Your Console and Handheld Guide: Xbox 360
By Andrew S. Bub
Microsoft was a bit late to the console gaming party when it released the original Xbox, and despite a decent showing, it was still left in the dust by the mighty PlayStation 2. Never fearful of a gamble, the computer software giant ushered in the high-definition and modern era of console gaming with its Xbox 360, a powerful and ambitious machine designed for doing more than just playing games. Microsoft got a jump on Sony this time, and if it wasn't for Nintendo literally changing the rules of the game, Xbox 360 would be the solid leader in this console generation.
Xbox 360 is one of the most powerful videogame consoles money can buy (next to the PlayStation 3) and that's why it costs a lot of money. It plays high-definition games, so it's best for HDTVs (it'll work on a regular TV, but I've found text very hard to read). It features a hard drive for storage and can play back DVDs, MP3 CDs, CDs, some Xbox games and, of course, high-definition Xbox 360 games. The Xbox 360 Dashboard (a menu the machine uses) lets you store music, photos and more, and Xbox Live (currently $50 a year) offers a very easy-to-use Internet videogame multiplayer service that ranks and tracks your wins and losses. The Xbox Live Arcade offers a lot of classic and puzzle games for download (for a fee), and they've just begun offering movie and television show downloads. Xbox Live also features voice chat with a microphone headset.
The Xbox 360 is backward compatible with most old Xbox games. Here's a list of games known to work. The Xbox 360 is also allegedly prone to massive hardware failures affecting an alarming number of customers. The failure, called the 'red ring of death,' is apparently heat-related and causes the normally green lights on the front of the console to turn red. Microsoft is committed to fixing these machines, and the problem has seemingly been corrected. There have also been reports of some Xbox 360 disc drives scratching a disc if the console is left in the vertical position.
Microsoft earned a rock-solid reputation for making quality PC gamepads, racing wheels and joysticks, and they've brought these skills to the 360. The controllers (wireless or USB) are among the best gamepads ever made, and devices that don't ship with the system -- everything from Bluetooth headsets, a DVD remote, an optional HD-DVD player, bigger hard drives and an awesome Force Feedback Racing Wheel -- are all top-notch and well-designed. Owners can also customize the 360 by replacing the faceplate. Most game stores carry several different styles.
The Xbox 360 features strong third-party support with a wide range of controllers, wheels, rechargeable battery packs and more. You can also find a wide range of custom faceplates featuring sports teams and popular games like BioShock and Gears of War.
Gears of War: Brutal third-person sci-fi combat with an innovative cover system.
Rock Band: Xbox Live makes playing online with friends more fun, and your Guitar Hero III controller will work with Rock Band on the 360. Xbox Live features bonus tracks available for purchase.
BioShock: Available only on the PC and Xbox 360, BioShock is easily one of the most innovative and polished games ever made.
Halo 3: The Xbox 360 is the only place you can experience the phenomenon that is Halo 3. Just thought we should mention that.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare: One of the best games in 2007 and easily the best game in the series, CoD4 tackles heavy subjects and brings the thrill and terror of modern warfare home to your TV screen.
Madden '08: Madden is available on all platforms but is at its best here. Xbox Live makes online gaming with friends quick and painless, and the frame rates on the 360 beat the PlayStation 3 version hands down.
Guitar Hero III: Guitar Hero rocks on the 360, especially since once you're done with GH III, you can buy II, and you can use Xbox Live to download most of the PS2-exclusive first game. You can also buy new songs online, though you can't yet rock the '80s.
The Orange Box: Half-Life 2, the Episode One and Two expansion packs, Portal and Team Fortress 2 -- wait, this game offers three enormous first-person shooters, one of the most innovative games ever and one of the best multiplayer games ever made? All in one package? Color us orange.
Mass Effect: BioWare knows how to make a compelling role-playing game out of other people's mythology (Jade Empire) or licensed worlds (Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars); now see how BioWare tackles its own sci-fi epic.
Project Gotham Racing 4: This is racing at its finest.
By virtue of its massive game library, the Xbox 360 is currently THE system to own (other than a hardcore PC) for the serious gamer -- the Wii is innovative but too casual, and the PlayStation 3 isn't quite there, yet. The Xbox 360 has more exclusive titles, more multiplatform titles -- hell, more titles period -- than any other next-generation console system, and it offers a lot more variety, too. It offers everything from family and party games (Viva Piñata, Scene It?) to violent frag-fests (Halo 3, Gears of War), the best in racing (Forza, Project Gotham 4) and role-playing (Mass Effect) to works of virtual art (BioShock) -- plus it's got the best multiplayer matchmaking and ranking system in the business, not to mention a wide variety of movies and TV shows available for download. Extra content for a number of games and the casual gaming wonder that is Xbox Live Arcade are also available only on the Xbox 360.