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Microsoft Xbox 360
It's here. It's impressive
Unlike the PS3, which will be sporting a Blu-ray optical drive, Microsoft has stuck with a standard DVD drive for the 360. I would imagine that this decision was driven by timing - if Microsoft had wanted to implement a next-generation optical device, there is no way that the 360 would be in the shops right now. I can't say that I'm that worried about having a DVD drive in the box, since a DVD-9 should provide more than enough storage for the majority of games - unless the developer wants to throw hours of HD cut-scenes into the mix. Of course, the other argument for having a Blu-ray or HD DVD drive in a console is that you'll be able to watch HD movies on it, but I'd rather have a separate player for movies anyway.
The removable hard disk is a stroke of genius and allows users to take all of their 360 content with them if they visit a friend. This was a big problem with the original Xbox, but once again Microsoft has thought things through and come up with a solution. Of course you can still use memory cards with the 360, but thankfully they now slot into the console (like the PS2), rather than into the controller.
Microsoft made a big mistake with the original Xbox controllers by making them suitable only for giants. The original controllers were so big that it was almost impossible to hold them comfortably. Strangely, when the Xbox launched in Japan it shipped with a smaller controller, and many gamers, myself included, imported one of these as soon as they were available. Eventually Microsoft realised its error and started shipping all new Xbox consoles with the smaller controller. So has Microsoft learned its controller lesson? You bet it has!
The wireless controller that shipped with my review sample is simply fantastic. It feels like an evolution of the Xbox Controller S, making it one of the best gaming pads I have ever used. Nintendo may have invented the analogue controller, but with this new X360 unit, it feels like Microsoft has perfected it. There are a couple of important changes to the controller over the outgoing Xbox version. The black and white buttons have been binned in favour of two shoulder buttons located above the analogue triggers - this is a major improvement, since the black and white buttons where never the easiest to access. And the analogue triggers just feel more sensitive - whether you're accelerating in a Ferrari 360 CS in Project Gotham 3, or zooming in on a target in Perfect Dark Zero, it just feels as if you have a greater degree of control.
Surprisingly the weight of the two AA batteries didn't bother me at all, in fact the wireless controller feels better in the hand with the batteries inserted. If you're worried about the wireless controller not responding when you need it to, don't. I've used my wireless controller for hours non-stop and I haven't once died or crashed through any fault of the controller - the fault is always my own!