Many moons ago we were all salivating at the prospect of next gen consoles going online. From quite early on the three main companies had different opinions on how to incorporate online play into their platform. Sony decided to leave it to individual publishers/developers to provide the online environment, Microsoft decided to take control of all games and have a network incorportaing many games for a one off fee, and Nintendo decided not to decide, instead they would just wait and see.
Initially i thought that Microsoft were wading in with their big size 12's trying to take over and use their economic muscle to control us all. But that isn't the case. Microsoft have brought together an absolutley fantastic network, incorporating many games, consistency and most of all value for money. Unfortunately, on this occassion Sony seem to have dropped the ball.
Out of the box
I paid £39.99 for my Live Starter Kit. In the box is a game called whacked, a Mechwarrior Demo and Moto GP. Also a headset consisting of a microphone and earphone and a twelve month subscription. Now to me that just screams 'bargain'. Some online games have an annual fee of approximately £50. So getting a subscription to over 30 games for much less is a definite perk.
Cheap isn't neccessarily poor. In fact the service you get is fantastic; scoreboards, downloadable content, getting to pop a cap in the ass of every yappy American kid thats online, these are some of the things that make Live great. You can always find people to play on every game and at peak times your spoiled for choice. Currently we are in version 2.? of Xbox live. Version 3.0, due to be released this April, adds improved clan support, tournament support, voice messaging attached to game invites and several other features. You do feel part of a greater community when you are part of live, not just a person playing another online game. I connect using a 1/2 mbit broadband connection through Telewest communications. Lag isn't as prolific as i'd expected and most lag is due to the server, in these circumstances everyone lags and so no-one really suffers because of it.
Get by with a little help......
Lets face it we are nothing without our friends, and Xbox live makes no exception to this. If you find a player who you function particularly well with, then you can add them to your friends list. Whats great is that the friends list is the same throughout all of your xbox titles. So make a friend in Wolfenstein and you can still meet up with them in Unreal. This encourages groups of people to form together and create clans. Also when checking scoreboards, you can pull up a list of your friends scores and so see how you compare.
A.I. or just I
Its difficult to find a review these days without the mention of the games A.I. but that doesn't matter with Live. As your playing real people, you can't learn their routines, or expolit code weaknesses, you must improva and adapt to beat your enemy. This adds to the appeal of the system, as do the bragging rights associated with it.
For many of the FPS games the server limit is approx. 10-12 players. Though some people will set up their machines as deicated servers, this allows for a greater number of people to play at any one time. You can choose to host a game for yourself if you want that little bit extra contol, but dedicated servers are generally the best.
Now i think that this is the best part of Live. The voice communicator allows you to talk to other players. This is incorporated differntly into different games. For instance, in Counterstrike you can only hear your team mates whilst alive and when you die you can hear all the other players who have been killed. Voice communication allows for quick co-ordination of team strategies. This really involves you in the game and you will feel that your victories are much more of a team effort. For you loners out there it is a great chance to brag about your ridiculously high number of frags.
There are some very important things that you should know about the Live service. Chipped Xboxes don't work. If the network detects a chipped Xbox, your account will be suspended and your Xbox banned. Online cheats don't work. The main manufacturers of cheat devices have declared that they will not provide cheats for online games. Also act like a tit and your likely to be kicked, remember people are playing to have fun, not to be isolated or abused, those who believe otherwise are generally kicked from servers.
In summary Xbox Live is one of the best things to happen to gaming in recent years, it encourages team spirit, communication and is suited to both the hardcore and casual gamer. Also many Xbox Live games can be picked up quite cheap second hand and so you will be able to get two or three games instead of one brand new purchase. For those of you with a broadband connection and an Xbox, for £40 you can change the way you play games, forever.
Try out these sites for all of your clan and Xbox live needs.