The Xbox and I, revisited

Long time readers may remember my brief excursion into the world of the Xbox back in 2004, when I bought a limited edition Crystal Xbox in order to sell at a profit only to discover that they had been re-issued and I was lucky to get my money back at all. Back then, the Xbox platform held no interest for me, with its library appearing to consist almost entirely of shooting and driving games, and the online aspect didn’t hold any appeal either. Fast forward to the present day, and we find me adding an Xbox 360 Elite to my ever-changing collection of consoles.

I’d resisted buying an Xbox 360 for a long time; hardware issues never seemed to be out of the news, with consoles erupting into terrible flaming death as soon as they were taken out of the box. Gaming forums were awash with advice on how best to care for your Xbox 360 as if it was a frail, demented, urine-soaked relative – keep it in a well-ventilated area; consider suspending the power supply over an empty cardboard box so that one side of it wasn’t smouldering in the deep shag; make sure the console was kept upright/horizontal at all times (opinions on that one tended to go both ways); in the event of the Red Rings of Death, try wrapping the console entirely in towels and leave it on for a while; check the wattage of the PSU as that could reveal hints about which chipset the console was using; try and get hold of one with the quieter BenQ DVD drive…it went on, and on, and on, and I thought “This is bullshit.”

Why were people so tolerant of this? You’d read about people on their fourth or fifth Xbox and wonder what on earth they were doing to the damn things, and why they didn’t think it was an issue. People would take decibel readings of the fans and disk drives and they’d take temperature readings and publish them online for comparison like this was a normal thing to do with your console.

That said, things have been much quieter on the hardware failure front since Microsoft woke up and threw money at the problem. An opportunity arose to pick up the ‘Elite’ model for £150, I was going through a bit of a gaming drought at the time, and the Xbox library had diversified enough to attract the likes of me so I took the plunge.

If I hadn’t known of the hardware issues beforehand, I probably could have guessed. Really, the whole thing feels like it’s going to fall apart every time I touch it. It sweats cheapness from every pore, from the under-sensitive touch-sensitive power switch that needs me to push the console back a few millimetres each time I use it to the DVD drive that rattles nervously out of its holding like it’s been taken out of a seven-year-old PC; from the power supply that’s bigger than the Wii to the conspicuous absence of any built in WiFi.

I thought the machine was loud, but no louder than, say, my Dreamcast, until I actually bought a physical disk to put in it and then the thing sounded like a fucking hovercraft; fortunately you can now install games to the hard drive so its no longer an issue but I don’t know how I’d have coped beforehand – put the console in another room, maybe, and hope that the wireless controllers would stretch that far? I suddenly understood why people were posting decibel readings; as soon as the disc spun up I wanted to invite friends over to marvel at the thing like it was John Merrick; step up, step up, ladies and gentlemen, step right up! Be amazed, be dazed, be tearful and be fearful of the CONSOLE THAT SOUNDS LIKE AN ELEPHANT!

I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!

Still. In its short time in my flat it’s settled in quite happily, and has already gained more use than the PS2 that I owned for seven months and never really liked. So far I’ve played, completed and generally enjoyed the unfairly-maligned Mirror’s Edge, I’ve blitzed through Beautiful Katamari and concluded that I may as well have just stuck with the free demo, I’ve whizzed through Portal and, whilst I loved the script and the concept and the voice work, felt that it was far too easy, and am currently working my way through Half-Life 2, a game that holds a special place in my heart due to fond memories of the original Half-Life, a game which I played during my first year at university and which demonstrated to me that you could have a cinematic, story-driven experience in a first-person shooter even though to progress through it meant killing everything you saw right in the face. There’s a whole host of downloadable games and extra content I plan to get just as soon as this ‘recession’ thing has passed by and we can all get back to being mindless consumers once again.

I also need to get Fable 2. This is something that needs to happen.

Obviously I’m not using the console like a typical Xbox owner would. I allowed my Xbox Live Gold membership to lapse to Silver as soon as my free trial had ended. I’ve yet to play any game online and the headset that came with the console remains in its plastic wrap. I have still never played a Halo game. I have turned off the ‘Achievement Unlocked!’ notification messages that kept interrupting me. I’m only going to be online at all due to spotting a wireless adaptor for £35 on Amazon this weekend; I wasn’t going to pay the RRP of £60 for one, nor was I going to lay down several hundredweight of ethernet cable across my flat as if I was trying to telegraph someone in New York.

The console doesn’t fit at all with my minimalist aesthetic but it does, at least, have enough games of interest to me to justify its purchase. But I do worry, every time I turn it on, that this time will be the time it chooses to explode in my face. Still, at least it would be something else to write about.