Back in love with the XBox 360

My XBox 360 is back in full action after going through a lull in usage for the past few months. Firstly, it has been promoted up to main DVD player in the lounge after my Denon player became a bit too unreliable. As such it seemed like a good time to grab the HD-DVD drive add-on, especially given the fact that they’ve become more available of late.

The drive itself has been reviewed elsewhere, including over at Pete’s blog. Linked up to my Sharp Aquos 32″ LCD I’ve not been wowed by a sudden increase in quality from normal viewing distance. This is most probably down to have a relatively small screen. Afterall, normal DVDs look very good on it in the first place. Once you get close up then the extra HD resolution does show, and things like graphics and titles are obviously crisper. In short though I imagine you only really see the benefit once you get up to larger screen sizes, and especially if your display does native 1080p. One thing I have meant to do is swap back from the VGA cable to component to see what difference that makes.

As for HD-DVD software, I currently have Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift, The Departed and Full Metal Jacket. All are impressive transfers, and the special features are notably better than DVD, both in terms of being (mostly) available in HD themselves and also in the overall integration into the viewing experience. You can bring a menu up in-movie to select scenes and enable/disable extras. Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift does especially well here with things like GPS map displays during the race scenes.

On the game side, two titles have really caught my attention. Crackdown is a simply superb sandbox roam-anywhere type of game with an interesting take on growing your characters super-human powers. Like most of these games the more OCD side of me tends to come to the fore as I spend more time trying to find the agility and hidden orbs to maximise my powers than I do actually following the storyline. The control system is very good, with very quick weapon swops making it easy to jump, fire a rocket then switch to rifle to polish off any survivors from the tanker you just blew up. All in all a great game.

Guitar Hero 2 on the other hand is a game that really, really benefits from the achievement system and leaderboards which you get with XBox Live. I bought and played the original GH on PS2 and whilst it gained my interest enough to get through the easy mode I quickly lost interest. Sure, it came out for the odd social gaming session with friends, but otherwise it gathered dust. GH2 however is a different beast. As a number of friends have it I am compelled to try and match or better their achievements or scores. For instance I noticed that my friend Dave had gained an achievement for getting a song 100% note perfect. This I had to match, to the point where I spent 90 minutes last night trying to get it on Foo Fighters’ Monkey Wrench. Not the easiest song, but one I love and know well. The middle eight kept biting me and ended up in that constant restart situation which gamers know and love. In fact, it was even more compulsive than trying to complete the cone challenges on Project Gotham Racing. That “just one more go” type of gaming experience at it’s very best.

With the Halo 3 beta and Forza 2 on the horizon, it looks like the ‘Box will be getting a lot more use. Hopefully I’ll get back in front of Ian on gamerscore. And just to think my day-one XBox is still going strong with not so much as a hiccup!

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