While Sony sleeps off the champagne hangover, Microsoft is likely already sipping bourbon. The Xbox One will be out on Friday, and after talking to both internet geeks and regular, everyday casual players, the buzz for the follow-up to the greatest online multiplayer system just is not there.
How did this happen? Let’s discuss the life and times of the Xbox 360.
2005-2007: Setting the standard
The original Xbox had started what would be the foundation for online play. No other system had the convenience and efficiency that Microsoft’s freshman console showed when playing against other people over a dedicated broadband connection. The 360 took this idea and made it a cornerstone of playing; every game on the system operated around the idea of being online. At all times, you could see what your friends were playing, invite them to join you, and compare achievements, a new reward system incorporated into every single game released on the Xbox 360. As an added bonus, any game’s music could be replaced with your own custom soundtrack, either from the system’s hard drive or streamed from a PC.
Those games had a bit of variety to them. Call of Duty 2, Perfect Dark: Zero and Condemned: Criminal Origins, all exclusive console shooters, each had a different take on the genre. The sports offerings sacrificed features and gameplay modes for HD graphics and sound, most notably in Madden which took some serious criticism for the decision. Backwards compatibility was available but spotty; both Halo and Halo 2 were promised to function properly, but plenty of other games saw glitches or simply refused to function.
I get a strange sense of nostalgia looking back at the early offerings. Dead or Alive 4, Dead Rising and Gears of War gave me a sense that Microsoft may actually come out completely on top this generation after their strong showing against the PlayStation 2. On top of retail games, the Xbox Live Arcade let us play smaller games and classic re-releases against others just as well as the AAA giants for a fraction of the price. It would be two years before the 360 saw Halo 3, but the wait was worth it.
Unfortunately, the systems themselves did not feel like waiting.
2007-2009: Cleaning the shit off the boots
I had heard about it. I had seen the memes, the complaints and the bile spewed at Microsoft. I just swore that it would never happen to me, especially since I had purchased an Elite version of the Xbox 360 by the time the company had publicly admitted a fundamental design flaw in their hardware. That flaw exists to this day, and is the reason Microsoft published an open letter offering an extended 3-year warranty to anyone who saw three red lights flashing from their console. This cost the company around $1 billion as well as a lot of trust.
I could probably have overlooked everything that happened if the system had given me some great exclusive games, but the list got smaller and smaller each month. Ninja Gaiden 2, Lost Odyssey, Gears of War 2 and Halo 3: ODST remain on my shelf, but by this time, publishers realized it was more lucrative to put everything on both HD systems. Re-releasing Xbox Originals digitally had basically been discontinued by the middle of 2008.
The Xbox 360 became the first system to allow streaming of Netflix movies directly to your TV. This sounded really awesome until you realized you had to be a subscriber to Xbox Live to use the feature, and a year after its debut, you were able to use Netflix on just about every other device in existence for free.
So, without a steady offering of reasons to hang on to the Microsoft brand, there was one place left that also managed to go sour: the independent scene.
2009-present: Indie games are awesome, oh fuck off
Super Meat Boy, Fez and Braid all came from brilliant minds that did not exist in a gigantic corporate office. They were made by miniscule teams attracted to Microsoft’s direct publishing on Live Arcade. They were all released to critical acclaim, and if you had not been following their development on your own, you would never have known that Microsoft had released them. Jonathan Blow, Ed McMullen and Phil Fish all publicly stated their wishes to never release on an Xbox platform again.
This means Microsoft has been relying solely on their exclusive, in-house properties to maintain popularity. I am comfortable stating that Halo 4, the first in the series to not be developed by Bungie, is the best of them all, even Reach. I did not need nor want a Kinect camera to play it, despite the company’s insufferable insistence that everything in life is better with it.
With a couple sparse exceptions, if the game did not have Forza, Gears of War, Halo or Fable in its name, you could play it somewhere else. I absolutely loved Halo 4, but from a new perspective after all this time, I would not invest in an Xbox 360 given my personal taste in gaming.
With nothing truly memorable happening in the past year, it’s been clear that Microsoft is focused fully on the Xbox One. Whether or not this translates into a better system, we don’t know yet. Everything I have said about Microsoft during their time with the 360 looks to remain true with the system that has come to be known as the Xbone, with more of a focus on integrating your living room functions than simply playing games.
If you have something from Halo tattooed on your body, you’ll be buying this system. For anyone else on the fence, I would really look into investing in a gaming PC. There are simply not enough exclusives to the Xbox One that have me wanting to buy it now or even one year into the future. It’s a shame that I once preferred their system over a Sony offering (the Xbox was simply a better system than the PS2), but the business of games has changed. There are plenty of Red Bull pounders out there who will get enough out of this console, but I am not one of them.