[Firstly let me wish you all a Happy New Year and all the best for 2006. My blog has been very slow recently - I'd like to blame the arrival of my Xbox 360 but as it only turned up last week that's not going to work. I've been busy doing lots of "stuff" and haven't been putting pen to paper. But now marks a change and I expect to be having my say at lot more frequently in future. Anyway...]
Xbox 360 - What a waste of time!
And boy could I waste a lot of time playing it! Having got in there a little late with my pre-order and therefore missed out for Christmas, there was still no end in sight in early Jan. Fortunately Argos came up trumps as some Premiums came on their web-site last Tuesday. I placed an order for delivery on Thursday and sure enough it turned up as promised. Thank you Argos!
Set up was a piece of cake and it's a nice touch to include batteries with everything (controller and remote) so I could be up and running straight away. Switched to HDTV output (still not certain what's optimal for my Samsung LCD telly but the settings I've chosen look pretty good to me) powered up from the wireless controller and was presented with a beautiful Xbox 360 splash screen followed by a nice, easy to use dashboard. Transferred my Xbox live membership across (again, very simple) and I was ready to play.
PGR2 ranked alongside Halo / Halo 2 as my favourite games on Xbox so it was straight out with PGR3 to see how it compared. Well the titles and menus were a little disappointing but the gameplay, choice of cars and tracks and new challenges didn't disappoint. How far I'll go with the solo game I don't know as I spent most of my time in PGR2 online. It wasn't long before I ventured online with PGR3 as well. The racing is terrific, the visuals are just incredible and as always, racing against human opponents really gets your heart pumping. Inevitably, I think the etiquette of playing online has gone downhill. Both being accused of cheating (I'm sorry but I can't help it if you clip my rear quarter and I fish-tail out of control and take you out in the process - it wasn't intentional and I lost out in the process!) and cheating itself (the people who shunt you in the rear just as you're approaching a corner at optimum speed are the lowest of the low. You're in the barrier; they're slowed to the perfect speed to drift round the corner leaving you in a crumpled pile of metal). I suppose this is inevitable and the lesson is to play with people you know and take the time to rate people's reputations - both good and bad.
Online play seemed a little different - the persistent lobby concept (where you return to the same lobby with the same players over and over) seems to have gone but then I was playing online career mode. Maybe it still exists in another online mode. I've not really had time to explore it that much yet but what I have seen has been fantastic.
I was interested in the Media Center experience so I connected to my Media Center machine (a download is required to make this work - the dashboard provides instructions). Before I did anything I was amazed my Media Center detected the Xbox 360 and re-directed me to the right download page. Again, all installed without incident and I now have full access to my MCE from the Xbox (frankly not that useful to me right now as the two sit about a metre apart but ideally I'd like to move the MCE machine somewhere else in the flat. That'll need to wait until we get a bigger place though!).
Finally my girlfriend got fed up listening to the PGR3 soundtrack and wanted to listen to her own music. Connecting my Creative Zen Micro was a doddle - it just worked and I could select albums to play from within PGR3. Connecting her iPod proved a little more troublesome (some tracks wouldn't play) until we found the iPod download in the Xbox marketplace (it's a free download). Hey presto all was fine. (You can't play DRM'd tracks such as those downloaded from iTunes but all the other tracks now played perfectly). And for both Creative Zen and iPod you get access to artist / album info as well as playlists on the device. I never bothered ripping my own CDs to do this on the original Xbox but it's so easy to plug an MP3 player into the 360 I'll be listening to my own tunes while racing from now on.
All in all, just incredible. I wish I'd got my pre-order in earlier and now I've got one I'm not disappointed. I couldn't be happier. What a waste of time this is going to be!!!
[Update: A few people have contacted me about how to get the iPod working with the 360. Have a look at the following links: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/909154/en-us and http://www.xbox.com/en-US/support/systemuse/xbox360/digitalmedia/ipod.htm]