The Xbox 360 was the first of the current generation of home consoles to launch, all the way back in 2005. If you haven't decided to buy one by now, is there any reason to buy one, well, now? [UPDATED for the holiday season of video games.]
Consider this guide our formal advice on whether you should buy an Xbox 360 or not, and if you do, which games you should get.
[This post was last updated on November 23, 2010 and will be updated if events, news, games, prices or acts of nature cause our opinion to change.]
If I Don't Own A Console, Should I Buy An Xbox 360 Now? ANSWER UPDATED, 11/23/10
Yes.. When we last updated this guide in late September, we advised people to hold off on buying a 360. The hyped but unproven Kinect sensor was forthcoming, with specially-priced Kinect-360 bundles promised for November. Without being able to ascertain whether Kinect was going to be a must-purchase this holiday season we had to tell people to wait.
That has changed.
The Xbox 360 is an undeniably top-caliber gaming console. We recommend getting one in order to enjoy both its exclusive games and if you need support for a great array of third-party games. What we can't recommend yet, however, is Kinect, an impressive piece of technology that lacks a must-own game.
But What If I've Already Got A PS3? Should I Buy One Now? ANSWER UPDATED, 11/23/10
No. Most games are released on both systems, most play (and look) just fine on both systems, and most of the important multimedia capabilities (Netflix, movie stores & DVD playback) are available on both, so unless you really want to play an exclusive series like Halo or Fable, you should be fine with just a PlayStation 3.
The on-demand ESPN service is slated for the Xbox 360. No word of it coming to the PS3.
Kinect may be a big differentiator down the line, since there are no signs of PS3 getting audio-visual technology beyond its current PlayStation Eye camera/mic, but Kinect is too unproven to demand you double up on purchases yet.
Be warned, PS3 owners, the 360 has a nasty habit of grabbing timed downloadable content exclusives, as they did with the expansions to Fallout 3 and Call of Duty: Black Ops. But those eventually tend to make it to PS3s too.
But What If I've Already Got A Wii? Should I Buy One Now?ANSWER UPDATED, 11/23/10
Yes. The Wii excels in certain roles, like Nintendo titles and social games, but is severely lacking in just about everything else, from sports games to role-playing games to shooters to action titles. It's also missing DVD playback, high definition support, true surround sound and a capable online network.
The Xbox 360 has all those, so in many ways would be an "upgrade".
And if you don't care about any of those things, and just want to have fun with friends? Kinect is a motion controller that doesn't need a controller, and will usher in a whole new range of party games to replace Wii Sports and...Wii Sports Resort. See that strikethrough? That's us saying nothing in the Kinect launch line-up comes close to the magnificence of the Wii Sports games.
What Else Does It Do Besides Gaming? ANSWER UPDATED, 11/23/10
The Xbox 360 is home to a wide variety of non-gaming applications, from entertainment to social networking. The Netflix movie streaming service is probably the most useful, though Microsoft's own video marketplace allows you to store movies to your hard drive for more convenient viewing.
Music can be played via the Last.FM service, and users can access both Twitter and Facebook through their console. The Xbox 360 can also play DVDs, and if you've got a Windows PC with Media Center, you can connect the two so you can watch videos, play music and browse photos. In fact, it does just about everything you'd want it to do except browse the internet (the 360 is the only console this generation, handhelds included, to not at some stage include an internet browser).
The Xbox 360 offers live and on demand sporting events via a new ESPN3 service, though beware that it is only available in regions where the web channel is supported by Internet Service Providers. (Scroll to the link included in the answer to the first question of this ESPN3 FAQ for a pop-up window that will help you determine if you're in an ESPN 3 area.)
As of October 2010, the console also now supports the AT&T U-Verse streaming TV service, which requires a separate paid subscription.
If I'm Going To Buy An Xbox 360, Which One Should I Get? ANSWER UPDATED, 11/23/10
We give our highest recommendation to the Xbox 360 250 GB system which is bundled for the holidays with the acclaimed racing game Forza 3 and a voucher to download the excellent psychological thriller Alan Wake. That bundle runs $299.99.
While we don't recommend Kinect, not yet for its standalone price of $149.99 (bundled with the game Kinect Adventures), if you are an early adopter who must have the latest technology, then shell out for the full $399.99 bundle with comes with a 250GB system, Kinect and its bundled game. But if you are an early adopter, you already have an Xbox 360!
We do not recommend the 4GB version of the Xbox 360, which contains too little on-board memory for the kinds of experiences we recommend with the console. If you want to download movies, install games (for quieter disc-drive operation) or simply download some of the ever-larger games on offer (the "arcade" release of the new Lara Croft game exceeds 2GB, for example), then you need the console with lots of room.
