Microsoft Isn't Known For Their Humility: Xbox 360 Expectations

You've played Halo for the 100th time and sought solace in Doom 3. Your little black box with its shiny green lights has been sitting there watching everything in your living room since you hesitantly picked it up a few years ago. Eventually you've discovered that the PS2 isn't as thrilling, the Nintendo left to a nostalgic desire for cuteness. Then the news that Microsoft is releasing the XBox 360 this year and you were surprisingly excited. But innumerable press releases after the first announcement you're left with a roller coaster of ups and downs. Is it as thrilling as it all seems?

The specifications sound impressive on XBox.com's sheets. The combination of the IBM processors and RAM adds up to a rather impressive teraflop of computing prowess. Most companies aren't running that kind of might for their database servers. On the networking side wireless capabilities include all current protocols, which is more than can be said for many laptop adapters. Changeable faceplates and flashing neon disco lights will appeal to gaming individualists.

Its smooth space age design rivals most German minimalist interior designers. The casing will look almost as good as the games you're playing in it with the improved graphics power. In case you're not wired in enough with a Media Center PC, a USB port will allow you to hook up your mp3 player and show photos from your last trip to the local waterfall with a Franz Ferdinand soundtrack. If you want to go shopping for games and can't be asked leaving the house, the built in XBox Live silver membership will let you lazily browse and buy. That joking aside in the description field of My Computer for 'kitchen' isn't too far off in the world of the XBox 360. Add to that a HD-DVD drive for a potential of 15 GB of data, voice capabilities and a little QWERTY keyboard and you're ready to roll to be completely jacked in to a wonderful wireless jump off the couch gaming world.

Here's the enthusiasm downer to all the bloated Microsoft propaganda: the special version or the one you want, costs 400 U.S. dollars. That's also the version that will be compatible with some of your old games. Microsoft is working on backwards compatibility for their current titles based off popularity. You can bet that Halo is going to run but who knows about AVP: Extinction? They all require the disappointing 20 GB hard drive that isn't an integral part of the new system. Whilst Microsoft said last time they believed in hard disk based gaming it looks like they've done a... err... 180.

I have a lot of unanswered questions about that disk. What are the specifications? And my god that's a grandiose price when storage is so cheap. Do they realize people with normal computers just throw 20 GB disks away? It might also be the hard drive that's going to let the whole otherwise fabulous package down. It's been my experience that much of the lag time with loading, saving, playing and changing maps has been at the hard disk. You can hear that thing grunting and groaning throughout the whole house. Unless this is fork in the potato of this kind of storage based gaming? The lack of posturing about how great the disk is leads me to believe it's nothing special. Microsoft isn't known for their humility.

Purchasing the cut-rate box is going to be a decision stemming from gaming goals. It's only really appropriate for playing a new XBox 360 title on your own. There's no remote control for watching films, no backwards compatibility and if history is anything to go by, titles will be slow on the release. I wouldn't buy it with the prospect of getting much cheaper peripherals this time either. Any manufacturer legitimately making additions to the 360 now need to work with the Xenon chip. They also have to pay Microsoft royalties for every controller and memory card sold. Some retailers are already anticipating that kind of market. Walmart is offering an Xbox core package for $579 that still doesn't include the hard disk but does offer up, amongst other pieces a wireless controller and 3 games.

Without knowing the pricing, release and potential for the obstinately quiet PS3 the XBox 360 still looks like a pretty decent contender all things aside. The full version could be considered good value for money even with suspected corner cutting in the design.

What people will find difficult is justifying spending $400 on a gaming console. It's going to be a test of a market that's being under-whelmed by half finished sequels and rehashes. They might garner some Christmas enthusiasm with game demos in Amsterdam this October. Whether or not the buzz lasts through January depends very much on how many trees it ends up under.