XBOX 360: A Look in the Rearview

In the fall of 2005, I was just two months into college. As a full-time student without a job, large gaming expenses weren’t in the cards for me. So, when the XBOX 360 came out that November, I watched from the sidelines through sites like IGN and GameSpot. Over the next year, more 360s started to make their way into the dorms and my envy continued to grow.

My first memory of the XBOX 360 was in a friend’s dorm room at the start of my sophomore year, just a little under a year after the console launched. I remember being absolutely blown away as he played the Normandy beach level in the hyped up sequel to Call of Duty (not the Big Red One). From that point on, I had to have one. That Christmas, I was lucky enough to get my 360, Call of Duty 2, and a spare controller from my parents. For the rest of my time in college, the 360 played a critical role.

The XBOX 360 was a console full of innovations, but my favorite by far was the 360 Wireless Controller.

In all it’s glory…

Wireless controllers had started popping up in the prior generation, with Nintendo even making their own first party option for the GameCube, but Microsoft’s Wireless 360 pad was the first wireless controller to connect directly to the console. (Nintendo’s Wavebird used a dongle.) The inclusion of such a controller has had a huge impact on the industry.

Since the XBOX 360, every major console has included a wireless controller with similar technology, but there are so many other ways that the 360 had influenced the industry. Online gaming. Party chats. Downloadable games. XBLA and Indie games. Hell, in a lot of ways, Sony even used the more of the 360 than their own PS3 as their starting point for their next console, the hugely successful PS4. Many of the PS4’s most basic features (UI, cross-game chat, etc) and policies (indie focus, account management, etc) are more in line with their 360 equivalents than with the PS3 versions. As much as the 360 has become an example to the industry from a technical and business perspective though, it wouldn’t have been the great console it was without its library of games.

Many of last generation’s best games have become synonymous with the 360. Launching about a year ahead of the PS3 and being a much simpler system to develop for, games like BioShock and Mass Effect launched first with Microsoft. Other games like those from Bethesda famously ran better on the 360 than on competing hardware. Then there’s the exclusive content deals that tend to follow the market leader. For me though, what all the positive feelings towards the 360 boil down to is one thing. I simply had some of my favorite gaming memories of all time on the 360.

Some of my favorite gaming memories were had staring at this screen…

I mentioned earlier how much Call of Duty 2 blew me away when I saw gameplay for the first time but, while the campaign blew me away, it isn’t what I remember most about the game. For summer and winter breaks during college, most of my friends from high school would head back to our hometown, work our summer jobs, and just hang around each other’s houses after work. I was lucky enough to have one friend who also had a 360 with two controllers, so the way we passed so much of our time was with Call of Duty 2‘s four player split screen modes. We spent hours in our parents’ living rooms passing the controllers back and forth and playing free-for-all deathmatches. When CoD had outstayed its welcome, we would move over to Fight Night: Round 3 tournaments or to that year’s FIFA or NHL game where four of us at a time could play 2v2 matches. Although we’re all still close friends, growing families and more limiting schedules mean that gaming doesn’t play that same role in our time together these days, but I have the 360 to thank for all of those memories.

During the semesters, the 360 got some more varied use. Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis become an unexpected favorite among friends. Rock Band launched my junior year of college and was an instant hit in the dorm. That same year, Halo 2 LAN games were a staple on my floor. A few months into the fall semester, Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 launched, more friends got their own 360, and online gaming became a huge portion of the hobby for me. With the kind of free time on my hands that only college (and procrastination) can afford you, competitive games like Gears of War and the aforementioned Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 were something I was able to sink a lot of time into…and the 360 absolutely nailed online gaming. XBOX Live has since become the industry standard for how an online service should function.

The Orange Box is another 360 title that had a huge impact on me. I hadn’t owned a gaming PC at that point in my life, so this was my first exposure to Half Life and Team Fortress 2. Like it did for so many others though, Portal was the game that stole the show for me. Although I went on to play the incredible Portal 2 on PS3, I’ll always associate the IP with the 360. I wasn’t even going to play it at first, but one of my best friends had heard good things from a friend of his, so I gave it a shot. Since it’s a pretty short game, I ended up skipping class that day to play through the entire game. Later in the week, I played it again. It’s such a funny, atmospheric and engaging game. It’s exactly the kind of stand-out title I remember the 360 for.

All good things must end…

Unfortunately, around this time, my 360 was on its last legs. The disc drive had stopped opening and closing reliably earlier in my senior year and, shortly after graduation, it succumbed to the Red Ring of Death that was all too common with the early model 360s. By then, I had also added a Wii and a PS3 to my collection. With limited funds and my career starting up, I couldn’t justify replacing the 360 at the time. As a result, I packed up all of my 360 games and hardware in a box, took it to GameStop, and said goodbye…trading it all towards expanding my PS3 and Wii collection.

Yesterday, Microsoft also said goodbye to the 360. They’ll still continue to support XBOX 360 owners through their online services (XBL, Games with Gold) and technical support, but Microsoft has officially ended production of XBOX 360 consoles, marking the end of an era. I’ve admittedly moved more towards PlayStation 3 and 4 since my 360 died years ago, but yesterday’s announcement got me thinking about just how much I loved the platform. It was the console that took me through some of my best gaming years in college and, despite its abrupt, crimson end, I’ll always remember it fondly…even though I never got that cake…

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