Friday, October 05, 2007

Xbox 360 and Halo 3: First Impressions

I absolutely adore the Halo series of video games. I've been a longtime fan of Bungie, the developer, and the science fiction backstory of this game and other games they've released in the past fascinates me.

Microsoft, Bungie's owner, released Halo 3 last week exclusively for the Xbox 360 system. I enjoy video games from time to time but usually stick to previous generation video game systems - it's cheaper and the games are often just as fun. However, with Halo 3's release looming, and its "must-have" status in my mind, my brother and I made an agreement - we'd go in on the Xbox 360 together, splitting the price of the system, the extra controller (so we could play cooperatively), and Halo 3. Eventually, my brother would buy the whole system from me. This sounded like a good deal to the consumer in me - eventually, when my brother buys me out, absolutely free.

So I ordered the Xbox 360 online, and it arrived last week on the day of Halo 3's release. Halo 3 arrived the next day.

The Xbox 360 is infamous for its technical problems, which Microsoft has (apparently falsely) claimed affects an average of 3%-5% of consoles. I was happy when I fired up the Xbox 360 and everything worked fine. A user shouldn't give a sigh of relief when a piece of consumer electronics actually works, but I had read too many horror stories to be confident about the 360.

It was the night before Halo 3 would arrive, so I got the system ready for play. I tried signing up for the Xbox Live online gaming service and got a "Xbox Live sign up is currently unavailable. Please try again later." error message. Since many "try again later" messages turn out to mean you did something wrong, I looked it up online. Microsoft's knowledgebase article on the specific error gave a number of solutions to try, which I worked through for a good hour and a half.

Of course, every time I got the error message the 360 sent me back to the beginning of the registration process. Some of the fields I had entered were saved, but many steps of the process required text reentry. I even created a new Windows Live/Passport/Hotmail account to see if my original account was in error. Nothing worked. I tried it again in the morning and successfully signed up. It turns out that the real problem was simply that the Xbox live service was unavailable because too many Halo 3 players tried to play at once, bringing the system down - I should have trusted the wording of the actual error message and not Microsoft's article about the message.

My brother came over on the following night so we could experience Halo 3 together, and arrived to find me in the kitchen making us dinner and the Halo 3 disc already in the 360, the title screen loaded up. After I had some rice and beans going, we headed into the living room to play, and found the Xbox 360 powered off.

I figured it was a power saving feature. I turned the 360 back on, and instead of a green circle on the front of the console, on came a 3/4 circle of red light. Meaning that the Xbox 360 was effectively dead.

There was a lot of swearing at the console and the corporation that produces it. I made a couple calls to Xbox technical support and they told me, apologetically, in accents I could hardly understand, that I'd have to send the Xbox in for repair. I gave them my home address when they asked for it, but then I asked if they could ship the repaired console to my work address because I wouldn't be home to sign for it. They said they already had a address on file for me, and the process to validate the new address would take weeks and hold up the repair process. This was just minutes after I gave them the initial address without any sort of validation process. Frustrating.

So my brother and I have made an investment in a brand new game for a brand new system, and have yet to play a minute of it. And now rumors fly about a new version of the 360 to go on sale soon that costs about $70 less than the system we just bought, with all the functionality we needed (a memory card to hold save games instead of the hard drive). The system might be out before we get ours back from repair.

Our Xbox 360 is now headed back to Microsoft. We'll see how soon it comes back, in what condition it comes back in, and whether or not I actually get it back because I can't sign for it.

Microsoft issued a press release today, announcing that Bungie is becoming an independent studio after 7 years of being a Microsoft property. Thank goodness. There's now a chance, a very small chance, that Bungie's next game will be available on a system other than Microsoft's faulty Xbox 360. The 360 has been out for almost 2 years now, and still has the problems that plagued it from the start.

Like many things in life, I won't know how I'll feel about this whole debacle until it's over with, but right now I'm wishing I preferred board games to Halo 3.