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Microsoft Xbox 360
It's here. It's impressive
Review Unless you've been living in a Buddhist Temple in the mountains of Tibet for the past few months you will be well aware that the Xbox 360 has launched in the UK. Although there has been a massive amount of coverage and speculation in the technology press regarding the 360, the general marketing has been slightly subdued. OK, so you may have seen the odd advert on TV over the past couple of weeks, but there hasn't been what I'd call a major marketing push. Perhaps Microsoft is waiting for Christmas to spend the marketing dollars, or perhaps the it knows that pretty much every 360 is going to sell on launch day whether it advertises it or not.
When Microsoft launched the original Xbox at the end of 2001 I flew to New York to pick up a console, because the UK release date was several months after the US launch. Thankfully this time Microsoft hasn't made us Brits wait too long to get our hands on the goodies - a wait of a couple of weeks is bearable, and definitely doesn't warrant a trans-Atlantic crossing...
Of course, when the original Xbox appeared, the PlayStation 2 already had a very strong hold on the market, and if there's one thing that I've realised about PlayStation users, it's that they're brand loyal to the point of fanaticism - much like many Nintendo fans. This situation made it difficult for the Xbox, despite offering superior hardware specifications. OK, so it was a stripped down PC, but that doesn't change the fact that it had better graphics and audio than any of the competing products. Of course, there were many gamers who wanted to own a PlayStation2, Xbox and even a GameCube, but most casual gamers tend to have a single console, and many of them already owned a PS2.
It's clear that Microsoft isn't willing to let history repeat itself with the 360, which is why the console is launching well before Sony gets the PlayStation 3 onto the streets. In fact, the PS3 won't be hitting Japan until spring 2006, so it's not likely to make it over to the UK until this time next year, giving the 360 a full 12 months to build up a healthy user base. In some respects I feel quite sorry for the outgoing Xbox, because some of the recent titles look truly stunning, showing that the machine is far from the end of its lifecycle. But ultimately Microsoft knows that if it wants to win the next console battle it needs to hit hard, and more importantly, hit first.
So, is the 360 worth shelling out your cash for? The simple answer is yes - actually that should be YES! The 360 really is an impressive bit of kit in so many ways, but let's talk specifics.