Finding my A game with the Xbox360
December 31, 2007 6:17 AM   Subscribe

Making a clean break -- with PC gaming, and transitioning to gaming on an Xbox 360. What will bowl me over? What will annoy me?

After looking at the break-the-bank system requirements for recent PC games, like Cyrsis, I've decided that it's time to put my aging PC in cold storage (I'm a Mac user primarily), and pick up an Xbox 360.

Problem is, apart from a few brushes with them at Best Buy, I've never used or even laid hands on a gaming console. I've long bought into the PC gamer's prejudices against consoles as low-resolution nightmares hamstrung by intellectually challenged software and brain-dead controllers. But now, by hooking up the Xbox 360 to my plasma and 7.1 audio, I'd be looking at a gaming rig that blows PC gaming out of the water. Potentially.

Potentially-- assuming I make the right purchasing decisions. Which is where I need advice, oh ye gamers-in-the-know.
1) First off, coming from newbie land, what thrills and/or annoyances should I expect transitioning to gaming on an Xbox 360 (which I plan on sticking with as my first purchase for now, due to its games--sorry, PS3 fanboyz). Will I absolutely hate the controller on my first outing in Bioshock?
2) Next, as an exclusively non-online gamer, which Xbox 360 should I invest in? I'm assuming the answer is either "pro" or "elite," but the bottom line is, I want to avoid the spontaneous-combustion-type problems that plagued the 360 when it first came out.
3) Peripherals? I'm assuming I need an HDMI cable, f'r starters. Anything else to interface with a plasma and 7.1 setup?
4) Online shopping recommendations? Is there any way to take advantage of the post-Xmas season to pick up a unit on the cheap? If so, how and where?
5) Other, off-the-cuff advice? The anything goes category.
posted by Gordion Knott to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you truly have no plans to do anything online, the Arcade package might suit you. You can always add a hard drive later. Unless you truly must rip mp3s to your console.

If you've never played an FPS on a console before, you may find controls not entirely intuitive and clunky. You usually have to move with one stick, aim with the other, and press a myriad of buttons for weapons, menu items, and more. It's not quite a simple m & k play experience. I personally prefer PC by a longshot in that genre. However, I've played several console FPSes and it does get easier with time. It can be a ittle disorienting at first.

As far as graphically blowing the PC out of the water? Consoles aren't doing that just yet, though many games do keep getting prettier. It's still relatively early in this console generation to see truly limit-pushing software, but the 360 has that window of extra time, so it is likely to come first, especially with developers encountering problems developing or porting to the PS3.

But if you're not going to continue to invest to play PC games on maximum, this won't make too much of a difference. Many games these days are following the money and designed for the 360 and PC simultaneously (like BioShock), occasionally gimping one version or the other a little (like BioShock). But for most people, it might not be too noticable. Personally, I don't always play games on max, and if there isn't any lag, I'm good. Max graphics and FPS are a bonus, not a requirement. My boyfriend is a total graphics snob and hardware enthusiast though, and some of these differences bug him to no end.

As far as Red Rings are concerned, all consoles are covered for 3 years for this defect. However, models with new chips are already on shelves. Here's some more detailed info. You won't be able to use this for an online purchase though.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:31 AM on December 31, 2007

Heh. That was surprisingly long and coherent for someone who woke up on 2 hours of sleep with the flu.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:36 AM on December 31, 2007

I made the transistion about 6 months ago. Using dual analogs after coming off keyboard/mouse for years is challenging at first, but with practice it will become second nature. That was perhaps the most frustrating/annoying thing (coming from a Counterstrike junkie with some serious twitchy reflexes) - you will be owned for awhile buy the halo preteens. The thing that bowled me over is the wireless controllers. They just work beautifully. They never lose connection to the xbox, have great battery life, no lag issues (like I've experienced with wireless mice on PC games). Plan on buying a spare or two and battery charging stations.

I wouldn't buy one without planning on getting Xbox Live. It's a great service (except when it's not working well - eg. this entire week).

5. Games: Bioshock, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, Call of Duty 4 (the multiplayer will compel you to get live). Skip Halo 3.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 6:44 AM on December 31, 2007

We don't know what you like, so we can't really recommend games all that well except in a generic sense. i_am_a_jedi has it right.

