think I’ll end up getting an regular old Xbox on the cheap and hack it away with XBMC for now. The 360 looks great and all, but the expense and lack of a solid game library makes me second guess an immediate adoption of the new platform.

Great article, it might just influence if I get a 360 any time soon. I’ve already played the COD2 demo, and I love that game so much. You should’ve picked that instead of Perfect Dark 😛

One comment in your article struck me as odd – "Seriously – no jump in a fist person shooter! Did Nintendo develop this game?". I know Nintendo dosn’t have games like PlayStation or Xbox, but come on. Even Nintendo makes games that you can jump when you want. Nintendo’s not that low. Give them that.

Hey I didn’t brag THAT much:)

One correction, you *can* access your friends list in-game. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bitporters/82667838/

Did you have a xbox live gold accont? Or was the free 1 month expired on the account that came with your rental?

Anyway I totally agree with your review, I was let down with Perfect dark zero as well, and its the highest rated game on gamespot! PGR3 is what I play the most, and COD2 which I bought as well is incredible but I bet its great on a good PC as well.

The marketplace is incredible when you have a harddrive (downloading quake 4 demo right now). Its great for me because I’d rather mess around with the demo before I rent it.

Cheers!

@Anthony: Good to hear MS is working to improve the functionality issues I had beefs with.

@Patrick: Sounds like a plan! I’m surprised there hasn’t been a bigger price drop on the Xbox. They were selling the holiday pack for $220 CDN! Wha?

@Andre: I didn’t pick up COD2 as I’ve been rocking it for weeks on PC.

In regards to the jab at Nintendo – they’re notorious for doing stupid shit like that. There’s plenty of games for the GameCube that don’t allow you to jump manually. Starfox Adventures for one. I have to help my daughter with games from time to time and I’m not surprised she has trouble with them when they remove standard movements like that.

@BPAndrew: No, you didn’t brag that much. 😛

Thanks for the screenshot. I signed up for the free Live subscription and received a month of the gold subscription for free – maybe I didn’t activate it though? I assumed they were just giving me a sneek peak but it could have required some action on my behalf. Glad you’re able to browse your friends list in game – it only makes sense.

I found your beautiful site via Paul Stamatiou… Sweet LCD screen dude. I’ve been helping everyone get sweet LCD screens while I have none. I’m waiting for Apple’s product announcements next week to see where my money’s going. 🙂

Good enough reason, I guess 😛 I often forget that your PC can play games – mine dosn’t have a video card and plays only Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 and GTA2 😀

And as far as Nintendo goes, I never knew Starfox didn’t have a jump – I’ve never played Starfox. If it means anything Mario Kart: Double Dash!! has a bunny hop – and that’s racing 😛

Dashboard covers up multiplayer; like Halo 2 Friends List: endlessly aggravating.

While downloading a Quake demo, I found that it kept stopping, so I’d have to restart the download; while it doesn’t drop back to 0%, it’s annoying as hell to have to check on it every few minutes.

I found controllability on PGR3 was horrifyingly bad; it kept turning. For PDZ I agree with everything you said: they rushed for the launch, so they didn’t include fancy unique and original ideas like "jumping" (though they included horrifyingly redundant rolling, like ‘what the shit??’), I guess it’s to be expected that instead of coming out with a fantastic game which kicks more ass than its predecessor, that they’d make something less appealing than having goat urine splashed in your face–I’m, of course, being very pessimistic; it’s actually a decent game, however it’s just so disappointing. For shame, Rare… for shame.

As for Geometry Wars, there’s a reason why several sites have listed it as Xbox 360’s best launch title. 🙂

I drew the same conclusion when playing the Xbox 360. Though I’m definitely buying one for Gears of War and the other awesome games coming out. You should get your friend to rent Condemned and head over there to play it a bit. While it gets a bit slow a few hours in, it picks up again and rocks. I’m waiting at least until they include Hard Drives standard which they’re bound to do, even if they’re only very small.

@Andre: I’m about the same, computer-wise 😉

And yeah, that’s sad that even Mario Kart has jumping but not PDZ.

I also have to say the demos things gets better every week.

I spent most of the weekend just playing the Fight Night 3 demo – never has punching people in the face looked so pretty!

I’ve not had a problem dl’ing any of them either.

I have to say I enjoy my 360 alot. There are the occasional hicups in live play, but, it should be ironed out soon. I love the Live Arcade, great feature and will only get better with street fighter II coming shortly. I like the idea of downloadable demos too, strong feature. All in all I’m happy with it.

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