This June, Microsoft unveiled a new, smaller Xbox 360 that sports a 250GB HDD and built-in Wi-Fi. Priced at US$299. In July the company debuted another new model using the same body as the slim but with 4GB of memory instead of a hard drive for $199. Both are currently in stores. However, the older models will also work with Kinect. We want to spare you from shelling out $129.99 for the standalone 250GB hard drive on the day you realize your 4GB 360 doesn't have enough space.
You can also find the newer model Xbox 360 in bundles, including a Halo: Reach bundle with a silver 250GB console and controller.
All "slim" Xbox 360s, any sold since June, include a built-in Wi-Fi adapter, something earlier chunky 360s did not.
The older versions of the Xbox 360 can still be found at some retailers in limited quantities, though the lack of built-in Wi-Fi in both the Elite and Arcade models plus the limited storage space (256MB) in the Arcade model makes them tough to recommend. If you really want an Xbox 360 on a tight budget, refurbished consoles can be found for as low as $110, but be prepared to pay extra for a wireless adapter and hard drive in order to get the full experience.
Oh, and if you are upgrading from an older model of the 360, do note that your old harddrive will not fit into your new unit. You can transfer your data with a $20 "data migration kit," but you'll be using a new drive.
What About Kinect? NEW QUESTION ADDED, 11/23/10
The Xbox 360's much-hyped $150 Kinect sensor is a one-of-its kind device that hooks up to any model of the console empowers the user to control select games and Xbox experiences with gestures and voice — no touching of anything required.
What Microsoft has delivered is the experience of being able to drive a racing game just by holding your hands out like you're holding an imaginary steering wheel or voice-commanding the Zune video marketplace through the special Kinect wing of the dashboard.
The tech is amazing, and, as we said in our Kinect review, it works. As we also said in our review, it's something you can wait for. Launch games have not blown us away, and while the dance game from the makers of Rock Band, Dance Central, and a cute pet game called Kinectimals are neat demonstrations of Kinect's potential, there is no Wii Sports or Halo, for that matter, in the launch line-up. That is forgivable since most major gaming tech launches without a must-own game (see the Nintendo DS as an example or the 360 itself).
The experience should be worth it in the long run, if Microsoft supports it. Right now Kinect lacks the great games — and its integration into the Xbox 360 dashboard is too limited (no voice-controlled Netflix, for example) — for us to say you've gotta have it yet. To study up on Kinect, check out big Kinect launch blow-out which has all the reviews, test videos and write-ups you could want.
All Kinects are bundled with a copy of Kinect Adventures, an enjoyable mini-game compilation.
And, yes, the rumors are true: if you don't have at least 6-8 free feet of space in front of your TV and a wide berth, Kinect will not work in your house. Trust us, we tested it.
Wait, I Have To Pay Extra For Xbox Live? Is This Worth It? ANSWER UPDATED, 11/23/10
Yes, you have to pay to use Xbox Live. Sure, signing up is free, but if you don't have a "Gold" subscription, you can't play online, can't rent Netflix movies, and sometimes can't even download a game demo on the day it comes out. This may come as a sucker punch to those who have budgeted for just the console and a game or two, especially since it costs $60.
You're mad if you don't pay it, though. While it sucks it's a "hidden cost", the benefits you gain from paying, not to mention the features and stability Microsoft's online network is able to provide, make it worth it. And if you're savvy, you can find retailers selling the "$60" subscriptions for a lot less.
The normal price of a year of Xbox Live was $50 until November 1, 2010, when the price raises to $60.
What Are The Best Games On The Xbox 360? ANSWER UPDATED, 11/23/10
Tough question, as the Xbox 360 has arguably the strongest software lineup on the market. Shooters are the console's specialty, with classic titles ranging from the futuristic (Halo: Reach) to the underwater (BioShock) to those where chainsaws are as important as firearms (Gears of War 2) and those whose popularity has helped define the console itself (Modern Warfare). Those after something with a little more room to move can try Grand Theft Auto IV, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Red Dead Redemption or Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
(You could do worse than checking our Holiday 2010 Xbox Gift Guide, which includes our 10 must-get games on the platform for the year.)
There's plenty more to choose from, though, from Japanese role-playing games (Lost Odyssey) to sports games (FIFA 10) to zombie survival challenges (Dead Rising). Epic quests (Fable II, Mass Effect 2), driving games (Forza 3) and old-time arcade thrills (Pac-Man Championship Edition: DX, Castle Crashers) can also be found.
