So I just gave in and bought an Xbox 360. I know, I know... this is a PC site, not a console site. But bare with me. Now there's finally enough of the damn things so that you can go in and just buy one off the shelves without having to spend £500 on ludicrous bundles from Ebay, it seemed like it might be a fun thing to do. With the Easter four-day holiday stretching out ahead of me, I figured I could get some decent time in with the system.
Of course, I reviewed the console back when it launched in the UK in November, so I was familiar with it already. There are many things that have changed in the intervening time, however, that have lead me to assess its capabilities again, and to draw a new comparison to PC gaming. Let me clue you in on my thoughts.
I will start by expressing my newly rediscovered love for gaming. In general, I am not someone who will play anything and everything for the sake of experience: I like to play only the finest of titles, the cream of the crop, because my time is simply too short to indulge in rubbish. I am also not someone that will only play games on the PC - I have been an Xbox owner since day one, I have dabbled with the Gamecube, enjoy my PSP and have even indulged in Mac gaming. Running a website is mostly incompatible with having oodles of leisure time, so the run-of-the-mill titles have to go. However, when something good comes along, I make room for it - I sat down and played Half-Life 2 in the space of a couple of days, and I also played through Halo 2 in a weekend. But those were back in 2004. Last year I felt like there was something of a lack of triple-A titles, and nothing quite grabbed me - yes, there were good games, but nothing that really made me feel like I had to jack everything in and glue myself to my TFT monitor for days on end (well, unless you count World of Warcraft, which I bought, adored, and then promptly had to cancel my subscription to after spending far too much time in Azeroth and not enough time in the office). In fact, I spent a great deal of time in the early part of the year experimenting with the PSP, until the good games for that system dried up too and I swiftly lamented my decision not to buy a Nintendo DS.
But over recent months, we've seen some awesome stuff for the PC. We've reviewed Elder Scrolls and the new Tomb Raider recently and both of those have been absolutely cracking games. Elder Scrolls has so much depth you can barely fathom it, along with some of the most stunning visuals every to grace any platform. Tomb Raider, on the other hand, has a great story and a lot of pick-up-and-playability. And Keeley Hawes doing the voice. Mmm, Keeley.
The arrival of those games has coincided with the arrival of some rather nice hardware. Oblivion makes full use of SLI and CrossFire setups, and I had a rather pleasant gaming experience at 1600x1200 with HDR and AA turned on (thanks to the magic of X1900 CrossFire) with an FX-60 / 2GB rig. Likewise, Tomb Raider - once the stuttering bug was sorted out - was a great looker on 7900 GTX SLI. Sure, it might be thousands of pounds worth of hardware, but if something's worth doing, it's worth doing right - right? Quite apart from the behemoths Tim assembles in the office, I also spent some quality time going back and forth between home and work with an SLI laptop - carrying around doesn't seem like so much of a chore when all you've got to do is lug it to the car and back, and I have gained a new respect for it as a movable gaming system
rather than as a device which has any particular utility on the go.
But picking up the 360 has been something of a revelation for me (aside from being another unwelcome look into the outrageous world of console accessories - £20 for a VGA cable?! £34 for a blinking joypad??!) I got console versions of the two games above and fired them up, just for comparison's sake.
Oblivion looked easily as good as the PC version, and Tomb Raider possibly looked even better. Perhaps it was just the widescreen LCD I was hooked up to, but... damn, isn't this thing £280? You can't even get one
7900 GTX for that, let alone two to put in SLI and then a system to go around it. I know that consoles, when released, are always a step ahead of high-end PC gaming. But not only are they a step ahead now, but PC gaming has gotten so expensive that a brand new console is literally one-sixth the price of a comparable PC.
I also checked out the PC version of Ghost Recon at the weekend, whilst at the i27 LAN. I have to say that it really didn't look as good as the 360 version, which is simply phenomenal. Maybe that will change when we get Aegia's PhysX running on the system, but I will confess to being rather disappointed.
OK, ok, so the two platforms aren't exactly
comparable. You've got to overcome the whole joypad issue for starters. Many people would consider Oblivion with a joypad something of a heresy, even if they accept that Tomb Raider was built for one. Likewise, FPS titles with a joypad are certainly an acquired taste. Well, I can't say it bothers me. It's a different
experience, sure, but I'm not sure it's a worse one.
Then there's the venue. PC games are often played out in bedrooms and studies around the world, whilst console games are usually living room beasts. I personally find living room gaming rather more relaxing. I spend all day in front of a PC, so why not relax somewhere different?
The Xbox Live Arcade has also grabbed me, with some really cool games being out there to download. My personal favourite is Geometry Wars, although I know many who hate it. Another good one is Wik - Fable of Souls, which will have you seeing bugs and grubs in your dreams. Xbox Live itself is an absolute dream to use, and this is one of the major reasons that I'm into the platform. If I want to know when my friends are online and gaming on the PC, I have to run MSN to check they're online and then hope that me messaging them doesn't crash them out of a game - how annoying is it when your game switches out when someone pings you? The friends list on Live is simply genius. I can see when my friends were last online, what they were playing, I can send invites to get them to play with me, I can see when they sign in - regardless of what I'm doing at the time - and the whole experience of hooking up to play together is totally seamless. If only there was something like this for the PC - I'm fed up of spending time trawling server browsers looking for names I recognise.
So the PC has fallen by the wayside for now, and it's Xbox all the way. That's not to say I won't be swayed back - I'm sure that once Episode 1 of Half-Life hits, I'll be straight back in front of my monitor. Likewise, there looks to be some good stuff at E3 this year for the PC - Crysis could well have me captivated and the new Unreal Tournament is sure to be better on the PC than on consoles, purely because I nevertheless stand firm in the belief that no hardcore
FPS action can be had with a joypad. That said, and my PC flag-flying being obvious, I'm hoping that Katamari on the PSP turns out to be as good as on the PS2, and that the Nintendo DS Lite hits the States in time for my trip to E3. 2006 could well be a vintage year for games - both PC and console - and I look forward to being around to witness it, and to cover all the important developments for you guys to read on the site.
We're looking into the possibility of running some Xbox Live and PC Battlefield 2 events with you guys - would you be interested? And do you agree that the 360 is a great bit of kit, or are your PC all the way? Let us know what you think over in the forums.