Review: Xbox Live

We’ve all heard about it, we’ve all sat and played on it for an ungodly amount of time and most of us have made a place in our hearts for it. Once again Xbox Live has hit a brand new year and promises gamers a lot to look forward to. Xbox Live has come a long way since its launch in 2002 on the original Xbox, and again in 2005 on the Xbox 360. So what I want to talk about is what it can offer families, gamers and everyone in between right now.

Xbox Live is a service for people who have an Xbox 360 (or the original Xbox console) and an internet connection. Setting and Signing up is made simple, quick and easy thanks to the step by step instructions provided with the console, on your TV screen or on Xbox.com. Once set up you have the choice of either gold or silver membership, the difference being one is a free service and the other you pay a monthly, quarterly or yearly subscription for. You don’t get access to all of Xbox Lives features if you choose silver membership but you do get voice chat, text messaging, game demos and trailers. If you choose to purchase the gold membership you will get everything that Xbox Live could possibly throw at you including video chat, avatars, music streaming and photo sharing. The list of fantastic things to explore and enjoy is incredible and continues to grow larger ever year, making it feel like an incredible investment.

When you sign up you will be given a prompt to choose a pre-made avatar or create a new one from scratch. Your avatar is that little dude that sometimes waves at you from your dashboard and also makes appearances in certain avatar compatible games. (Avatars like to dress well too, so you can expect to find a whole dedicated marketplace for avatar shizzle.)

After you have altered your settings and created your avatar you can explore the online world of the Xbox 360. Xbox Live does support a lot of online features for games such as multiplayer lobbies and Leaderboards, making it a great place for friends to play together or compete against each other. The great thing is that’s not everything the Xbox Live team concentrate on. An ever growing portion of Xbox Live is its online community and social networking features and possibilities; it’s been quite a revelation compared to video gaming 10 years ago, when typically they could only support 4 players on one console. Today Xbox Live has smashed pre-conceived console boundaries and so much more is now possible. From the ease of your sitting room sofa you can now game and socialise with people across the world, listen to music online, watch hundreds of videos and even use Facebook and Twitter! That’s definitely more than enough to drown out the noise of your loved ones.

Xbox Live was the first to take the plunge into social networking with two of the biggest sites going – Facebook and Twitter. The two features were added last year and brought a flurry of excitement to the 360, this opened up more possibilities for the service with this first brave step. Alongside this they launched the Zune marketplace which offers full 1080p HD movies for you to stream to your console, this notably comes easily arranged in a tier layout similar the rest of Xbox Live. The Zune service also has a few extra bonuses, this including access to independent videos and of course watching movies in a little cinema room with your avatar buddies.

Xbox Live covers all of the basic communication channels as I described above: voice chat, video chat, party chat – That’s a lot of chat right there! but there are alternatives to voice and video chat. There’s a handy text messaging service where you can type messages out rather than recording them, Microsoft have made an effort to catered to this type of communication with the release of the Chat Pad when MSN first arrived on Xbox Live so you don’t have to spend too much time typing messages to friends (You can also use USB keyboards).

There are a wide range of videos to be found in the Inside Xbox tier for you to enjoy but the point of these videos is not necessarily to just entertain you but to inform you of some very important information. An example of this is the IGN Strategize videos, ideal if you’re in need of some gaming tips from the lovely lady Jessica Chobot. That isn’t the only choice for your curious and questionable needs, there are the SentUAMessage videos. These are hosted by a friendly and smart bunch of professionals who are more than happy to answer your questions… yes your questions! And there are several ways to get your questions to the team leaving no question stone unturned. You can follow most of the presenters here on twitter:

Daniel Maher: http://twitter.com/MrPointyHead

Andy Farrant: http://twitter.com/SuperKaylo

Graeme Boyd: http://twitter.com/AceyBongos

Jane Douglas: http://twitter.com/msntechjane

These gaming warriors not only fight to answer your very important queries but they also travel the world interviewing game developers and industry folk so you can get the inside scoop for most of the big titles! Good times.

