Hell freezing over

I bought an Xbox 360 last week. Like most of the expensive unnecessaries I eventually buy, the desire for one has been building up for months. Disgust and a sense of morality has usually held me back, but in this one instance it’s possible to admit Microsoft has produced something that works extremely well, when it works.

A couple of months ago, I actually tried to buy one but was foiled when the ATM swallowed my card minutes before. I thought that was the end of it, but like all things Microsoft, it doesn’t go away when you want them to (and conversely, they get red rings of death when you don’t).

The big scale-tipper was Guitar Hero II. I’ve missed out on many a videogame fad, and this one is just too good to let go. Videogames generally get very hard to find once they go out of print, and this problem is exacerbated in Singapore by the almost-niche status of original (read: non-pirated) game discs/products. It’s improving this console generation, with the largely hack-resistant 360. But I’m pretty sure once Guitar Hero II is gone, it’ll be gone for good.

Anyway, the experience this past week has been amazing. I’ve consistently come home and played on the console every night, and I spend a lot of time downloading game demos, videos, and trial versions of Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) games. The latter are largely casual board games (Catan), puzzle games (Bejeweled 2), and high-res ports of classic arcade games like Pac-Man, Contra, and Bomberman. They cost money, and I’ve gone down that road as well, without regrets. Last night, the first Wing Commander game in years was released on XBLA, which would be very exciting if it weren’t a completely different genre of action shooter.

It’s interesting to note that Microsoft seems to be the only player actively supporting online console purchases here*. I have no access to the Wii’s Virtual Console store without an American credit card. I believe the same goes for Sony’s Playstation Network.

A couple days after getting on Xbox Live, I added my old friend Stuart to my buddy list, and we blasted through 80% of the incredible game, Gears of War, together online over 2 days with the help of the provided VoIP headset. It was an almost completely perfect experience, with clear and lag-free voice chat between me and the UK, and smooth co-op gameplay. I think it was the first time we’d talked in two years, and yet it felt as if we were in the same room. Those two multiplayer sessions alone were convincing enough justification for the high cost of the damned thing. Until it explodes on me, I’m actually very happy with the machine as a 2nd console to my Wii. It might even be the other way around until Super Mario Galaxy comes out.

And suddenly after playing a couple hours of Guitar Hero every night, I’ve developed incredible left-hand finger dexterity and a bulging right bicep. I’m going to be horribly unbalanced if I keep this up.

*Exception: The local XBLA Marketplace differs slightly from the American one, offering about 7 fewer games, including Boom Boom Rocket, one of the reasons I was keen to get an Xbox 360 in the first place. One can buy it with an inconvenient workaround, so I see no reason why they can’t get their act together and synchronize game releases worldwide.

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