Mass Effect, Bioshock, and Assassin's Creed are excellent games with amazing stories and no online play. Get them.

COD4 is a revolutionary FPS. If you like them, get it, but you mentioned not likely online play so I wonder if you like FPS's. i_am_a_jedi has it right about the multiplayer.

Skip Halo 3? Well, you're new to console gaming, so you don't have the investment, but it's a hell of a ride.

Some thoughts -- the Elite comes with a huge HD and HDMI. I'd go for it if you want to pay for it. If you hook up the internet to your box for Live purposes, and not for multiplayer, you can still download demos, movies, tv, arcade games, etc.

So you'll want the HD.

If you get the Arcade version, it comes with a 256MB card. It might fill up too quickly for your liking, trust me. Some games' save files are 4MB per.

If you're going 7.1, the 360 supports optical sound. Might as well utilize it. My newish receiver supported multiple optical signals so I could hook my cable and 360 up. If your receiver only has 1 optical, well, it's up to you, but I'd go 360 for my purposes.

As far as the wireless goes, I HAVE experienced lag issues on Halo 3. Your mileage may vary.

As an aside, I was very nervous the first time I jumped into multiplayer play. But once you get your feet wet it's no big deal, honest!
posted by taumeson at 6:52 AM on December 31, 2007

Console controllers have kept me away from any console for fps games (you'll see why). It will be truly maddening to deal with getting drilled all the time while missing losers with your control pad that you would have headshot with a mouse. That is no reason not to play, it is just a reason to curse damned whole thing and die a crusty curmudgeon.

My other concern with your set up is the plasma TV. Read around on the burn in effect of oft-played video games with plasma TVs. Basically, any sort of HUD (heads up display) is basically always on the screen whilst you are playing. These HUDs can burn themselves in to your pretty screen if you play them a fair amount (or pause and walk away often). From what I gather, some newer displays have a higher immunity to this effect. Regardless, it is worth your time to research and make sure you don't see a COD4 HUD while you are watching your Battlestar Galactica marathons.

Good luck!
posted by milqman at 7:07 AM on December 31, 2007

Nothing to add that hasn't been said except:

- Halo 3 is a good game, great level design, and the best multiplayer matchmaking out there in my opinion.
- HDMI is nice, but the system comes (at least my old one did) with a component video cable which looks pretty good on my 46" LCD.
- Don't spend more than $10 for an HDMI cable. The ones at the big retailers are ridiculously overpriced.
- A lot is said about the crazy preteens who annoy people on LIVE. There are lots of websites (like 2Old2Play) that cater to a more mature audience of online gamers, if you want to instantly add some people to your friend list that won't call you a f'ing n00b.
posted by uaudio at 7:08 AM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would get the Elite. Buying an another hard drive (if you need it at some point) will be costly.

Definitely get the optical cable for your sound. You have the system to take advantage of it and so you might as well. That and an HDMI cable are all you should need.

I like the controller. I did the same thing you did, and I didn't have any problems transitioning from my PC. Most of the games recommended so far do a nice job of laying everything out intuitively.

You are going to love not having to update drivers. That is thing I don't miss from my hard core PC gaming days.

Don't forget some of the older games. Gears of War is amazing. I am not a FPS fan and I love it. I think it is worth buying a 360 just to play Gears. Oblivion is a huge world and there is a lot of content out for it. For new games, count me as fans of Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect.
posted by Silvertree at 7:14 AM on December 31, 2007

At least get the one with the 20GB hard drive. The (few) people I've known who bought a core have all ended up getting a hard drive.

Regarding the red ring of death/overheat problems, the new chips are better but still, from what I'm hearing, still not up to even average electronic product standards.

The 360 itself rarely goes on sale--your best best it to find a store that has a coupon good on everything in the store--kmart and recently did this.

Regarding games I definitely suggest that you take advantage of the downloadable demos. Most give a good idea of what the game is like. And since it's a console rentals are available so you can try out games a bit more without having to commit $60.
posted by aerotive at 7:23 AM on December 31, 2007

First, I would highly recommend going online with a Xbox 360 with Xbox Live because it is a whole entire different experience. I didn't think I would like online play but am now hooked with the online experience of using a Xbox.

