The Mighty Xbox 360

Looking back at a legend

The Mighty Xbox 360
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

For my entire gaming life, I've always been a bit of a Sony Pony. Aside from really niche items things like the PlayStation TV, I have extensive experience with practically all things PlayStation.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I've never owned a single Xbox product, not even a controller for when I want to play a racing game or a fighting game on my PC (I use a PS5 controller for Halo which makes a lot of people very angry.) I'm not even entirely sure why I have avoided Microsoft's flagship, other than maybe I had an N64 and a PS1 when I was a child and just kind of stuck with what I knew. I have nothing against Xbox, and I've spent many exciting nights as a kid going over to friends' houses and relishing the time I got with Halo and Jet Set Radio. For the most part, my Sony preference didn't negatively impact my standing with my social group of gaming friends, as my friends were just as excited to come to my place and play Jak and Daxter or God of War. As far as we were concerned, video games were video games, no matter what logo adorned your controller.

That was, until the PS3/Xbox 360 generation.

For anyone who doesn't know, the Xbox 360 was Microsoft's direct follow-up to their successful original Xbox. Despite the PS3 ultimately outselling the Xbox 360 in the later stages of that console generation, the first few years of their respective releases felt like the Xbox 360 was miles ahead of the PS3. That's because it was. This fact sparked many a debate both in school and online, and these childish spats of which electronic box was the better electronic box have been affectionately known as the Console Wars. As a PlayStation fan during this time, I often felt marooned on an island with only a few of my beloved franchises keeping me company, while the rest of my social ilk were gallivanting along the mainland, hand-in-hand with the awesome might of Master Chief, Frank West, and Marcus Fenix.

As such, I wanted to look back and try to analyze why exactly the Xbox 360 was such a landmark in gaming. Despite never owning one, I've put countless hours into 360 games courtesy of friends and family, and from what I remember, it was truly an awesome chapter in gaming history.

Halo 3 on Steam
Halo 3. Source: Steam.

As a PlayStation fan during this time, I often felt marooned on an island with only a few of my beloved franchises keeping me company, while the rest of my social ilk were gallivanting along the mainland, hand-in-hand with the awesome might of Master Chief, Frank West, and Marcus Fenix.

The Xbox 360 was released to raucous applause on November 22nd, 2005 in the US and Canada, with its European and Japanese releases following a few weeks later. By the year's end, the 360 saw 1.5 million units moved worldwide, with nearly 1 million of those sales coming from the United States.

The gaming world was in a different place in 2005, and the 360 looked like something from the future came back to bless our living rooms. It was sleek, with contoured edges and enough of a bevel to be a recognizable silhouette. The front face plate had a large power button that glowed green when activated, along with a whole slew of ports for accessories and a gorgeous chrome disc tray. The minimalist design, along with the emblazoned "XBOX 360" etched into it's siding, made the 360 seem like something more than the kid's toys that came before. Compared to the boxy nature of the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox, the 360 had a sense of weight behind the design that seemed to demand more respect from general audiences than its predecessors.

While the PlayStation 3 was lambasted for its original design when it was finally revealed, the 360 was praised for the modernism of its design choices. I think that the 360 has held up remarkably well if still left under an entertainment center today, and its outer design was a big part of why it holds such a near-and-dear place in the hearts of so many. It just hit all the right marks to be memorable.

Unsurprisingly, booting the thing up was pretty magical as well. For anyone too young or too new to gaming to know, prior to the seventh generation, video game consoles were exactly that – a box in which to play video games (a sentiment taken very literally with Nintendo's GameCube). There were some extremely basic sub-menus available with these consoles, allowing you to check your memory cards or change sound settings, but that's about it. Other than that, you put the game in, it read the disc, and off you went.

The Xbox 360 changed all that, pioneering so many extra features that we take for granted today as basic quality-of-life necessities. Gone were the boring (stylized, yes, but boring) settings menu of the original Xbox. Instead, you booted up to a full dashboard. The launch dashboard of the Xbox 360 was known as the "Blades" menu, and it revolutionized what gaming consoles could be. There was a whopping five different tabs to flip through: System, Media, Games, Xbox Live, and Marketplace. This may seem trivial compared to the "full entertainment system" marketing of today's consoles, but back in 2005, this was some monumental stuff, especially when you consider those last two little tabs. Gears of War 3 (Renewed) : Video Games
Gears of War 3. Source: Amazon.

While the PlayStation 3 was lambasted for its original design when it was finally revealed, the 360 was praised for the modernism of its design choices.

