As we wait these last hours for the new machine to be unveiled, this GR editor takes a personal look back at what Xbox means to him...
When Xbox first came out, I was happy with my PS2 and Gamecube. Sure, the graphics looked better but Xbox was expensive, big and had funny controllers that everyone laughed at. But it was at a point in my life where I decided I wanted to be able to sample the best games on all the platforms. So after a year or so, I bought an Xbox and Panzer Dragoon Orta. And so Xbox became a part of my life. A brilliant-looking one at that.
April 2004 was the first time I decided I should get on Xbox Live. After the ritual of ‘putting a pound in the internet jar’ to play Chu Chu Rocket online on Dreamcast's 33.3kb modem just a couple of years earlier, my parents now had broadband, so it made sense I should take my new toy online and see what the fuss is about. And in many ways, Xbox filled the void left by Dreamcast. The baton had been passed from Sega to Microsoft in terms of online innovation and Xbox Live was simply superb. Even back then, the infrastructure was solid and expansive.
And it blew my mind that I could be racing against people from all over the world in TOCA Race Driver 2, while conversing with them over my headset. It was like a permanent telephone call with everyone on the grid. Someone went off the track and I joked about how someone was selling donuts over there. Someone else laughed and we friended up. These first online friends are still on my friends list today.
I had Halo 2 for Christmas and online play on that took over from the local multiplayer matches I’d been having with my mates (and my dad). And then, owning as I did, a Gamecube too, I would cherry pick the best version of each multiformat game that came out. It was almost always the Xbox one.
PS2 games were fuzzy by comparison. Plus Xbox allowed me to listen to my own music while I played thanks to the on-board hard drive. Sum 41’s ‘Does this look Infected’ now always makes me think of Project Gotham Racing 2 because it was on a loop while I played. Awesome.
Then I got my first proper job, working for my local paper. And I started to review games in print just as Xbox 360 rolled around. I was working as a sub-editor so I put a picture of FIFA 06 in the Entertainment section along with the headline ‘Don’t get too excited’. Why? Because despite Ronaldinho standing on 3D grass at the penalty spot (looking far too good to be true), the game’s beauty was only skin deep. I'm pretty sure this is the exact shot:
And that typified early 360 games, which boldly stepped first into the then-next-gen without really having the resources to fulfil its potential. Dead or Alive 4 was impressive, but not that much of a leap over DOA3. Perhaps because the new generation was here so soon, developers were being asked to make games for it without really understanding what it could do. And games like FIFA dropped a heap of modes and functionality because so much effort was going into making the game look beautiful, there wasn't time to apply this gloss to all the teams and players of the old-gen versions.
But blaze the trail it most certainly did. Incredibly, it had the legs to last the race despite running for a long stint before PS3 joined in in 2006. And the quality soon came thick and fast. If anything, 360 games looked better (and arguably still do in many cases though I know some of my colleagues will disagree) and, as with the previous generation, it was the 360 version I usually wanted to buy.
Part of this was no doubt down to the Achievement system, which rewarded me for doing impressive things. As a naturally competitive person, that suited me perfectly. I would much rather have one hard-to-obtain achievement than simply brag about the volume of them, so when PS3 finally caught up and added trophies, I wasn’t too bothered about amassing the silverware. The two are pretty much interchangeable these days, but I still care more for Achievements. And one day I will get the 'Smile' achievement on Geometry Wars 2. One day.
Xbox and then Xbox 360 have always given me what I want from console gaming. The online play, the downloadable content, the best graphics (for the most part, although Uncharted 2 undoubtedly wins overall), the best third-party support… sure, most of these things are available elsewhere but they're all packaged and delivered so well by 360 (and with far less waiting for update bars to fill up), it's undoubtedly the console that gets the most use in my living room.
It's not perfect, though. Things have slowed down recently in terms of exclusives and I personally really, really dislike Kinect. Which is why I approach the announcement with trepidation. I’m happy to have a media hub in my living room. I like iPlayer and the like. And if MS does want to make Season 5 of Heroes and run it exclusively on Xbox, that’s 100% fine by me. But I want the core gaming machine I know and love to live on through into next-gen. And I want it to be solid from day one this time. No cut-down functionality in early games and definitely no 'red ring of death' shenanigans. I went through the pain of having the latter happen myself myself and it mustn't be repeated.
It has occurred to me while writing this article that I have spent (appropriately) £360 in subscription fees for Xbox Live over the past 9 years. Despite that being as much as a brand new console, I think it's been worth it. And I would do it again. So bring it on, Microsoft. Let’s see you set trends again. Don’t let me down.
What does Xbox mean to you? Let us know in the comments.
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