If you've yet to hold an Xbox controller, picture a cross between a Dreamcast controller and a pumped-up Batarang - those bat-shaped boomerangs Batman throws at bad guys. The first time I dropped it, I was afraid it was going to break through my floor and kill my downstairs neighbor, it was that big and heavy. I wondered how children would be able to use it. Then I realized that the kids can make use of the Nintendo GameCube, which is a perfect fit for their puny hands.
The controller is my only serious complaint about Xbox. At this point. I'm either building up superhuman strength in my hands and forearms, or I'm becoming arthritic. After a weekend of nonstop playing, I couldn't feel the tip of my right thumb. Not that I'm complaining - at least I can still feel the controller vibrate when I drive my racing car into a wall. As with any activity in life, you sometimes have to play through the pain.
Whoa! There has been much hype about Halo, the first-person-shooter combat extravaganza, so I was anxious to settle in for some action. The benefits of surround sound kicked in right away. Hearing the character voices and sound effects coming from different points in the space around me helped me get my bearings. I'd hear a voice over my right shoulder - usually one of the high-pitched aliens trying to kill me - then turn around and start painting the walls with its blue blood. (Halo uses Dolby's Interactive Content Encoder to direct its sound effects to different channels in response to how you're playing the game.)
The pacing of Halo quickened as I spun from level to level. And after an hour and a half straight playing the game, I had to take a bathroom break. As I walked down the hallway, I felt as if I'd just stepped off a roller coaster. This wasn't just a videogame; it had become an event.
I became so addicted to playing on this extreme setup that I brought some friends over to the testing lab to help me exploit the system. Would I ever be able to play on my little 21-inch TV-sans-surround system again?
Regardless of the creeping arthritis in my controller hand, I've come to accept that the Xbox and PS2 can coexist. Here's how I'd divvy up the house: The Xbox would go into the main rack where the VCR used to be (they're the same size at about 13 x 4 x 10 inches), and the PS2 would go in the bedroom. That way I could throttle up Grand Theft Auto 3 in private and use the PS2 as a second DVD player when my better half isn't up for Rambo in the main room.
Think of the Xbox as a human brain that's currently using only 10% of its capabilities. A year from now, when developers have had the chance to go appropriately psychotic with new gaming codes, the Xbox will be the Einstein of gaming systems. Of course, by that point we'll be so immersed in all this mayhem, we'll only be using a fraction of our own brainpower. But as long as it's the part that can appreciate tasty Doritos and a superior gaming console jacked into an astounding home theater system, everything should be fine.
Microsoft www.xbox.com, 800-469-9269
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