Normally, when a console's death is announced via hammy eulogy from an aging CEO, the news kind of washes over you. It's expected. You feel a tinge of melancholy, but you're ultimately nonplussed. That's probably because by the time most consoles receive their corporate marching orders, the only titles available are a spectacular mix of lackluster football ports, mode-stripped Call of Duties, or knock-off Disney shovelware like The Dalmatians or Legend of Hercules. Still, despite the fact that the games have long stopped coming, the well has since dried up, and the machine's bigger, brasher, show-off younger brother is doing such a solid job of building on its legacy of seminal innovations, there was something especially sad about the freshly confirmed discontinuation of the Xbox 360.
The console launched in late 2005, when I was studying in an unremittingly bleak, booze-drenched Welsh seaside town. Looking back on it now, and maybe even then, there was nothing that particularly grabbed me about the machine's launch lineup, the drab point of sale in the town's branch of GAME staring back at me like a needy pug. Titles like Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero had both received middling reviews, and I wasn't ready to take like a $730 punt on SEGA's new IP Condemned: Criminal Origins just yet. And I definitely wasn't prepared to sell a kidney just to play fucking Project Gotham 3, let's be honest.
It had also been a divisive first quarter for the console. Many people, myself included, felt that it was too soon to be releasing a successor to the Xbox. Units were impossible to track down in the first Christmas after launch, leading to the usual accusations of deliberate stock withholding on Microsoft's part, the initial lineup of games was utterly mediocre, and it was seriously fucking expensive.
So I waited for the first real system sellers to arrive, and when they did, I applied for a job in the rickety sports shop over the road, and I spent an utterly miserable summer working behind the cash register, dealing with teardrop-tattooed shoplifters, passive-aggressive jobsworths, horrendous bosses, and the constant blood-boiling braying of Vernon Kay's cheerful Radio 1 slot. It was a job only preferable to sieving raw sewage by hand, and all for an Xbox 360 with Oblivion and Dead Rising.
I got that bulky machine home one balmy late summer night in 2006, and I set it up with that unique sense of new-console wonder, dexterity, and urgency, poking my nose into every nook and cranny of my overly packaged purchase. It was a tank of a system, tacky and futuristic at the same, all cumbersome cream with its neon green circle winking ominously like something out of Minority Report. Squinting at Dead Rising's tiny in-game text, it was clear that this was a machine with its sights firmly set on the future, and my tired old analogue boot of a television was obviously too old to keep up with such a forward-facing system, having traveled with me through the doors of two broken homes, and three impossibly squalid university residences.
Where Microsoft had previously struggled to bring online gaming to the masses with its original console's experimental rollout of Xbox Live, the world of online multiplayer was about to explode with the Xbox 360. Undoubtedly, it changed the shape of the gaming landscape forever. We were all astronauts, faces toward the sky, about to embark on one of the most inclusive, innovative, exciting, and important generations of our sad little gaming lives. The 360 brought with it a new language to the way we played games, and how we understood and remembered them. Suddenly, we were swapping gamertags with randoms, kneeling at the feet of the new kings and queens in the hierarchical kingdom of gamerscore, watching our every achievement recognized with a gentle pop, and playing in ways we'd never done before.
I jumped off the peak of the giddying Agency Tower in Crackdown with an old, dear friend, shortly before he died. I'd jump on and play Minecraft with my younger brother after he got home from school, watching in wonder as he took me through his latest tricks and creations. I stayed up all night chainsawing Locust in half on Gears of War, remembered Symphony of the Night and its miserable little pile of secrets, nursed an extensive and scary addiction to Geometry Wars, and played Pac-Man Championship Edition until the early hours in a salvia den in Elephant and Castle. The arcades of Xbox Live on 360 brought us all of these things and more, setting up the console as a provider of memories, an instigator of friendship, and linesman in the world of healthy, good old fashioned competition.
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Then there were the games themselves. The 360 played host to some of the greatest Halo titles in the franchise's history, gave a birth to a new hero in the shape of thick-necked bandana-wearing meathead Marcus Fenix, and, perhaps more curiously, gave shelter to a surprisingly decent range of JRPGs—Mistwalker's Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon amongst them.
Among my other favorites were the exhilaratingly bonkers Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, one of Rare's overlooked gems, dragging bear and bird into a bizarre platformer/racing/sandbox hybrid and drenching them in a delightfully tropical Starburst aesthetic. Elsewhere, Crackdown provided some jumpy relief for those gagging to get stuck into a next-gen Grand Theft Auto, and Condemned: Criminal Origins is still one of the most harrowing video games I've ever played. Alongside these, the aforementioned Xbox Live Arcade continued to pump out gem after gem after gem, from nostalgic arcade classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to games I never thought I'd be able to play again, like Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga.
The indie scene on 360 was a whole other treasure trove, and it brought heady masterpieces like Braid and Limbo together with future cult classics like Shadow Complex and Castle Crashers. There was plenty to really love, especially if you were looking in the right places.
However, the machine wasn't without its problems. There is an extensive Wikipedia page dedicated to the legacy of misery the console's technical issues inflicted on gamers—scratching discs, overheating, and of course, the now infamous red rings of death—the fear of which would constantly linger in the back of my mind, festering like a dishcloth.
All in all, I think I went through three consoles in the machine's decade long lifespan, pretty staggering when you consider I've only ever had one Wii and one PlayStation 3. Sending them back was a pain in the ass, took forever, and as a result, I never really felt confident in the console's ability to last. The power brick was a constant irritant, a nightmare to manage, and to this day, I've never found an appropriately comfortable place for it to rest behind my telly. What's more, it made a hell of a fucking racket, coming off like some knackered 18-30 hotel ceiling fan. All of this flimsiness meant that the 360 often felt more like a toy than its more sophisticated nemesis, all quiet and sleek in its piano-black casing and divisive Spider-Man font.
A decade on, and millions upon millions of red rings and achievement pops later, here we are, solemnly digesting the news that our once beloved console is on the way to the scrap heap, heading to the great big CEX in the sky. There will never be another Xbox 360 game. Mine's in the corner of the lounge with the wires all wrapped round it and has been for ages. The games I played, the friends I made, and their visions of themselves are all still on there; Mii-aping avatars with skinny limbs, anime haircuts, weird dancey poses, baseball caps, sneakers, and Limbo T-shirts, some now on Xbox One, some still playing, some having passed away, a final image of them left unfinished for all eternity.
What is it that makes the death of the Xbox 360 so sad? That breezeblock of a console made us communicate with one another. It pitted us against one anoother. It made us love one another, and it made us hate one another. It put us side by side for the first time as we explored other worlds, and it brought back classic games from our memories, making new ones in the process. It kept us in touch with one another. It made us smarter and more skillful. It did all of this with such an effortless charm. And for this, it deserves only the warmest of places in our hearts.
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