The Video Game Critic presents the

Microsoft Xbox 360


Xbox 360 system
Launch Date: November 22, 2005
Manufacturer: Microsoft
Format: Optical disc
Controller ports: 0 (wireless)
Save capability: Hard disk/memory card
Video output: HDMI/component/composite
Initial price: $299 (core), $399 (hard disk)

The original Xbox established Microsoft as a serious player in the console industry by targeting "hardcore" and PC gamers. The Xbox 360 was the first of the new wave of consoles, with an affordable $299 price tag.

The system got off to a fast start. Its high definition graphics proved to be a substantial improvement over the previous generation, and its wireless controllers were also well-received. Like the original Xbox, the system's library catered to mature, sophisticated gamers with titles like Call of Duty 2, Full Auto, Perfect Dark Zero, and Project Gotham 3. Microsoft also placed a lot of emphasis on online play, and its Xbox Live service would soon emerge as the premiere online gaming destination.

The Xbox 360 was a fantastic gaming system but its rise was hindered on two fronts. The first was the launch of the Nintendo Wii in November 2006. Short on technology but long on fun, the Wii caught the industry off-guard with its innovative controls and family-friendly games. With everyone and their mother buying a Wii (literally), it was difficult for Microsoft to win over "the living room" audience.

More devastating was an epidemic of catastrophic system failures. Due to a design flaw Xbox 360 consoles would typically break down after about three years of use. This failure was manifested in the infamous "red ring of death". As a result, in 2008 Microsoft was forced to contend with a deluge of defective systems.

In an unprecedented damage control effort, Microsoft extended the warranty on all Xbox 360's to an unprecedented three years. Within that period Microsoft would repair the systems for free and even covered shipping charges. It was said to cost the company a billion dollars when all was said and done, but necessary if Microsoft wanted to retain credibility in the market it had fought so hard to establish. Remarkably, Microsoft would recover from this.

In 2010 Microsoft launched its Kinect motion-sensing technology, allowing the player's body to function as a controller. This innovative peripheral was a big hit, launching a series of family-friendly games that stole much of Nintendo's thunder. The Wii was fading fast (largely due to its lack of high definition), and the Playstation 3 never proved itself to be any more than a more-expensive 360. As the generation came to a close the Xbox 360 found itself as the default console of choice and best all-around system.

Xbox 360 upright
Xbox 360 standing upright

Aesthetics: A. This console is very easy on the eyes thanks to its soft white coloring and smooth, contoured shape. It can be situated upright or on its side. The front edge is uncluttered, with panels covering unused ports. Pressing the eject button reveals a plastic disc tray. A four-quadrant circular green light indicates not only if the system is powered, but also what controllers are attached.

Functionality: A-. This console was designed to play games, which it does very well. Games tend to load fast, look great in HD, and few require installation. The hard drive is ideal for storing save data and downloaded titles. The system is backwards compatible with most original Xbox titles.

The system originally lacked a wireless network interface, and buying one could run you $100. Fortunately newer models came with built-in wireless capabilities. The system's on-line service, Xbox Live, was the best of its kind but charged a yearly fee.

There are two memory card ports, a controller sync button, and two USB ports. The system also has an oversized power supply that is the size of a brick! Fortunately you can tuck it out of view, as it resides down the power cord.

Reliability: F. There has never been a less reliable system in the history of consoles than the Xbox 360. Just about every unit produced in the first three years of the system's lifecycle had to be repaired after exhibiting the red ring of death. Microsoft addressed this problem swiftly and effectively, but the damage had been done. Fortunately it appears that Microsoft has learned its lesson, as subsequent iterations of the console seem to be fairly stable.

Noise: F. The console is loud as hell. Sit too close and you may feel as if you're playing in a wind tunnel.

Call of Duty: Black Ops
Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)

Graphics: A. Like the PS3, the Xbox 360 offers sharp, high-definition graphics. Most gamers would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between games played on this console and the Playstation 3.

Xbox 360 controller
Xbox 360 controllers

Controllers: B+. The Xbox 360 controllers are big, solid, and molded to your hands. I like how it feels like you're holding something substantial. The button design builds upon lessons of the past. The four action (face) buttons assume the popular diamond configuration, and those confusing black and white buttons (from the original Xbox controllers) have been axed.

The center of the controller features a glowing green "X" button which indicates your controller number and also lets you access system menus. The select and start buttons are located on either side of the X, but the start button is too close to the main buttons. During hectic games (like fighters) it's easy to hit pause by mistake.

The back of the controller features a pair of normal "bumpers" on top and handy triggers underneath. The controller requires 2 AA batteries, which last approximately 15-20 hours. A charger is available, but in my experience the rechargeable battery packs don't hold a charge very well.

Xbox 360 game box
Xbox 360 game packaging

Media: B. Xbox 360 games come on optical discs.

Packaging: C. The 360 boxes are green like the old Xbox packaging, but the plastic is translucent. The boxes feel a little cheap, and the "eco-friendly" models are flimsy. Disposable packaging is not ideal to store a disc that could (in theory) last hundreds of years. Worse yet, in recent years unscrupulous publishers (like Electronic Arts) have stopped including instruction manuals, which is a total rip-off.

Sega Rally Revo
Sega Rally Revo (2006)

Pack-In Game: None.

Launch Titles: C. Its 18-title launch lineup was uninspired. Would you believe me if I told you 14 of them were sequels? Granted, Call of Duty 2, Amped 3, and Perfect Dark Zero provided substantial action for early adopters.

Library: A-. The Xbox 360 boasts the largest, most diverse library of its generation. While leaning heavily toward mature titles, first-person shooters, and realistic driving simulators, there is really something for everyone.

For third-party publishers the Xbox 360 has become the system of choice. Sports games are especially popular due to the system's realistic graphics and unbeatable on-line play. The Kinect family of games provide family-oriented fun to help fill that void.

Bioshock Revo (2007)

Collectibility: B+. Despite its reliability issues, the 360 emerged as the premiere system of its generation. The controllers are rock solid and the game selection is huge. Complete games can be acquired at very low prices.

Pros and Cons:
+ Sexy design
+ Vast library
+ Fast loading
- Noisy as hell
- Poor reliability track record
- Cheap packaging

Next: Playstation 3 Console Review

Check for Xbox 360 systems on Amazon

Find on eBay, Amazon

Xbox 360 Game Reviews

Console Review Index