All-Round Joy

Published Date
01 - Aug - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Aug - 2006
All-Round Joy
Long, painful months have passed since ole M-Dollar teased us with the assurance that the Xbox 360 would indeed make its way into India-by the legal channels this time. Meanwhile, gamers in the West indulged in insane crimes just to get close to one of these.  Finally, now, our tears have paid off-we got us an exclusive look at said 360-something you lot will have to wait for till Diwali. {Insert evil laugh here}

Look At Me!
You can't deny it-the 360 is the best-looking thing we've seen in a while, and looks like something that would be preceded with an "i". The ring around the power button lights up 90 degrees at a time-one for each controller you connect-thus completing the 360-degree Ring of Light (forgive us for being so dramatic). Obviously, meticulous thought went into making it a treat for the eye. While it's smaller than its predecessor, it's still bigger than the PS2, and comes with a huge power brick in tow that could knock someone's coconut off if they didn't watch it. Its vertical nature will still save space in your entertainment area, so there's no need to worry.

The front panel is neat, and has two memory card slots in case you opt for the hard drive-less Core System. As of this review, Microsoft isn't planning to release faceplates for the 360, so if white doesn't cut if for you and you want to customise it to your taste, you will have to settle for bootlegged ones that will inevitably find their way into the grey market post-launch. Still, the console looks good enough without a custom faceplate.
Touch Me
One thing we were quite curious to find out was how Microsoft was going to improve on its much-disparaged controller, and we're quite impressed. The controller is compact and feels like it's been in your hand forever. The left analog stick is exactly where it should be-you don't need to stretch your thumb at all. While this is a slightly alarming break if you're used to the PS2, you'll soon realise that the chances of your thumb fatiguing after the inevitable long hours of gaming are much lower with such an arrangement. The sticks are quite loose to the touch-they don't offer as much tactile feedback as those of the PS2, but they're nice and responsive nonetheless.

The analog triggers at either side are well-placed, but they do have a larger dead zone than expected-kicking into action only after being depressed more than half-way. The D-Pad is probably the only negative about the controller-it's slippery at times and is generally unimpressive.

Controllers are available in both wired and wireless flavours (which run on standard AA batteries), depending on how much you're willing to cough up for your 360. Wireless controllers bond with the main unit by a press of a button on both the controller and the box, and have a ridiculously large range: unless your living room is the size of a cinema hall, it's unlikely you'll be facing any problems with them.

  •  Dead Or Alive 4
The latest in Team Ninja's series of combat games for hormonally-charged teenagers is the first of its kind to really show off the Xbox 360's abilities. It's more than just a button-mashing fight fest-it's a button-mashing fight fest with some very scantily clad women who satisfy just about any fantasy you may have had as a teen and still might have today. Hormonal stimulation aside, there's a lot about this game that is quite impressive.
First on the block is the level design-all fighting arenas have been designed in intricate detail, even paying attention to bystanders who have absolutely no role to play in the fight. Environments are huge and immersive, and you'll never find one of those "invisible walls" that confine you to a particular area for gameplay.
The gameplay itself is far beyond punching random buttons-it'll get you past the easier levels, but you'll find yourself stuck soon enough if you don't learn the complex counter-attack system that this game sports. It's not as easy to figure out as we'd like, though-patience is the key here. The game shines as a multi-player-hook up all four controllers and prepare yourself for endless hours of team vs. team fights.
There's only one thing about this game that contributes to its success-the women. Each one is built with one or more unrealistic male fantasies in mind, and the 360's brilliant graphics bring them to life like nothing else could. It's an ordeal to look beyond that and actually analyse the game underneath the game-and unless you're going to review it for a magazine, it's an ordeal you won't undertake.
For all it's worth, there's even a story to this game, and each of the 16 characters you can play as has a different part in a much bigger tale. All that is utter nonsense-the so-called story is little more than an excuse to unlock videos of characters, featuring them in all their near-naked glory.
This title is sure to fly off the shelves into the hands of young teenagers, but is liable to fly back just as fast in the hands of some very cheesed-off parents.                           
Play Me
We had four titles to test the system with-Project Gotham Racing (PGR) 3, Dead Or Alive 4, FIFA World Cup Soccer, and Kameo: Elements of Power. When we fired it up on a regular TV, the results were, well, underwhelming. Granted, of course, that the 360 churns out frames with more enthusiasm than dentists brush their teeth with, but on an ordinary TV, the result doesn't elicit many oohs and/or aahs. Hook it up to a wide-screen HDTV (ours was Samsung), set the resolution to 1080i, and different tunes are sung. Clearly, no unnecessarily tall claims have been made about the 360 being optimised for HDTV-the games look exquisite! This marked difference comes with a flip side, though. If you already own a console but don't own an HD-capable TV, you might want to dip into those pockets a lot more for an HDTV to get the most out of the 360-or just stick with your current console.

