In the two years since its launch, Microsoft's second-generation Xbox has sold around 13.5 million units worldwide and currently boasts the largest software line-up of all the new home consoles. The new HDMI enabled Arcade pack which replaces the old Core system keeps the entry level below Â£200, the Premium and Elite systems offer higher end options at Â£249 and Â£299, and between them Microsoft has every reason to expect a bumper Christmas.
Everyone knows that the 360 has its issues. The console has suffered from severe reliability problems, culminating in an embarrassing turn on Watchdog. Microsoft is doubtless hoping that the phrase â€˜red ring of death' will eventually fade into obscurity. The 360 is also the noisiest console on the planet, despite a switch to a quieter DVD drive and the move to the 65nm falcon chip. Nor is there an absolutely fool-proof way of getting either (though buying an Elite or a Halo 3 system will certainly help).
Yet, despite these problems, the 360 is currently the safest bet for the average gamer. Its media playback features aren't as slick as the PS3's, and it's still slightly galling that the Elite doesn't feature a built-in HD-DVD drive, but the 360 now outputs to 1080p and boasts HDMI as standard (though only a handful of games are native 1080p resolution), so it's not dramatically behind the PS3 in any vital respect. The 360 has two huge points in its favour. First, Xbox Live. Sony's online options are improving, but Microsoft's service is well established, has great features, and is closely integrated into just about every 360 game released these days. Meanwhile, titles like Halo 3 and Forza Motorsport 2 have pushed Live functionality to add content sharing and community features that would have seemed unbelievable two or three years ago.
More importantly, the 360 has the widest and best games line-up of the moment. It plays host to the finest driving, RPG and FPS games around, with PGR4, Bioshock, Halo 3, The Orange Box and Gears of War already out and Mass Effect just around the corner. It still has vacancies for classics in the Japanese RPG, platform game and survival horror departments, but Rare's forthcoming Banjo Kazooie, Mistwalker's Lost Odyssey and Remedy's Alan Wake have a chance of filling them. Meanwhile, strong support from EA, Sega and Konami has ensured a line-up of sports games as good as anything the PS2 or PS3 can muster.
The main complaint about the 360 is a lack of family titles. The console has earned a reputation with the hardcore (and specifically US hardcore gamer) but it has yet to cross over into the mainstream audience that lapped up the PS2 and is currently lapping up the Wii. If you're looking for something you can share with the kids, you might want to bear this in mind. The other question is whether we have already seen the 360's best. With no showcase X07 event this year, we're only left with the likes of Banjo-Kazooie, Alan Wake and Lionhead's Fable 2 to get excited about in terms of system exclusives. Microsoft needs some new hard-hitters if it wants to maintain the 360's momentum.
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