So the hardware’s good – what about the software and also the claim that this is really a digital hub which can play ‘everything’. The 360 has the concept of ‘blades’ – basically a screen for Live, Games, Media and Settings. This works well and there really is a lot you can do from each screen.
Live screen lets you see and customise your Gamercard, see who’s online and manage any messages or invites you might have. It’s also easy to launch whatever is in the DVD drive from here. You can also jump into the Marketplace which is Microsoft’s media version of iTunes Music Store. From here you can download (not free) gamer tiles, extra levels, themes for the 360 and arcade games. For free you can get promotional videos and movie trailers and also game demo’s. The trailers are mostly in high def and also there are different marketplaces for each region as the USA has a high def trailer of X-Men 3 available unlike the UK. The downloads are slow though and with the demo’s peaking at 500Meg it can take a while – pity you couldn’t download in the background while listening to music or playing a game.
The arcade games also feature in the Game blade. You can demo the games but most need to be bought using marketplace points. The games are a mixture of old arcade classics like Gauntlet and Smash TV and new games like Geometry Wars 2 from Bizarre (makers of PGR). Geometry Wars features in PGR2 if you walked around the garage – this is a follow up and for a simple arcade game it’s amazingly good. The nice thing about these ‘simple’ games is that they are live aware. Geometry Wars has an online scoreboard. You can play 4 player Gauntlet over Live or 2 player Smash TV. Very smart.
The Media blade is at the heart of the ‘digital hub’ Microsoft have hyped about.
After just two days of play it’s obvious that despite the doubters this is a next gen platform that will be a serious competitor to Sony. In some ways the hardware is really just an enabler for the great services that Microsoft have added to the Xbox platform but it’s where I’m going to start my ramblings.
The console itself is big. The design certainly helps to hide the size and standing the console up masks it slightly more than when it’s on it’s side. The console is also heavy which you notice as soon as you lift the box. The biggest shock despite the press coverage is the power supply – it’s HUGE at over eight inches in length. The cables are also very thick which exudes quality. Connections are also chunky which gives you some reassurance that you have a beast of a machine in your possession.
The premium pack contains a 20Gb hard disk – the core comes without. To take advantage of the 360 you MUST use a hard disk. You can download demo’s, smaller arcade games, videos and music to the disk. You can also get downloadable content for games (new maps for instance) and it’s the only way to play you old Xbox games. It is essential and one of Microsoft’s poorer decisions was to have a Core pack that didn’t contain the hard disk.
Switching on (in standard definition with RGB scart) and you can see instantly that it is graphically ahead of any current gen console. At first the console didn’t seem to noisy but that all changed once I put in a game and a second (maybe even third?) fan kicked in. I thought the Xbox would have floated harrier like there was that much noise. Once the sound from the game kicked in you didn’t notice it but it certainly noisy.
Inserting the game highlighted what I think is the weakest part of the console. The DVD tray is flimsy and does not inspire much confidence – you definitely do not want to hit it with any force. The eject button is also of poor quality. However the remote control should help.
Finally got my paws on the 360 today. After having some doubts, a not bad show and a few hardware scares I didn’t really know what to expect. After a few hours with PGR3, Live arcade and the interface in general I am overwhelmed – it is an amazing console.
Graphically above anything today (including high end pc’s) it’s the interface, connectivity and flexibility that wins over everything else. I’ve got so much I want to write but I’m too tired, want to play some more games and in between that I’m reading up on which LCD I should buy this weekend. Yes – I have fallen for it in a big way.
So – more detailed guff to follow and some nice piccies when I get my behind in gear. The only negative is that it’s such a good machine yet anyone reading this will be struggling to get one. Shame.