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360 October 2, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Video Games.
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Yes, it’s true: I’m now onboard with Xbox 360. To be honest, I’m tempted to conclude that I hate everything about it except the games.

I think the principal problem is that it’s a Microsoft product through and through, with all the complexities and excesses that such entails. Some have called the 360 a sleek device; personally, I find the unit itself overdesigned. It’s a huge and heavy piece of hardware that looks absolutely menacing. For its size, it surprisingly lacks built-in wireless networking capability out of the box. Further, it has an optical disc drive so noisy it’s actually scary. And yeah, every time I turn it on I can’t help but worry about the wretched Red Ring of Death that continues to plague the platform like a ticking time bomb.

On balance, it’s user-friendly enough. While the interface — the Xbox 360 dashboard — is feature-rich and quite impressive it nevertheless feels less like signal and more like noise. It’s my understanding that this will be improved in the streamlined update scheduled for later this year, so maybe there’s hope. The worst of it? Even before unboxing the console I half expected it to hang or crash at some point just because it’s a Microsoft job. True to form, it did. During the initial setup process. Twice.

Oh, but the games! Compared to the esteemed competition (Sony’s PS3), it’s right there in terms of quality and miles ahead as far as selection is concerned. In fact, my purchase of the 360 was influenced first by the announcement that Final Fantasy XIII would come to the platform, and second by whether I could get a copy of Tales of Vesperia at launch (I did). By and large it has more titles that I’m actually interested to play; given the fact that these are mostly JRPGs, my experience so far tells me that I’ll be in for quite a ride if and when I get around to the ones on my radar.

Overall, I can see why the 360 is emerging as the leader among so-called next generation consoles but still think it’s quite rough around the edges. I’m still of the opinion that the Japanese (Sony and Nintendo) have greater finesse where gaming is concerned, but Microsoft has the better business machine behind the Xbox 360. It came out first, it’s now cheaper than either the Wii or PS3 depending on the model in question, and because of downloadable content on Xbox Live, the console just gets so much more mileage. Whether or not you buy into the canard that the 360 is the hardcore gamer’s platform (I don’t), it’s plain to see there’s a lot of value packed into its imposing packaging, warts and all.

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