It looks like nothing more than a big, black, bland box with a green "X" on the top. Its game controllers are like a catcher's mitt, bulkier than those of its console competitors Nintendo GameCube and Sony PlayStation 2.
Everything about the Xbox is as big as Microsoft itself. One would expect nothing diminutive about Microsoft's virgin venture into the video game console stratosphere.
While Sony has raised the ante in digital gaming with the release of its PS2 system last year, Microsoft is heralding a hegemonic $10 billion wager to dominate the interactive entertainment universe.
With such monolithic Microsoft features as an internal 10 gig hard-drive, 733 MHZ CPU, 64 MB RAM, 250 MHz 3D graphics unit, built-in DVD player, and broadband capabilities, the Microsoft Xbox is attempting to buy its way into the global video game market.
Unlike Sony's PS2 launch last year, Microsoft has seasoned competition from Nintendo, who also launched their GameCube console last week. Reportedly netting $100 million in profits since its release less than one week ago, the GameCube has proven to be a heady contender in the console challenge.
Although catering to a different market, Nintendo's system is not to be underestimated. Unlike the Xbox, this 405 MHz power PC, with a 202.5 MHz graphics processing unit and 43 MB of memory bandwidth, is diminutive in size and pays every attention to design aesthetic. Its core market includes younger players as well as hardcore gamers who revel in the classics of their youth, such as "The Legend of Zelda" and "Super Smash Brothers."
In the end, however, the battle will boil down to the games. This is where the XBox clearly dominates over the GameCube. As a newcomer, Microsoft has held its own in attracting third-party game developers such as Activision and Electronic Arts, and its enhanced graphics capabilities may set it apart and give gamers a reason to switch over from Sony's PS2.
Topping the list of Xbox's roll of launch titles is "Halo." Developed by Bungie Studios, this first-person sci-fi shooter game is nearly flawless in detail and scope. The graphics are powerful and crisp, showcasing the Xbox's processing capabilities. It is about as close to being interactively immersed in an action movie as one can get, and should impress gamers of all genres.
"Transworld Surf" is every surfer's dream, finally, a surfing game that is realistic! Developed by surfers, with the stamp of approval from Transworld Surf magazine, this game is clearly the best video surfing game ever released.
Heavy emphasis is put into an extremely realistic 3D wave. The gamer can choose a surfer from a lineup consisting of 13 of the top world pros and surf in any one of twenty of the world's best surf breaks, from Hossegor, France, to Tavarua, Fiji, to Huntington Beach, Calif.
The game also utilizes the Xbox's CD ripping capabilities, enabling the player to switch over the game music to any CD of choice.
"Cel Damage" was one of the pre-eminent games from the Xbox launch. While the game play is more suitable for little kids, similar in scope to the Road Runner cartoons, it has got killer graphics (imagine controlling a cartoon).
This off-beat, car-combat game is repetitive and simplistic, but still pure fun, especially when played in multi-player mode. Its cel-shaded graphics give it a bona fide Looney Tunes touch, giving the gamer the impression they are controlling their own cartoon character.
For those into fighter games, "Dead or Alive 3" is phenomenal. A sequel to the PlayStation classic from the late '90s, its graphics are nearly flawless, crisp to detail.
Developed by Tecmo, this game is an exclusive Xbox release. However, despite the flexible and smooth game play and action scenes, wide array of creative backdrops and cool game characters, this game gets repetitive for all but die-hard fans of the fighter genre.
Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee is another stellar launch release. This adventure game's down-to-earth sophistication is spectacular, but may intimidate inexperienced gamers. Its innovative storyline and breadth of unusual yet endearing characters are mesmerizing, and the problem-solving puzzles are extremely challenging. If you have a lot of time to kill, and need the cerebral charge, this game's for you.
Taking a bit of luster out of Microsoft's launch, is Sony PS2 fall lineup. The graphics of the Xbox version of "Tony Hawk Skater 2X" may be marginally better than the PS2 version, but not worth the $300 for a new system on top of a $50 game price tag.
The PS2 version of "Simpson's Road Rage" has just been released, while the Xbox version won't be available for a few more weeks. The same goes for SSX Tricky, a sequel to Electronic Arts' explosive snowboarding PS2 launch game of last year; it was released last week for PS2, but has yet to be released for Xbox. As other awesome PS2 titles such as "007: Agent Under Fire," "Metal
Gear Solid 2," and "Grand Theft Auto 3" hit the shelves, Microsoft has a lot of ground to cover to
keep up with entrenched PS2 gamers.
Regardless of which platform wins in the console gaming wars, there are plenty of exciting benefits to be reaped by gamers and software developers alike.
As the systems gain more processing speed, so does the capacity for future games to reach unparalleled graphics potential, leaving 2 bit games of yesteryear in a hazy dust.