I promised that I’d try to write something more positive and, unsurprisingly, it’s turned out to be something else about the Xbox 360. I’ve loved Xbox Live ever since I started my account during the European beta and really think that Sony’s insistence on not creating a unified online architecture is a mistake, and the more I play with Live on the 360 the more convinced I become that this sort of thing is the future of the gaming community, even at £40/year.
While the specs war will likely go on for years, even after both machines are released, this is Microsoft’s trump card. With the Xbox we saw the start of it – a friends list that follows you across games, voice chat, text and voice messages, and the Live Arcade, but with the 360 they’ve been given the opportunity to put it in at the console level, make much of it available without a subscription (though you want one to play games), and not just to take Xbox Live and run with it, but to bundle it into the boot of a car and drive it for miles. Live is possibly the one area where I haven’t heard any criticisms of the 360, beyond the occasional hysterical privacy scare (“Oh no! People know that I’m looking at pictures! And I can’t be bothered to turn it off!”).
The achievements are a great addition that are getting good feedback. They give you an incentive to play beyond simply finishing the game (why else would I spend 40 minutes of my life trying to reach level 50 on Hexic HD?), give even offline games a new competitive edge as you look at how far your friends have gone, and has even rumbled a few people on forums who claim to be amazing and games and burn their way through everything. I just hope that Microsoft’s control over third-party accessories will stop the Action Replay/Gameshark from coming along and ruining it all.
Finally, making the friends list and the related alerts spread and made uniform across all games and the Dashboard makes playing with friends even easier. For the last few nights me and a handful of friends have been playing a couple of hours of PGR3 together every night by just using batch text messages and then inviting everyone into a couple of hours of lag-free races and cheating accusations flying around the voice chat. Great stuff.
My one complaint? The 360 headset doesn’t fit my big head and if I use my comfortable Halo 2 headset I can’t mute myself and have no volume controls. Any chance of an adaptor?