The best Xbox 360 game out there in my opinion is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Online play is the most addicting thing with this game. The graphics are very realistic and the game features a ranking system that becomes addicting.

With the console, I originally had the Xbox 360 Pro version and never really touched the hard drive space except for a few downloaded game demos. After selling that system and missing it I ended up buying the new Elite system. I spent the extra money on the Elite because I simply wanted the "Black" controller and console. So I would say only buy the more expensive version if you intend to use the hard drive space. Saving game settings really does not take up a lot of space, but if you are into downloading game demos, music videos, movie trailers than you will need a console with a larger hard drive.

Most stores really don't see a high markup on Xbox prices, but if you want to save a few bucks then I would check out Game Stop stores, Craigslist Ads or eBay. Many people are selling used systems with plenty of games for way cheaper than buying everything new. I sold my original 360 with many accessories and 10 games for under what the Elite system will cost you.

If you are a Windows user there are many other cool things to do with your 360 like share media and use the 360 as a Media Center.

Get Xbox Live, Call of Duty 4 and you should be all set to go!
posted by randomthoughts at 7:33 AM on December 31, 2007

If you need the 360 to provide optical audio while using HDMI (as opposed using the TV to split the audio off), you'll probably want the Elite. It comes with an adapter that provides both. It's $50 if you have to buy it separately.
posted by yarmond at 7:55 AM on December 31, 2007

I did the same thing a couple of years ago (PS2, now 360) and never looked back.

You *could* get the Arcade, but savegames get big fast - to the point that you'll have to be buying more memory cards or deleting old games pretty regularly. The Pro, with a 20GB HD, isn't much pricier and will let you not juggle lots of saves. Plus, it'll give you the space to play with demos and Live Arcade games (ie, the cheapie downloaded stuff.) The Elite gets you a 120GB drive.

You're going to hate the frigging controller. I did. Hell, I still do; after years away, I'm still handier with WASD+Mouse than I am with a pair of sticks. But I get by. If you're not playing online, things will be a lot easier, since you won't be constantly contending with the swarm of preteen jackasses, and you'll have time to practice and get adjusted. I'd suggest picking up a straightforward shooer - Halo, f'rex - and using that as a training wheels for your controller skills before you dive into Bioshock. Before long, you'll be almost as good with the sticks as you were with a keyboard and mouse.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:56 AM on December 31, 2007

I have to echo uadio's advice about HDMI. It's nice but I can't tell a big difference between it and the standard component cables. And the part about HDMI cables being ridiculously overpriced is 100% correct. You can buy one for $6 online whereas they're ~$60-70 at Best Buy or one of the other large, electronics retailers.

Oh, and Halo 3 is awesome. You have to at least try it.
posted by pallak7 at 8:24 AM on December 31, 2007

Just a comment on the Halo 3 and CoD4 discussion: CoD4 tends to have a somewhat older userbase. In Halo 3, I tended to get a lot of preteens pretending they are from the streets, which I am not a huge fan of.
posted by spec80 at 8:34 AM on December 31, 2007

One of the great things about consoles is that you can rent the games from Blockbuster. Rent Halo 3 for the weekend - you'll finish it by Sunday at the latest. The commenters above are clearly high - it's a major disappointment after 1&2.
posted by bonecrusher at 8:39 AM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ergonomics. I find that if Im playing on a PC I never get sore and nothing falls asleep. Im sitting on a chair and using a keyboard and mouse on a desk surface. Works fine.

Now when I play consoles I find that all sorts of limbs fall alseep from being in weird positions on the couch or sitting on the floor. The controllers also make my hands sore. Its weird, I associate pains in my back and hands everytime I hear the word 'Halo' or the phrase 'console rpg." YMMV of course.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:02 AM on December 31, 2007

For all of us who hate / can't use the console controller there are PS2 Mouse and keyboard adapters for the 360...
posted by Gungho at 9:32 AM on December 31, 2007

I recently jumped from a PC to a Mac and a PS3.

