It was this year’s E3, held amidst the sweltering June heat, that saw Microsoft first unveil their triumphantly-dubbed “New Xbox Experience” for the Xbox 360. This, however, came as a surprise to many. After all, this was a company who occupied the first half of their show presentation with footage from Gears of War 2, Fable 2, Saint’s Row 2 and Fallout 3 – hardly games befitting your average nuclear family. When, then, they abruptly decided about half an hour in to shift their entire console’s focus to the “family demographic” through the NXL (as I shall be officially abbreviating it), most gamers had absolutely no idea what on earth was going on. Microsoft – whose fanbase is, at the risk of causing offence, populated mainly by whooping “hardcore” gamers whose main interests lie in “guns and shit” – had suddenly decided to make their console a Wii clone. Suffice to say, the NXL was unleashed onto the gamer population on November 19th, and it’s proved to be an interesting update indeed.
The download itself is an easy one, taking – for reasons which currently elude me – barely over a few minutes before you’re flung into the new, heavily Apple-influenced world Microsoft have prepared for you, the first trace of which you’ll notice being the new Xbox “dashboard” design. Resembling how some of the more stylish MP3 players display your playlist, it nonetheless is far simpler and easier to use than the old system, which threw at you a torrent of tabs and buttons without ever really explaining what was going on. Now instead you have a smaller series of sections which you can scroll through horizontally. Though it certainly sounds – and to a large extent is – strictly superficial a change, it nonetheless proves a welcome one which makes for a far friendlier introduction to Microsoft’s console. There’s even a nice little addition in that a simplified version of the original dashboard now appears when the “guide” button is pressed.
The other major difference one notices is the addition of a system of “avatars” which players select, customise and clothe to act as their representative within the innards of the Xbox 360. Indeed, the inevitable comparisons to the Wii’s Mii system are entirely warranted as this is little more than a carbon copy, but one which even manages to mess things up somewhat. Take a look at the avatar included in this piece, for one – that suave beast, resembling what would happen if Roger Moore ever copulated inside a 360, is supposed to resemble me. Dear reader, much to my disdain I look nothing like that. Though they sought it fit to include that ever-so-common pinnacle of modern eyewear the monocle in their grand design, Microsoft (or, to be more specific, Rare) omitted effective customisation sufficient to allow Avatars to actually look like someone specific. Sure, you can select the eye, hair, mouth and nose pieces (most of which are seemingly copied and pasted directly from the Wii’s effort), however they cannot be changed in size or moved around the face – true, effective, individualised customisation is absent and sorely missed. Undoubtedly more options and clothing will become available as time goes on, however it will come at a price – Microsoft Points. The Big M will gauge this baby for all it’s worth, so do watch out.
Nonetheless, through the changes initially appear somewhat pointless they at least look extremely slick and attractive. Doubtless in time – should of course Microsoft continue to pursue chasing the family market – Avatars will have a lot more use, turning up in games and whatnot, however at the moment they seem little more than a fleeting little diversion to tide you over in between frantic bouts of Gears of War 2. Will the NXE fall flat on its face or will Microsoft’s support ensure it continues to grow and perhaps emerge from the Wii’s weighty shadow?
At the moment, only time will tell.