I just plugged in my new Xbox 360 elite. As a child of the X Generation I’m still idiot enough to think that having something in black makes it ever so slightly cooler. But then again, they must have chosen the 24th letter of the alphabet as their titular letter for a reason. But it wasn’t the color that made me decide to go with the newer (and slightly more expensive) system. Instead it was the fact that I’m of the opinion that no modern hard drive should be less than 100 gigs.
But having played with my new toy for all of 24 hours now I thought it might be beneficial to write down my first impressions before my absorption into the Microsoft behemoth is complete and I am unable to report honestly from behind the lines, so here’s a few notes:
I’d be tempted to say that the machine is a metaphor for something, but that isn’t true. It is the thing. A perfect corporate prison combining advertising, DRM, and specialized technology to create an artifact of the modern age that gives a glimpse into the world that our benevolent masters (of business) would lock us into permanently if only we would give up our pretentious “computers” and let them swallow us up entirely.
That’s not to say that the box doesn’t deliver as a game system. You can certainly play games on it, and they look fantastic. The skin textures and eye movements are amazing if a little wooden. It provides what amounts to the most amazing display of Supermarionation that the world has ever seen.
But even in these games the relentless grip of the machines true power is never far away. Rather than being contextualized into the game, the awards and save game structures are set entirely out of the game world. Instead these elements are part of the ever-so-strict “operating system”. So when the game asks you which device you want to save to it does so by slicing into the screen with a “blade” that has a look and feel that matches the Xbox dashboard and not the world of the game you’re playing. You also get little bits of the master interface peeking through at odd moments. For instance when it hands you an achievement (one of the unlockable badges that are given to you when you jump through the right hoop while playing a game) it does so using a graphical “bug” that has nothing to do with the game you’re playing. It also uses the same font and styling to tell you that it’s connected your profile to the internet.
And boy does this thing love the internet. Especially since that seems to be such an efficient way to start parting you from your money. And in the world of a benevolent corporate master there’s no doubt that the machine is second only to a slot machine in its desperation to try and get you to pony up cash at every turn.
One thing that brought home this mix of commerce and entertainment is a good old dose of crass commercialism in the form of a McDonald’s ad that appears on one of the dashboard’s blades. There’s no way to turn off the advertising banner in the middle of the machine’s interface. Hell, you just paid for the privilege.