First, if you like Real Time Strategy, consoles aren't your friend. Thankfully, you'll have some good options on your Mac, particularly when Starcraft II comes out. But C&C 3 is already ported over, as is Rise of Nations and Age of Empires III.

I got the PS3 for the BD player, and I like it, but I won't say anything bad about the 360. It has great title availability, and while it has a defect problem, I got a defective PS3 my first time out, so based on my extremely tiny sample size, you might get one either way. (I don't know how MS handles defects, but Sony was A+ about the whole thing.)

The only thing I'd put against the 360 is that, if you decide to go in for the Live! service, it's going to erase the 360's price advantage in two years. Meanwhile, the PS network is free. Therefore, if you start agonizing over going online or not, it's no big deal on the PS3, but it's an actual decision on the 360.

Also, the 360 can be LOUD, but since it's wireless, you could theoretically put it behind a cabinet door or something. My PS3 lives behind a sliding closet door and the Bluetooth works perfectly. I bet the 360 would do fine as well.

Okay, now to the main issues.

Shooting on the console can vary based on the title. I play Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, which is a fine shooter for a console because it's remarkably non-twitchy. The game makes you settle down and aim before you shoot, usually from behind cover, so the console controller works perfectly well once you get the hang of it. However, I could easily imagine having more trouble on, say, the Orange Box, where the little headcrabs are skittering towards you in the dark.

I don't know where COD4 lies, but I do know that I'm picking it up in the next few days. *twitch twitch*

Now that console controllers have analog sticks, they're really not so bad. Plus, the shoot button tends to reside in a very natural trigger finger position. After a little time, you can find your way around the thing blind.

Other games, like Assassin's, are perfect for the console, and some games like sports and racing are widely held to be better on the console than the PC.

You're going to like the freedom and stability of a console. You're going to love never having to look at specs again (unless you get an XBOX without a hard drive. Don't do it! You won't be able to play GTA IV!) Just play a lot with the controller, don't get too discouraged, and you'll get used to it.

Just don't listen to the 11 year olds call you names in HALO. You can get your own M----- F---- chocolate milk.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 10:08 AM on December 31, 2007

I am not an FPS gamer by any stretch. I'm a huge fan of Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA), but DO NOT BUY THE ARCADE VERSION OF THE 360. You are seriously crippling your ability to have fun on the 360 with no hard drive... most of the demos that are available for download are 1GB or so, so without a hard drive, you miss out on all the demos.

Not only is it missing a hard drive, but the arcade version of the 360 does not come with the two bundled games Forza 2 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance, nor does it come with a component AV cable or a headset. To buy those extras separately, you'd spend $100 for the hard drive, $40 for the official component cable, $20 for the headset, and $90 for the games.

Even if you are frugal and pick up the extras on eBay, you're still looking at $60 for the hard drive, $10 for an HDMI cable, $10 or so for the headset and maybe $60 for the games used, way more than the price difference you'd pay to have bought a Pro in the first place.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:09 AM on December 31, 2007

Sign up for a few months of Gamefly... it's like netflix but for games. Service is fast and it's a great way to find games worth buying.
posted by jockc at 10:17 AM on December 31, 2007

As someone who made the jump from PC to consodle awhille ago, it surprises me that no one has mentioned one area of games that play much better on console as opposed to PC.

Sport Games.

It kinda started with Maddeen and then moved to Tiger but I guess it's the tactile fun you have with sport games (the twisitng of the body, jumping up and down to show pleasure/displeasure) that I found my PC sadly lacking in.

Of course, it's even better with the Wii.
posted by Dagobert at 10:50 AM on December 31, 2007

If you need the 360 to provide optical audio while using HDMI (as opposed using the TV to split the audio off), you'll probably want the Elite. It comes with an adapter that provides both. It's $50 if you have to buy it separately.

Not true!

The Premium and "Go Pro" (premium's newer version, same thing basically) both have HDMI. The tricky part is that the clunky component cable which has the optical audio split-out is too bulky to fit next to the poorly placed HDMI connector.

