Xbox Live will make for a lively Xmas

    Xbox Live, Microsoft’s newest entry into the world of online console gaming, is a service that allows you to compete over the Internet against other people from around the world. Not all games out for Xbox are supported — at launch time only nine games were — but they represent a nice genre mix, from shooters to sports to party games. The unit costs $50, which gives you a one-year subscription, a headset for voice communication and demos of two games: “”Whacked!”” and “”Moto GP,”” both playable online. The first year of service is included with the Live package you purchase, but the price scheme for subsequent years hasn’t been revealed yet.

    Before you run out to the nearest electronics store and grab your copy, make sure you realize that Xbox Live will only work over a broadband network, such as a cable modem or the connection in UCSD’s dorms. In addition, the speed of your connection makes a big difference — a cable modem at home works great, but the lag-ridden connection in the campus dorms can make for a lot of interrupted games while you wait to catch up to the other players’ connections.

    With that said, if you have a fast connection, Xbox Live will undoubtedly be something you’ll want to add to your Christmas list. It’s fun, it’s inexpensive and you’ll never have to settle for playing the boring, single-player Xbox again if your friends aren’t around … or if you don’t have any friends.

    Most interesting is the replay ability of games, such as “”NFL Fever 2003,”” becomes nearly infinite when you can test your strategies on new people and learn from their strategies. “”Talking trash”” has never been easier. Games like “”Unreal Championship,”” where the testosterone flows freely are great for Xbox live; you can literally talk real-time trash with the included headset, making it all that much easier to rub a victory in an opponent’s face.

    In addition, the nine games currently available for Xbox Live represent the best of their genres. “”Unreal Championship”” is either the best or second-best shooter game on the console, with “”Halo”” being its only competition; and because “”Halo”” lacks Live support, if you want to play a great shooter online, its going to be “”Unreal Championship.”” Tom Clancy’s “”Ghost Recon”” is another shooter that comes with Live support, and offers a more strategic game-play experience than “”Unreal’s”” run-and-gun action, so shooter fans will have their choice of styles and games.

    While Xbox Live is an incredibly fun and inexpensively priced service, it isn’t without flaws, such as the aforementioned lag issues. If your Internet connection is slow when you surf the Internet, this probably will result in little fun when using the Live service, because when the game really lags, the voice system becomes unusable, and that really is the service’s most interesting feature. In addition, people won’t want to play you because you’ll slow down their games.

    It is overly complicated to add someone to your friends list, a feature that lets you see if people you have chosen to play with are online or not so you can easily contact them for games. Also, installing Xbox Live on your Xbox seems to make it less stable, and in tests, the Xbox loner unit reviewed by hiatus crashed multiple times, something a console should never do.

    Registration requires a credit card after purchase, which leaves some kids SOL and forces you to remember to cancel your subscription if you’re unhappy after a year. Also, some view the game selection at present as very limited, with only nine choices that may not even be games people would be interested in playing. At the top of this list are the included games, “”Whacked!”” and “”Moto GP,”” both of which have very limited game-play features, and if it weren’t for the voice chat online, would get tossed aside after an hour. However, these prespective gamers should be aware that many more games will be released with Live support in the next few months.

    The Xbox Live service is experiencing growing pains at the moment and still has a lot of bugs to be ironed out. Microsoft seems very committed to making it the most enjoyable experience it can, and so far it has started out with a great product. Overall, if you have an Xbox and a decent Internet connection, the plusses far outweigh the minuses for Microsoft’s Xbox Live. The allure of playing people all over the world, learning new strategies for games or just talking trash from the comfort of your couch are too strong to pass up for $50.

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