The whole idea of the online Marketplace was fresh and exciting twenty years ago. While the original Xbox dabbled in the idea of purchasable online content (MechAssault had a $4.99 DLC in 2002,) the Xbox 360 flourished in it. Without the Xbox 360, we wouldn't have the online gaming marketplaces we know and love in the console space. While the PS3 had the PlayStation Store, it felt clunky and extremely corporate in comparison to the lively Xbox 360 Marketplace, with huge games like Castle Crashers and the Trials series gracing the systems of all of the 360 friends I remember. It elevated the traditional gaming experience to disregard the inconvenience of physical game stores and allowed you to download titles directly to your console. With gaming seemingly headed into an all-digital world, this may seem like a small improvement, but the idea of that being a reality felt like something out of a sci-fi movie in the early 2000s. The Xbox 360 may not have been the first to implement an online storefront, but it was the first one to do it so well.

The thing that always made me red with envy, above all else, was the Xbox 360's ability to have in-game party chat via the excellent Xbox Live service. It may sound a little bit silly by today's standards, but not so long ago it was impossible to communicate with your friends outside of the current game you were playing. If they didn't own a copy and weren't with you in-game, the best you could hope for was a janky messaging system that took an unbelievable amount of time for even basic communications. The PS3 had party chats, but it was a separate application, and couldn't be overlaid with the games themselves. It worked more as a chat room than a gaming chat, and other than some novel fun, it was practically worthless. Otherwise you had to rely on spotty and inconsistent in-game chat (which some games didn't even have) in order to talk to your friends.

Microsoft scoffed at this issue, and I would watch with quiet bitterness as my 360 friends happily and easily conversed over whatever games they wanted to play. No one even had to be playing a multiplayer game for this functionality to serve its purpose. All through the mid-2000s I wanted nothing more than to be able to hang out with my friends while I enjoyed whatever game I was playing at the time. My 360 friends laughed from their ivory towers at my PlayStation peasantry, seamlessly talking about their school day while playing Oblivion and Call of Duty, oblivious to each other's current gaming session.

Yet even all of this pales in comparison to one of the most iconic and innovative aspects of the Xbox 360 – the legendary controller. If you've ever held the original Xbox controller, affectionately known as "The Duke," you will quickly see how it earned its name. It's by no means a bad controller, but it is gargantuan, which is why most people simultaneously remember and dislike it. The 360 controller doubled down on all the best aspects of The Duke while doing away with many of the negatives that its massive predecessor had brought along with it. The 360 controllers rocked buttery-smooth offset dual analogue sticks, an adjustable d-pad, the necessary and continuous addition of analogue triggers, and a sleek, unbelievably comfortable design. To top everything off, the sheer amount of special-edition and customized 360 controllers was incredible. It seemed like every controller I held featured a different theme, color scheme, and logo, making it feel like your controller.

The only real drawback to the 360 controller is that it chewed through AA batteries like a ravenous beast, but even this could be rectified with handy rechargeable battery packs (for a price, of course.) The Xbox 360 controller overshadowed the PlayStation DualShock 3 in almost every way, with PlayStation's flagship controller feeling like a cheap, gimmicky toy by comparison. Go pick up a PS3 controller and tell me it doesn't feel like it came out of a toy box. To this day, however, there are many who consider the 360 controller to be the best gaming controller ever made.

The Xbox 360 continued to innovate throughout its entire life cycle. It saw the introduction of the ultimately flawed but futuristic Xbox Kinect, continuously beefed up its Live service making it better and better for the consumer, became one of the first platforms to adopt something like the Netflix streaming service, and created the iconic, "don't judge me for this, I was 13 when I made it" Gamertag feature.

Dead Rising 2. Source: Steam.

If you've ever held the original Xbox controller, affectionately known as "The Duke," you will quickly see how it earned its name.

Yes, the system had hiccups like the dreaded Red Ring of Death, but ultimately, the Xbox 360 felt like more than a gaming machine – it felt like a place to go. It felt like a town square in which you and your friends could have some of the most interesting and exciting experiences with each other and strangers around the globe. For so many, the Xbox 360 was their entire childhood and teenage years, tearing through Gears of War lobbies and having some of the most sandbox fun possible in the Halo Forge. It has earned its place as gaming royalty, and will rightfully be remembered as one of the best and most influential consoles of all time.

The world of video games is in a bit of a flux right now. The PS5 is handily outselling the Xbox Series X/S, with Microsoft seemingly dedicating its resources to software instead of hardware. It was confirmed in February of this year that multiple Xbox properties will be going multi-platform to both PlayStation and Nintendo consoles. While it currently isn't discussing any of their massive IP like Halo or Gears, the fact that they're bringing over anything at all is intriguing.

Conversations have been swirling around the possibility of Microsoft ending its console run with the current generation. These rumors have been thoroughly squashed by Microsoft, who recently confirmed that they have another Xbox console on the horizon. Still, the fact that these rumors initially had logical weight speaks volumes. Despite never owning one myself, the idea of that bright green X no longer being next to game trailers and release images makes me indescribably sad. That sadness lies largely in the nostalgic wonder I've always had with the Xbox 360. Regardless of what the future may hold for Microsoft's gaming empire, the Xbox 360 will forever live on in the hearts of millions as the best console ever made, and it doesn't take long to realize that it has, without a doubt, earned that title.


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