We've been playing around with the New Xbox Experience for the Xbox 360 for a while now, testing out the "Blades" interface replacement that goes live Nov. 19 to every console owner. In short, the NXE is an impressive improvement, removing much of the unnecessary visual clutter that was present in the Xbox 360's original interface. It's faster, easier on the eyes and better organized — a good thing, considering the update is mandatory. After updating to the New Xbox Experience, we were presented with an intro video welcoming us to the change that was impressively rendered, but of highly questionable worth. It did little to inform us about the updated interface, but as eye candy it was cute. We moved on to Avatar creation, also a mandatory step.The Xbox 360 will greet you with ten pre-made Avatars of both sexes that you can choose from. If you don't see one you like, hit X to randomize another set of ten. We opted to customize one that looked a little more personal. That proved to be a bit of a challenge, as capturing your own look is more difficult than we had expected. Avatars are of higher fidelity than their Mii predecessors, making a recognizable caricature of yourself difficult. You'll be able to customize your Avatar's hair, eyes, eyebrows, nose, ears, mouth, chin, body type and skin color. You'll also be able to add freckles, beauty marks and, curiously, face paint in camo, skull or tiger patterns. There are some very odd choices here. For instance, the Avatar will burp when the right analog stick is pressed in. Huh? At first blush, however, the wild liberties Wii owners took with Miis to re-create celebrities and fictional characters seems to be mostly unattainable by Avatars. My Prince Leia and Homer Simpson were rather sad doppelgangers of what they were modeled after.
You'll also be able to pick out your Avatar's clothes, but from a frustratingly limited set. There's plenty of Xbox-themed stuff to choose from, like boots, jerseys, tees and sneakers, but you aren't given the option to modify colors, sizes or decals. Your stock choices feel bland, soon-to-be-dated or grossly out of fashion. In the end, the clothing and body choices we had made resulted in a very hate-worthy Avatar. It reflected the worst of our real-life style and made me wonder "Do I look like that much of a d-bag in real life?" (We later opted to drop recreating our own look and clothing. It was simply too hard to look at.) You can then save your Avatar, as well as a few sets of outfits, to the hard drive. You then have the option to take a photo of your virtual self and use it as your Gamer Picture, should you choose to do so. Fortunately, the method for doing all this stuff is mostly straightforward, even if the Avatar customization interface isn't as elegant as the rest of the NXE.
Should you ever want to change your Avatar, you can do so under the My Xbox series of folders. This is where you'll view your music, photo, and video libraries, alter your profile and system settings, or view content from a Windows Media Center. You'll also play and install disc-based games from the My Xbox area. You'll also be able to view game details, Achievements and see what Xbox Live Marketplace content is available for the in-drive disc. We installed Dead Space to the hard drive in just about 10 minutes, deleted it in a few seconds. Just for kicks, we tested a few original Xbox titles that still aren't supported by Xbox 360 backward compatibility. Neither Otogi nor Gunvalkyrie worked, so our hopes for a stealth BC update with NXE were dashed. Overall, we're impressed by our first spin through the New Xbox Experience, even if Avatars feel limited and awkward, more of an excuse for microtransaction fashion relief than a new exciting feature. Keep checking back as we explore all the changes in the Xbox 360's new look and feel.