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Happy Birthday Xbox 360: Part 1

This week marks five years since the Xbox 360 was released in the UK and Europe. It's been a wild ride so far. Get your party hats and join us on looking back on the highs and lows, starting with '05 to '07.

It's been one hell of a ride, these last five years. And if the current generation of console matched its predecessors, we'd be writing about the Xbox 360 as we would an ailing relative lying on their death bed. But five years old and the console is still going strong, breaking the half-decade cycle we in the industry have become accustomed to as any console's life-span.

We've seen the system grow and evolve, change shape, seen it grow extra appendages. Some withered and died, others have taken root in the public consciousness and we couldn't imagine life without them. And we haven't even touched on the games.

So to celebrate the milestone let's take a look back at the Xbox 360's past and pick out its most memorable (for better or worse) moments, as well as some things that might have slipped everyone's mind in the interim.

2005: Humble Beginnings

'05's Finest

Project Gotham Racing 3 (Microsoft)
Call of Duty 2 (Activision)
Kameo: Elements of Power (Microsoft)

Most Underrated title: Condemned: Criminal Origins (Sega)

What do you remember of Xbox 360's grand launch? The sleekness of Microsoft's newest compared to the girth of the original Xbox? Maybe it was anger at the swiftness of developers jumping ship from one x-platform to the next. Was it the jaw-dropping realism of Bizarre's PGR3?

I bet you it wasn't looking at Tony Hawk: Wasteland and GUN in all their high-res glory. That was it was for me, my previous residence before GR putting me front and centre of Microsoft's new revolution as the new staff writer on Official Xbox 360 Magazine, and the future initially looked nothing more than a tarted up version of what we'd been seeing the last three years.

It definitely got better though. Through arguments about whether Rare's reinterpretation of Joanna Dark was a good thing (that's a whole other can of worms) and a rather bizarre set of launch commercials (has any console creator ever got these right?), we did get the fantastic Project Gotham Racing 3, which did prove the power gestating under the Xbox 360's hood, and the criminally underrated Condemned: Criminal Origins from Sega.

And of course Call of Duty started its siege on gamers' bank balances worldwide with its second instalment winning rave reviews from critics. Big name titles were promised for the near future, amongst their number Remedy's new psychological horror thriller Alan Wake and sci-fi adventure Too Human, from Eternal Darkness developer Silicon Knights.

Oddest news nugget of the year came from Tecmo, whose Dead or Alive 4 would feature an unlockable female Spartan from the Halo universe, named "Nicole".

Oh, and a little thing called Xbox Live Arcade kicked off as well. It'd slowly offer a collection of cheap arcade ports and basic games in the early days, but no-one knew how big this would ultimately become.

2006: Big sequels, big blunders

'06's Finest

Gears of War (Microsoft)
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2K Games)
Dead Rising (Capcom)

Most underrated title: Enchanted Arms (Ubisoft)

Title released that you've already forgotten about: Rockstar's Table Tennis.

Interesting personal story: my promo copy of Oblivion still remains sealed in its plastic wrap on my games shelf at home, four years after release. "How have you not played one of the greatest games of this generation?" I hear you cry. Simple: lack of time. Whereas once I got dedicate entire weekends to clearing Final Fantasy titles, I now have little downtime between work, and Elder Scrolls is the type of game that'd swallow your social life whole if you let it get its hooks into you. Bethesda - to this day I'm terrified of your games and the wreckage they'd make of my life.

Anyway, 2006, and the year Xbox 360's balls grow big. Release with the biggest ramifications: Gears of War, released in November and the first level playthrough of which by Epic's Cliffy B opens Microsoft's E3 conference. Think about it: while Epic had already pimped out its Unreal Engine 3 already (most notably in Rainbow Six: Vegas) the Gears series was Xbox 360's showstopper.

Not only did it set the visual bar, but it also introduced a new wave of gameplay mechanics that come as standard in many games today. The roadie-run, Horde mode, active reloads. Developers love letter to brown textures (that's only half a joke by the way). And also note: Gears of War is only one of few big-name blockbusters on Xbox that has originated on this generation. Halo, PGR, CoD - all carried over from previous consoles.

E3 also saw Microsoft use a tattoo on Peter Moore's arm to announce securing not only same day one release of Grand Theft Auto IV, but also exclusive episodes that'd hit Xbox Live. He also states that Xbox Live users number three million now, and the company project double that by next E3. Bill Gates comes on stage to announce Live connectivity to mobile devices, and the conference ends with a Halo 3 trailer. Halo 2's cliffhanger is finally being resolved in 2007 - three years later.