However, this is really easy to fix - I did it myself and saved the $50 expense for that bogus HDMI cable by doing this Xbox 360 HDMI "hack"... it's hardly a hack - you're just removing the obnoxious plastic that gets in the way of you plugging both cables in at the same time... thus saving $50.

You definitely need a hard drive. I just got the premium and I'm already feeling like the "20gb" hard drive is too small. I've deleted most sizeable stuff and there's still somehow only 11gb free - the 20gb is totally misleading.

Also in the "hack" department - if you're unable to part with keyboard/mouse FPS stuff, check out XCM, who makes something called the XFPS that allows you to hook up a keyboard/mouse.
posted by twiggy at 1:12 PM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I love my 360 because it's a turn-on-and-play system. The diversity of games, the online element- arcade, the downloadable content, the friends-experience- are all awesome. I can't believe I'm saying this, but that silly Elijah Wood hosted pre-launch MTV special was right: the 360 with live really is a total experience. Sorry to say to any PS or Wii fanboys, but the 360 is simply the best console out there, by a tremendous margin.

1) Can't speak to thrills/annoyances, I haven't PC-gamed in years. The fact that there's no install or driver issues or constantly-upgrading hardware to support the latest and greatest is nice. The controller is pretty usable, and things like steering wheels for driving games or alternate controllers are readily available.

2) Under no circumstances should you get a harddrive-less model!!! Though you say you won't be an online gamer, the 360 will probably change that about you- but it doesn't mean you need the bigger hard drive of the elite. The biggest difference between the pro and the elite are the presence of HDMI cables out of the box vs. component, and the larger (120 vs 20) hard drive. I've had my 12GB original drive since console release, and I've never gone past 50% space used, but all those Rockband downloadable songs are making me glad I have it.

3) You don't need HDMI cables- they'll come in the box of the elite, or standard component cables with the pro (on preview, I see twiggy addresses even this). You shouldn't notice a picture difference; both can do 1080p without issue. The optical sound might seem attractive, but I'm fine with my 360's 5.1 sound using the normal outputs. Bioshock was plenty immersive with a component connected 46" LCD and 5.1 surround! You can always get the HDMI cables later anyway...

4) No shopping advice, other than to echo if you can find a reliable person to buy from, a used console + games will be cheaper than new. I have had my 360 since launch, and no red ring of death. I do know one couple that's had it, and one thing I noticed is they kept their 360 vertical; it not only got a RRoD, but for some reason Project Gotham Racing 3 wouldn't play when the console was vertical.

5) Xbox live silver vs. gold: this is a nuisance. I was fine with Live Silver until very recently, and Silver is free forever. Sadly, games like Guitar Hero III (not GHII) came out that require you to have Gold to even track or view top scores online! Those bastards... That said, a gold account is purchasable in monthly blocks or $50 a year, which you can buy in a store as a card to avoid auto-renewal if you don't like/need it. So you can try out gold for 3 months and a small amount, and decide it's not worth it. The free Silver membership means you'll still be able to do most things like download content or demos or game updates, but you won't be able to do online multiplayer.
posted by hincandenza at 6:50 PM on December 31, 2007

I made the leap from PC gamer to Xbox gamer awhile back. The 360 controller is excellent. It'll be awkward at first but then you'll get used to it.

Get Xbox live, it's one of the best things about the system.

Rent Assassin's Creed before you buy it -- I was hugely disappointed after a few hours of playing it.

CoD4, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Halo 3, and Gears of War are all great.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:24 PM on January 1, 2008

Ludwig Van: in Assassin's, did you get to the first mission? The pre-mission stuff is shockingly unsatisfying, but once you get to the cities, I found the game picked up tremendously. Also, after the first hit in Damascus, they give you the counter-kill ability, which makes swordfighting FAR more enjoyable.

Anyway, sorry to go OT.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 12:04 AM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I got through about three assassinations before giving up. It seemed to me that once you've done one you've done them all. It was pretty, and climbing on stuff was fun and well-implemented, but the investigations don't get any different or more challenging, the stealth mechanic is worthless, the rooftop guards don't do anything, and the story was really slow and dull and way too talky.

But that's just, like, my opinion, man.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:21 AM on January 2, 2008

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