As for the multi-core Xenon CPU from IBM, coupled with the custom-built graphics chip from ATI, they come together to dish out frame-rates smoother than well-buttered ice rinks. In all the games, no matter how many hours we put in (and many hours we did), we never once saw a game skip, or even come close to doing so. Ultimately, it's like gaming on a top-of-the-line PC-one whose graphics card will cost you considerably more than the Xbox itself. Whether this is good or bad really depends on how much else you do on a PC besides gaming.

All this blistering performance does come at a price, if the amount of hot air that spews from the vents at the back is any indication. Heating components are hardly surprising, but before you reach for your wallet, you need to make sure you choose the space for your new love with heat dissipation in mind. Don't get any crazy ideas into your head-like confining it in its own cabinet; all the complaints we heard about the 360 being unstable more often than not stemmed from nitwits who kept it locked in a box and on all day.

The whole kit and kaboodle-the Xbox 360 System will
contain all this, sans the game title

Not that you should waste your 360 playing movies, but it makes for a pretty competent DVD player as well. Navigating the various menus using the controller feels quite strange, but not too hard to get used to. The Xbox 360 system will come with a media remote included for your convenience as well.

Little Things Matter
We'd rather have skipped the little bells and whistles, but small though they are, they can hardly be ignored. The first to earn the favour of our lazy behinds is the fact that you can shut down the console from the controller itself. After a hard day's gaming, the last thing you want to waste your time doing is walking over to the box and hitting the button-just shut it down from the comfort of your chair and doze off!

Another noteworthy thing is the customisation the Xbox dashboard gives you based on the user profile you create. It lets you select themes, personalise your Xbox settings, and keep track of your progress and achievements in each game you play.

Launch Pad
When the Xbox 360 launches during the pre-Diwali season, it will be available in two flavours-the no-frills Core System and the Xbox 360 System.

The Core System will come with the Console, a Wired Controller and a Composite AV Cable-you'll have to spring for the HD AV cable if you want hi-def joy. Add one leading game title to this and the lot will set you back an estimated Rs 19,990.

The Xbox 360 System (the one we got for testing) comes with the Console (with a shiny Premium Chrome Finish, even), a 20 GB hard drive, a wireless controller, a Universal Media Remote for when you whip out the popcorn and DVDs, a Component HD AV cable, and an Ethernet cable. All this and prolonged joy for the expected price of Rs 23,990.

Twenty titles will accompany the launch. The list isn't final yet, but we're willing to bet it will include Perfect Dark: Zero-the title that will sell the console while we wait for Halo 3 to hit the scene.

As we write this, we have no information on whether Xbox Live will launch at the same time as the 360: watch this space for the dope as it happens. Xbox Live is a key part of the 360's success, and it would be a shame to miss out on it, especially with nearly all games being "Live-aware" and giving you the ability to socialise with (or smash the dickens out of) players all over the world.

In Toto
We're completely blown away by the Xbox 360 (as if we didn't expect it)-tremendous performance, a brilliant controller, and high-definition eye-candy that will make you shun gaming on a regular TV.

What concerns us is the money that you'll be shelling out-not just the cost of console itself: you'll eventually need to spring for an HDTV and an elaborate surround sound system, not to mention the probable bomb (Indian prices for titles haven't been set yet) that each title is going to set you back by.

The lack of Xbox Live is also quite the disappointment, and we do wish to see it soon after the launch, if not at launch time itself. If the launch collection is the same as those in the international launches, there's little to look forward to, but since many more titles have been released since then, we might be in for a very enticing list-we'll keep you informed as it unfolds.

Today, being able to afford the 360 and not going ahead and buying it seems unthinkable, but that might change with the launch of the PS3. Even so, you won't be sorry coughing up for this baby. 

Team DigitTeam Digit

All of us are better than one of us.