The year's not without its missteps. The HD-DVD Player is announced and released, naïve as to its future as a doorstop and failed technology curio in the very near future. A similar fate lies in store for the Xbox Live Vision Cameras, who must now be looking jealously upon Kinect. And while Xbox Live Marketplace is expanded dramatically with new XBLA titles and DLC content, we see some barkingly idiotic decisions. Cracking puzzler Lumines Live! main gameplay modes get chopped into multiple DLC packages, immediately turning punters cold. And the year will always be remembered for Oblivion's stupidly-overpriced Horse Armour DLC, which quickly gains infamy and is still used today as how not to do DLC.

We see plenty of strong contenders hit the game market, such as Gears and Oblivion, while Xbox Live Arcade gets its first Unreal Engine-powered title with the decent Roboblitz. We also see some complete turkeys. Licence games continue to be shit with the likes of Superman Returns, Square-Enix's brave attempt at bringing the MMO market to console with Final Fantasy XI proves a misfire, while Sonic takes his first next-gen run up in ages, only to trip over poor collision detection and the odd whiff of inter-species relationships, and fall straight on his face. He's sure to get it right next time.

Also in other news, some FPS called Bioshock is announced as a Xbox 360 and PC exclusive, and we get our first slice of videogame movie adaptation in ages with Silent Hill: the Movie. Pity it turns out to be shit.

Alan Wake and Too Human get new trailers, but not release dates.

2007:The Glorious Year

'07's Finest

Mass Effect (Microsoft)
Halo 3 (Microsoft)
Guitar Hero III (Activision)

Most Underrated title: Sega Rally (Sega)

Titles released that you've probably already forgotten: Blacksite: Area 51 (Midway) Clive Barker's Jericho (Codemasters)

Sam Fisher's beard ratio:
110%.

The year when Xbox 360 arguably caught its franchise-devouring, world conquering stride. It's also the year Splinter Cell's Sam fisher went Hobo, Xbox 360 flirted with Hollywood while Bungie filed divorce papers, people fell in love with, and rapidly learned to hate cake, and titles missed their release dates by a country mile.

Peter Moore still garners the audience's goodwill at E3 despite, as part of Harmonix's Rock Band outfit opening Microsoft's conference, accidentally pausing the game. Twice. At the same conference, Microsoft announce its met its Xbox Live predictions of last year with a staggering seven million users now signed up to the service. Next stop: ten million for next year's E3.

The firm also kick-start the ongoing tradition of releasing content as the conference is live, with Xbox 360 owners scurrying to download the original Sonic the Hedgehog and Golden Axe onto XBLA.

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson puts in an appearance to announce collaboration between himself and Bungie on a yet-unnamed Halo project, which sadly will fizzle out in the long run due to the attempt to get a Halo movie off the ground the following year collapsing.

Jackson is not the only big name attached to Xbox 360 this year: John Woo and Chow Yun Fat bring Inspector Tequila back in Strangehold, a videogame sequel of 80s action flick Hard Boiled, Clive Barker gets his name above horror (or should that be horrible?) FPS Jericho. Activision snagged legendary guitarist Slash to use his likeness in the game (but only managed Johnny Rotten for the launch night.)

Best announcement for teenage boys is that adult actress Tera Patrick would appear in Saints Row 2 (alongside the likes of Gary Busey and Elisa Dusku). Fair play to developer Violtion - the ensuing ad campaign (which also lampooned GTAIV fantastically well) did raise a smile.

There were games too amid the star-spangled appearances. Mass Effect and Assassin's Creed both debut to critically acclaim, and have gone from strength to strength with the following sequels, while Valve's Orange Box gives gamers the best-value package of all time, bundling Half-Life 2, its subsequent episodes, Team Fortress 2 and a new title Portal together.

In hardware we see two new additions; Xbox 360 goes Elite with a black-hued console carrying a 250 gig HD, and we get the oddly shaped but casual-friendly Scene It! Lights. Camera, Action controllers. One of these goes on to be a great success.

Biggest shock of the year was Bungie's announcement that it was separating from Microsoft come Halo 3's launch, and was to go its way as a independent developer. Franchise fans are cold with horror, and other format owners perk up with interest. The former shouldn't be worried; Bungie would prove to have a lot of Halo love in it yet.

In other news, Splinter Cell's latest Conviction is confirmed after leaks and we come eye to eye with a bearded and scruffy Sam Fisher, who will quickly nudge up alongside Alan Wake and Too Human, who have gotten comfortable on the delayed release bench.

Potentially the biggest release of the year gets shunted into 2008 as Grand Theft Auto IV misses its initial release. We'd love to say fantastic movie adaptations of our favourite videogames sooth our pain, but instead Resident Evil: Extinction, Hitman and Dead or Alive gave us a whole new level of agony.

Head on to Part 2 when we'll finish our retrospective on the Xbox 360's first five years, looking at the highlights of 2008 to present day.