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Microsoft Xbox Review

New to all this, of course, is Microsoft. Boasting supremacy in the computer software industry (for better or for worse), it seems unseemly to see Microsoft as an underdog, but there it is. While Microsoft’s Xbox is, indeed, the most powerful video game console in the known universe, Xbox has no track record and is essentially starting from scratch; Xbox has everything to prove.

To their credit, the Xbox team is much more technological savvy than your average consumer-tech dabbler: Veritably excessive marketing clout and a goodly amount of software expertise augmented by “in house” game makers acquired for just this venture.

And contrary to the knee-jerk reactionaries, Microsoft did not just enter the console arena like a spoiled rich kid with an over-achieving toy; more like a spoiled rich kid with a patient plot to dominate the globe, in due time.

The Xbox team has no delusions as to the pains of console infancy and the angst of rearing a new technology, as illustrated by the recent modification of roll-out numbers, down from 600,000+ to 300,000 for launch (but boldly upping the end-of-holiday units to 1.1 – 1.5 million units). There is no sense of panic, however. Hiccups and snarls are (apparently) routine at Microsoft; they still end up dominating at the end of the day.

And while many market analysts are already predicting failure for this “800 Pound Gorilla,” it’s important to remember that Sony also entered the market as an underdog back in 1995 with the original PlayStation, endured a lacklustre launch and then went on to quietly take the world by storm. Microsoft took notes. Then again, Sony also dropped the ball with the PlayStation2 in an ominously similar production number fiasco. Still, it can be done and it can be done well.

Xbox Pros:

Xbox performance specifications are double or triple that of the competition. Simply put, Xbox is so powerful (by console standards) as to be verging on ludicrous. Beyond raw horsepower, programming games for Xbox is a familiar affair to games developers. Hence, it’s an instant darling to the digital artisans cooking up gameplay schemes of unmatched scope and vision.

The inclusion of a 10GB hard drive – a console first – enables large and elaborate games to be played continuously (if desired), with no perceivable level-changes, stops, load-times or transition periods within the game. With a hard drive, Xbox game characters and environments can be truly dynamic, with random or non-linear appearances and occurrences that will be different for each player, depending on what they do or where they go. Plot and play need not be “pre-determined.” As an innate feature, developers are already designing hard drive harmonized games, a key “out-of-the-box” enticement.

The inclusion of a Broadband Adapter means that game developers are also programming for high-speed, online-multiplayer capabilities – which includes voice-over-net communications between players around the globe. Internet-readiness puts Xbox far ahead of the competition. Nintendo and Sony have made Internet connectivity a peripheral option, but game designers are reluctant to develop games that require an add-on component, which makes the consumers reluctant to purchase such add-ons; a Catch 22 scenario that Xbox avoids altogether.

Xbox will not play DVD movies “out of the box” but will employ an optional wireless remote control to enable that function (it’s DVD movie “ready”). Opting instead to include a hard disc and Ethernet port gives the Xbox greater effectiveness as a game console and no effectiveness as a cheap DVD movie player – unless you think you need one.

While it took a while to get its legs, a great many – if not most – game developers now unashamedly praise the Xbox. This is of key significance when one considers that previous consoles known to be programming nightmares either suffered mediocre content or failed completely.

Xbox Cons:

Not all consumers are as enthused about Xbox as the developers making their games – certainly not the Nintendo loyalists and their parents that actually buy them stuff. Xbox is often ill perceived as merely a PC that plugs into a TV. By definition, this can be said of all consoles, but the Microsoft name is so strongly associated with PC software, Operating System monopolies and nerds-in-suits that the distinction between cutting-edge video game console and “computer-game-player -product-1.0” is ambiguous.

Xbox has what appears to be a strong line-up of “killer-app” games ready for retail simultaneously with the console. However, PlayStation2 and GameCube titles look equally delightful – and those console manufactures have already proven themselves as killer-content providers in the past; they’re known, trusted even. As a newcomer to the console arena, Xbox’s might as a hardware device is directly offset by the unproven quality of its software content.

Peeling off the undeniable awesomeness of Xbox graphics and animation capabilities leaves Xbox games looking suspiciously similar to gorgeous games already available on the PC and, occasionally, on other consoles. Though the Xbox team is cautiously limiting the “launch ready” content to include an eclectic variety of spellbinding games in key genres, long term quality consistency is paramount, which is why many consumers will simply wait until Xbox builds a foundation of solid might or, as the case may be, simply founders.

Conclusion:

The mighty Xbox will succeed. The Xbox team is well aware of the processes involved in launching a new technology. They don’t expect to dominate immediately, merely to sell in appreciable numbers, steadily, over a long period of time. Xbox is neither a market phenomenon nor a box of unfulfilled promises. It is simply a supercharged console with guts of grand utility. It is the long-sought attainment of the “next level” of video games, as bold and as beautiful as can be expected at a reasonable price point.

Score:
A sure-fire superconsole.
9/10

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