You still got cash to burn a hole in your pocket with? If you have, you should have a wander round the vast treasure trove of gaming delights that is the Xbox Live Marketplace. It offers a crazy amount of gear including a massive amount of arcade games from the big developers down to the tiny indie teams. The Marketplace sections are separated into tiers so you don’t get too lost, it may not sound like much but the amount of content now on the marketplace is insane. Also as you browse through the tiers the newest additions will appear first, making it easier and faster to view what’s new.

There are so many little details and features and much fun to discover scattered around the dashboard, there is far too much to talk about and it’s only fair you find some of it yourself and enjoy your dashboard finds, but I will point in one more direction – keep an eye out for the numerous competitions on Xbox Live they are often quite extraordinary and get you that little bit more involved with the whole 360 vibe.

The online service on paper looks great, all these videos, competitions and features make Xbox Live gold membership worth investing in, however that’s not what’s incredible about these online gaming services, what is amazing is the amount of community spirit that swirls round online programs and products such as Xbox Live and the PS3 Network. What you get is something you can’t actually buy, help with any problem 24/7 from the many people who know the product inside out all over the world, community driven activities like leagues and competitions and the chance to get to know a heap of great people and have fun talking about the things you have all have in common.. Games! I’ve met some fantastic people travelling through these two community’s alone and these community’s are priceless to me and many others.

The amount of sites that have sprung up while the gaming industry started to evolve into something much more is incredible… it’s astounding! They vary from news sites to gaming stat sites and you can pretty much find something for everyone. More and more pop up every day and these sites help train young and old people so they have skills to use where ever they go in life, in fact I’d go so far to say that myself and others have learnt so much more online compared to a classroom. Microsoft as a company does support this type of movement and encourages it full-heartedly, which again is incredible when you think about it as business doesn’t normally go this far to help communities but Microsoft does! It’s why I choose to play my 360 everyday, it’s not because of the games themselves but the extra universe you get for free.

 

Here are some great quotes from users themselves:

Phil Collins – Podcaster

Twitter: http://twitter.com/fatherfil

“The introduction of Xbox Live into the gaming industry caused us all to rethink how we played games. The multiplayer aspect of every game no longer required you to organise your friends into all meeting at your place. The ability to turn on your 360 and hook up with your friends in a game, or just in a chat opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I once spent over two hours just cruising around Burnout Paradise just chatting with friends. Single player games suddenly had to impress a lot more to earn our money – the lack of any Xbox Live connectivity in a game now just feels wrong.”

 

Richard Hall – Freelance Writer

Twitter: http://twitter.com/hallrm

“I remember the excitement of attaching the headset for the first time and inserting the Motor GP disc on the European beta. I remember lazy rounds of Links, listening to chill out music and drinking wine. I remember checking my Halo 2 stats the next morning on the Bungle website. This was Xbox Live and it changed my gaming. Live has evolved so well into an integrated online experience. Gone are the inconsistent lobbies and difficulty in setting up games. The party system has created a common way to enjoy gaming as a collective. Great gaming experiences like 1 vs 100 are taking Live to whole new levels. I once met up with a group of people I only knew through Xbox Live. Gaming is social and Xbox Live is the medium that delivers that so seamlessly.”

 

Tim Browne – Senior Game Designer at Codemasters

Twitter: http://twitter.com/N1tch

“I’ve been using Xbox Live since 2003 and love it on 360 today. It’s a fantastic way for me to check out new demos, play with old friends and meet plenty of new people. I also use it to get information on new games as well as checking out some great Arcade titles.”

 

Sonic Alpha – Freelance Game Reviewer/Xbox LIVE Ambassador

Twitter: http://twitter.com/sonicalpha  

“With seamless integration with the NXE (dash), Xbox LIVE has never failed to impress me. I love having ability to look at the friends on my list, jump into an online game with them, and exit out with ease. The whole experience has been designed to be accessible to people of all ages, n00bs and seasoned gamers alike, and it’s something that I’ve yet to see replicated successfully on any other gaming platform.

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