Xbox 360 Impressions

So the first of the three next generation consoles is here, and I have one in the room with me. Since there’s probably going to be a lot to write, I’m just going to go through all the goodies I got with it, as well as comment on the hardware itself. To start us off this is what I came home with after midnight last night:

  • Xbox 360 Premium System
  • Project Gotham Racing 3
  • Call of Duty 2
  • Advanced SCART AV Cable
  • VGA HD AV Cable

Project Gotham Racing 3:

When it comes to gameplay PGR3 is, unsurprisingly, Project Gotham, so if you liked the old ones you’ll like it and if you didn’t you probably won’t. This one is essentially the same online/offline formula that made PGR2 so great, but with some additions like a whole online career mode.

Of course early next-gen games are always about the eye candy, and this one doesn’t disappoint: the car models are almost photo-realistic, the environments are all excellent approximations of various cities (plus the Nürburgring), and the whole thing is silky smooth. There are the usual menagerie of effects like bloom and motion blur, but here they’re used to good effect so that they actually enhance the graphics. It plays and looks superb, so at the moment I’d say this is the Xbox 360 game to own.

Call of Duty 2:

A straight PC port wouldn’t usually be anything to shout about at a console launch, but in the current climate of WW2 FPS after WW2 FPS the COD series, on the PC at least, has been a breath of fresh air. It uses scripted events and streams of enemies and allies to do a far better job at making you feel like you’re in the middle of an all-out war than any other game. COD2 on the 360 is a port of the PC version and not the inferior console-only Call of Duty 2: Big Red One which is a good thing in itself, but it looks awesome, runs smoothly, and doesn’t even suffer particularly from the move to a controller.

In fact the 360 version runs better than all but the best PCs, and various message board posts have shown me that the people complaining that it’s not anything better than a PC are from people with stuff like 7800 GTX’s, which cost more than the 360 alone without mentioning the CPU and rest of the kit. This is a first gen game for a new console and already bodes well for future FPS like a little game called Halo 3.

The one downside is that it only supports eight players over Live which is quite poor. It’s enough I suppose, but surely 16 can’t have been that tough when Perfect Dark supports 32?

The Hardware:

The console is a handsome beast and even though it isn’t actually much smaller than the regular Xbox it looks a lot more svelte. I’ve got the premium one with the silver disc tray but the Core version looks nice with the white tray too, and when the system is standing up it’s very pretty. My only issue is that when the DVD drive is spinning it gets loud, but not so loud that you notice when you’re playing a game. When you’re not running a disc it’s probably even quieter than the current Xbox and mine hasn’t gotten particularly hot like some people have reported.

The controller is just a thing of beauty. The wireless one is light and very comfortable to hold, and the new layout (the black and white buttons are replaced by digital shoulder buttons known as “bumpers”) actually makes the Xbox version of Pro Evolution Soccer 5 play decently. The Xbox Guide button is a useful way to check your Live status and certainly a welcome feature, but by far the coolest thing that the button does is allow you to do it turn the console on and off by holding it down, even with the wireless controller. It’s a little thing but I’m surprised that it hasn’t been done before now.

One thing that had me worried was how good it would actually look on my standard TV which is part of the reason that I bought the VGA cable, but I really needn’t have bothered. The VGA gives a great picture on a standard PC monitor and provides a nice preview of how good it will look when you eventually get a nice HDTV, but with standard RGB SCART it gives a nice boost above the current gen consoles, certainly to an extent that makes £280 a decent investment. I was hugely impressed with both COD2 and PGR3 at the standard definition and it will just make them that much sweeter when I get a nice HD LCD.

For a more comprehensive look at the hardware from a UK perspective I recommend taking a look at the NTSC-uk hardware review, and then read HardOCP’s for a really in-depth look.

Overall Microsoft have something really special in this console, and I can’t wait for the big new games like Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter to start appearing in January/February. The ball is well and truly in Sony’s court.

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