The Xbox 360 launched on November 22nd 2005, almost a full year before its rivals the Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii, but has Microsoft capitalized on its head start? This past November heralded the launch of both the Playstation 3 and the Wii, which has officially ushered in the next-generation console war. With one year of being the only next-generation console on the market, a years worth of games, and a solid fan-base, does the 360 have what it takes to retain its lead?
The Xbox 360 has a lot going for it. While the 360’s controller hasn’t changed too drastically as it retains the same amount of buttons and control sticks; the new design has vastly better button placement and a sleeker look. The black and white buttons, which were so annoyingly placed on the original Xbox, are now moved to above the trigger buttons, similar to the L1 and R1 buttons on the PS2 controller. The trigger buttons themselves were changed as well. Now they are pressure sensitive, which allows actions using those triggers to have different effects depending on how hard they are pressed. One completely new addition to the controller is the Xbox button located in the center of the controller. This new button allows the user to access system menus without shutting down the game. These menus allow you to look at player profiles, invite friends to games, check for online friends, return to the dashboard, and a number of other things.
The Xbox 360’s online service, Xbox Live, is probably one of the console’s most attractive features. The service has a small fee, something the other consoles lack, but it makes up for it with ease of use and functionality. Xbox live has convenient menus which are easy to use and lots of material to see and download. Xbox Live also has downloadable demos for a number of games, some before the games are even released. Xbox Arcade is another cool feature. Xbox Arcade has a lot of old console games, some of these games are tried and true classics (games like Joust, Dig Dug, and Gauntlet to name a few), but the Arcade also has a few more modern games, from the shooter heaven which is Geometry Wars to the trance-like music in the puzzle game Lumines Live!
Having a year’s head start on the other consoles gave the 360’s game programmers that much longer to adjust to the platform’s new capabilities. The result is that the games that were being released for the Xbox 360 at the same time as the launch games for Nintendo and Playstation next-generation consoles were generally better and utilized its features better.
The only truly unforgivable mistake Microsoft’s decision to sell the console without a built in hard-drive. Considering that the original Xbox had its own hard-drive built, it is utterly ridiculous to make the next generation console, supposedly a step up from the previous model, come lacking one of the things that made its predecessor great. Hard-drives are not too expensive these days, so this just seems like some thinly-veiled greedy and sleazy attempt to get some more money out of the consumers.
Ultimately the lead the Xbox 360 had on its competition has helped it gain a fan base, and quite a few game titles. Great services like Xbox Live and Xbox Arcade help make the dealer a little bit sweeter if you’re willing to pay. The Xbox 360’s controller, one of the most criticized aspects of the original, is sleeker and well-designed. The 360 is a solid buy right now if you’re impatient and need to play some games right now. Only time will tell if this will remain true once the other next-generation systems get their bearings.