Recently the wonderful people at Bill's Corporation decided to drop the price of the XBOX 360 by 100 bucks or so on the three main console packs, and this was enough for me to take the plunge and invest in a 360. Well, maybe not "invest". My main focus was as a media extender to the lounge so I didn't have to keep plugging the laptop into the TV to watch digital media stored on my PC, but I also felt like playing some console games like Forza Motorsport and Fifa 08. Did it live up to the potential?
Yes. And no. Let me set the scene - I'm a PC gamer from way back. I remember spending hours downloading the first demo from ID software to play Quake on my 28k modem, which took fricken ages and multiple retries to get it to work (but was ulitmately so worth it). Wolfenstien 3D, Doom and Duke Nukem - these were my computer friends back in the days before the internet and P2P networking were the norm. I also concentrated mainly on First Person Shooters because there was more fun to be had, in my opinion, in the endless slime covered frag fests in Quake than any other genre of PC gaming. That's not to say I didn't play anything else - Diablo, Starcraft, Warcraft and to a lesser extent Command and Conquer also took my fancy. And all in all, my PC was my gaming entertainment unit, which could also dial into work (if required) and run MS Office (badly) to work from home in some small capacity.
So when consoles like the Sega Mega drive, Super Nintendo, and PS1 were big, I just didn't get it - they were severely limited, you couldn't upgrade, the games were hellishly expensive, and the console was useless for anything else. What was the point? A PC could be comparable in cost, you could upgrade it with better hardware to get better performance or graphics, you could "share" media with your friends, and networking and dial-up internet meant you could play against each other as well.
Fast forward a few years - ok quite a few years, and whats changed? A pc is still ultimately more configurable and upgradeable than a console, but the console can now serve several other functions when not gaming. And this is why I bought one - I needed something not too expensive that could serve as a media extender, but also could do other things, and although the Xbox is a bit limited in its extensibility, it performs many tasks flawlessly.
Media Centre Extender
I no longer need to plug and unplug the laptop from the telly, and I don't compete with the wife if she wants to do work, and I want to watch the latest Top Gear. Its a permanent media player that plays a majority of my media files, and a pretty good extender for my mp3 library as well.
I have always loved playing racing games on a console - I reckon its a far better experience with a controller than a keyboard. And sports are also much better on console than PC - Fifa 08 rocks on the Xbox, while I found Fifa 07 exceedingly difficult on the PC until I bought an Xbox controller to plug into the computer.
Its nice to know when your mates are online, if you feel like challenging them to a frag fest on COD 4, or just having a chat. I know you can do this on a PC, but the whole Xbox live experience is something new for me that makes the console seem a bit more social than it used to - makes it feel like you are logging onto a network of mates, rather than sitting in the lounge switching off from the world. The gamer card is also a great idea as the lure of competing with everyone to get the most game points becomes attractive to even the most lukewarm game addict. Getting all the achievements in a game takes priority just to give you those few extra points over your mates on Xbox live.
Media Centre Extender
While its great to have a fixed media player in the lounge, its annoying that it doesnt play every single media file I throw at it. It was the laptop I had beforehand, I could install codec's and alternative players and Bob would indeed be a blood relative. Now, I am restricted to WMA's and Divx content, which frankly sucks balls. Converting files is annoying, time consuming and not really an exact science, so I am loathe to convert things. It is one limitation I can live with I suppose as a majority of the content I watch is in the right format.
While great for sports and cars, the consoles have always sucked serious ass at First Person Shooters. The controller is just not designed for quick looks, fast reactions and agile aiming. It plain blows. I thought I'd give it a crack with Call of Duty 4, and I was severely disappointed. The aiming is slow and unwieldy for someone like me who cut his teeth on a PC mouse\keyboard, and its just frustrating playing FPS on a console. There are devices that you can use to plug a keyboard and mouse into a console, but from the reviews they are problematic, expensive and sometimes just plain don't work with some games (and hardware!). And further more, why waste time plugging keyboards and mice into consoles, when you've got a perfectly good gaming PC?
Everything costs more. You get a standard pack when you buy the Pro edition (20GB hd, one controller, small remote) but a Universal remote costs more, the plug and play kit costs more, the headset costs more, and so on and so on. The Xbox does not cost what they advertise because you need the add-ons to make it work efficiently. Sure, it works out of the box, but who's going to pay for new batteries every few days for the controller? Who wants the shitty little remote when you can have a universal one that also does the telly? And to play multiplayer games and interact with others you need the headset - who wants to play games and not be able to yell at people?
In summing up your honour...
All in all am I happy with the purchase? Yes - its doing exactly what I wanted which was fill the hole of media player with other functions quite well, and I can see myself playing some serious Forza 2 in the coming weeks. There are a few niggles, especially around the media codec's and FPS gaming, but the latter can be fixed by not playing FPS games on the console, and the former by using streaming workarounds. The next big challenge is teaching the missus how to use the damn thing, and now that I've rewired the DVD\TV\Xbox, a new course in "remote control" management is due.
I might leave that one for a while.