Christmas, 2005. Over 10 years ago, Microsoft shipped the Xbox 360, its successor to the original Xbox. It was a daring, bright white. It had a radically improved wireless controller. It played DVDs, connected easily to a landmark multiplayer network called Xbox Live, and let you download Xbox Live Arcade games directly to an onboard hard drive. The Xbox 360 quickly rose to dominate the console world with games like Burnout Revenge, F.E.A.R., Gears of War and Halo 3. Ten years later, Microsoft still sells it. Game developers still make new games for it. The 360 is the original HD gaming console, and for many, it’s still a source of joy to this day.
The system has its bugs, and it doesn’t provide the latest and greatest videogame experience. Still, despite having been around longer than smartphones or Netflix streaming, it can still bring the fun. This is the Xbox 360, 10 years on.
With a decade of development under its belt, it’s no surprise the Xbox 360 has a huge catalog of games. What’s striking is the sheer number: Over 1,100 titles have been released for Microsoft’s venerable console, including almost 200 exclusives and a bevy of smaller titles available for download from Xbox Live Arcade. This is a staggering number that covers almost every genre, including first-person shooters, action RPGs, music simulators, board games and more.
Some of those games became instant blockbusters. Assassin’s Creed jumpstarted one of the world’s biggest franchises. Crackdown turned the open-world genre on its head with its colorful aesthetic and over-the-top storyline. Fable II brought rich characterization and a painterly palette to role-playing games, while the Gears of War and Halo series probably sold more consoles to excited gamers than every other franchise combined.
There are plenty of duds in there, too. For every Mass Effect or Bioshock that stole gamers’ hearts, there’s a Perfect Dark or Prey waiting in the wings with disappointment. Fortunately, finding a good 360 game in the age of plentiful reviews and top-10 lists is an easy feat – you won’t have trouble picking out the gems.
Before Microsoft unveiled Xbox Live on the 360, multiplayer gaming involved browsing through lists of hundreds of servers and picking, often randomly, which to connect to. This method had some benefits, but it was hard for players to match with others of similar skill.
With the Xbox 360 came Xbox Live matchmaking, an automated system that tracks how good you are at a given game and pits you against other players who are equally capable. Matchmaking is now used across virtually every gaming platform, and though the 360’s early take on it wasn’t as sophisticated as what we enjoy today, it got the job done.
You still have to pay to use it. Xbox Live multiplayer is a subscription service; a free account lets you browse online game catalogs and use streaming services, but if you want to play with other people, you need to shell out some cash for an Xbox Live Gold membership.
The Media Experience
Xbox Live Gold used to be a requirement for watching streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus on the 360, but nowadays, a free Xbox Live account is all you need. Assuming you have the related subscriptions, you can watch YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, ESPN, the WWE Network, iHeartRadio and MLB.tv from your console, as well as a couple dozen more to boot.
Coming out a year before the PlayStation 3 has its downsides, though. In the 360’s case, it’s the lack of Blu-ray support. You can still play DVDs and music CDs on the console, but unlike on the PS3, HD content isn’t an option.
Controller & Accessories
For its comfort and sheer simplicity, the Xbox 360 controller was a revolution in gamepad design. Two thumb sticks, a D-pad, four face buttons (A, B, X and Y), the triggers and the shoulder buttons – the layout has lasted 10 years and was ported directly to the Xbox One. The gamepad’s silhouette is synonymous with “game controller.” We’ve even seen its design copied by RC helicopter manufacturers.
The only real downsides to the controller are its squishy shoulder buttons. They trigger once you depress them far enough to feel a mouse-like click, but there’s a bit too much resistance along the way. It can feel like pushing through a very thin sponge with every click. Microsoft fixed the issue in its Xbox One controllers, but you have to get used to the feel if you get a 360; fortunately, most games only use the shoulder buttons for uncommon tasks.
Most of the accessories available for the 360 aren’t worth buying anymore, unless you’re a huge fan of a particular game. Memory cards were useful when we were still moving our saved games between friends’ consoles, but they serve little other purpose given the onboard storage. Certain driving games play better with a steering wheel you can mount to your coffee table, while music games like Guitar Hero all but demand their plug-in faux instruments. Whatever you end up buying, consider used products first; you can usually find everything you need for a tiny fraction of its original cost.
Computer hardware changes a whole lot in a decade. You wouldn’t dream of buying a 10-year-old PC, but video game consoles are held to a different standard. That’s because, over time, developers learn how to make the most of a console’s hardware. In its own way, the Xbox 360’s internals can still do some impressive things.
By the numbers, though, they’re rather dismal. The main processor is a triple-core, 64-bit PowerPC chip made by IBM, and it runs alongside 512MB of system memory – by comparison, most modern smartphones have between six and eight cores, and between 3GB and 4GB of RAM. The Graphics processor is a custom Xenos chip by the now-defunct ATI, a manufacturer that was acquired by AMD shortly after the Xbox 360’s release.
In practice, the 360 has just a fraction of the computational power of the best modern consoles, but game developers make the most of it. Though games are never as graphically stunning as their counterparts for newer systems and are often missing features here and there, you can still buy Xbox 360 versions of modern titles like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Call of Duty: Black Ops III. Just expect a bit more pixelation and jagged edges than you’d otherwise see.
Some of the bigger games may also require a larger onboard hard drive. Depending on the model you buy, you can get anywhere from 4GB to 500GB of storage space. Saved games don’t take up much room, so most of the storage can go towards downloaded Xbox Live Arcade titles. However, a few disc-based games copy some of their files to onboard storage to reduce load times. If you end up buying a low-storage model, be sure to check out the system requirements for any games you get.
Over the years, many players have had problems with overheating Xboxes and the Red Ring of Death (RROD) error – so-called because the circular status lights on the front of the system would turn red, and the system wouldn’t power on. RROD errors were particularly common in early models, and more recent rereleases of the console don’t tend to have them. If you’re in the market, it’s really only a concern if you buy an older, secondhand device.
The Xbox 360 is no modern console. Less processing power under the hood means poorer graphics and fewer objects on screen at once than newer systems. The lack of a Blu-ray drive means less storage space for developers to pack content in. Xbox Live Gold isn’t free, and though the console is still going strong, there’s no telling when Microsoft will finally sunset it in favor of the Xbox One – especially now that backward compatibility is being rolled out.
And yet it’s still here, more than 10 years later.
The Xbox 360 continues to stick around because it has a huge library of games to pick from, spanning every genre and audience. It sticks around because its controller is one of the best in the business, outpaced only by the Xbox One’s gamepad. Sure, it might not be the fastest console on the market or have all the latest and greatest titles from the biggest developers in the business, but if you’re looking for affordable living room gaming, the Xbox 360 can still hold its own.