Which Ones Are Worst? ANSWER UPDATED, 11/23/10
Since the 360 has great games in just about every genre, there's no entire swathe of games you should be looking out for. And because it's never been the "in" console, it hasn't been flooded with shovelware like the PS2 or Wii were. Kids titles are usually found lacking, though, perhaps because the console struggles with a "core gamer" stereotype, and "party" games have had similar problems.
Beware also of the many rough games in the Kinect launch line-up. We highly recommend you keep an eye on reviews for those games, including, we humbly suggest, our own.
So I've Bought A 360...What Should My First Three Games Be? ANSWER UPDATED, 9/29/10:
1) Halo: Reach, because it's the highly polished and refined swan song for the franchise that launched a million Xbox consoles.
2) Dead Rising, because it's like no other game to have come before it, or since. We prefer it to its 2010 sequel.
3) Grand Theft Auto IV, because it's more than a game; it's a living, breathing caricature of New York City, and you can lose yourself in its alleys and plazas for months on end.
What About Downloadable Games? ANSWER UPDATED, 11/23/10
There are several ways you can get new games for your 360 without getting up from your couch. Provided you're online, you can purchase shorter, smaller games from Xbox Live Arcade, try out independently-developed titles from Xbox Live Indie Games (try anything on there made by Radiangames, for starters) or revisit your youth (or your parent's youth) in the Game Room, which offers classic arcade titles for download.
Some of the better games available from these include Braid, Castle Crashers, Limbo, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Toy Soldiers, Shadow Complex, Chime, Geometry Wars and Inside Lacrosse College Lacrosse.
Full, retail titles (like the ones you buy in a store) are also available for download from the Games on Demand Marketplace, though be warned, prices can often be higher than those you'd pay for a physical copy.
What's Wrong With The Xbox 360?ANSWER UPDATED, 11/23/10
Older models were notorious for breaking down, and while any console manufactured these days should be fine, it's a stigma that will plague the Xbox 360 for the rest of its shelf life. It also means you'll want to avoid buying a pre-owned console that was manufactured before, oh, let's be safe and say 2009. It can also get a bit noisy at times.
Those reliant on wi-fi for their internet should avoid older models and stick to the slimline release, otherwise they will have an Xbox 360 that requires a pricey add-on to connect to wireless Internet. This is a non-issue with all new Xboxes being sold.
Are There Any Hidden Costs? ANSWER UPDATED, 11/23/10
The $60 Xbox Live Gold subscription is a hidden cost, since it's almost mandatory. You'll want at least one extra controller, and they retail for $50 (though you can normally find them online for around $30-40). And you'll definitely want rechargeable battery packs, which depending on whether you opt for official or third-party solutions will cost you $10-20 each.
Note that the price of a year of Xbox Live rose to $60 on November 1, 2010.
Fighting game fans eager to play Super Street Fighter IV or the upcoming Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 on the Xbox 360 might also consider the new transforming Xbox 360 controller a hidden cost, as the new raised directional pad is almost a requirement for fighting games.
But Wait, Won't The 360 Be Replaced Soon?
ANSWER UPDATED, 7/6/10:
Aside from the Xbox 360s sold bundled with Kinect, we don't forsee any major new console changes coming to the Xbox 360 any time soon. With Sony moving the harddrive-size arms race up to 320GB, we could still see growing hard-drives, but the hardware designs of the 360 are likely to stick to the June 2010 redesign for quite some time.
Essential Facts About The Xbox 360
Released in 2005
The Xbox 360 is a home video game console sold by Microsoft. Its key gaming features are high definition graphics, surround sound and the ability to play with or against other people over the internet. Its key multimedia features are the ability to network with a Windows PC to share movies, music and photos, a partnership with Netflix that allows subscribers to stream movies and TV shows and DVD playback.
Microsoft has attempted to sell the Xbox 360 as a family console, however the vast majority of games released for the system are targeted at 18-40 year-old males. The impending release of Kinect should change that.
Currently Available Models: Xbox 360 250GB slimline, currently bundled — for a limited time, we think — with Forza 3 and a download code for Alan Wake ($299), Xbox 360 4GB Slimline ($199), Xbox 360 250GB Slimline bundled with Kinect and Kinect Adventures ($399), Xbox 360 4GB Slimline bundled with Kinect and Kinect Adventures ($299)
Price of New Games: $40-60
Discount Line of Games: Xbox 360 Platinum Hits ($10-30)
Need more shopping advice? Take a look at Kotaku's other video game hardware buyer's guides.