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Xbox goes Live

Online service details finally emerge

Microsoft has finally lifted the lid on its plans for the Xbox's much vaunted broadband adapter, although they're still keeping quiet about pricing. What we do know is that a starter kit will set you back $49.95 in the US, including a year's subscription to the service along with an Xbox Communicator headset and a free copy of Acclaim's online racing game ReVolt. It's not yet known how much this pack will cost in Europe, but contrary to earlier rumours the Xbox Live service will launch in all three major territories - America, Europe and Japan - this autumn, with beta tests beginning during the summer at datacenters in London, Tokyo and Seattle. Naturally the inclusion of the Xbox Communicator in the online starter pack means that voice-over-IP is an important part of Xbox Live, with all games set to support it. Luckily players will be able to mute the system, as well as having access to a voice masking system that can make you sound less like a spotty twelve year old geek and more like the big action hero avatar you're playing as. Other features that Xbox owners can look forward to vary from online statistics and an easy-to-use matchmaking system which can pair you off against suitably inept opponents according to your skill level, to buddy lists and the ability to interrupt your mates in the middle of a game to invite them to join you somewhere else. Which is sure to be a nuisance unless there's some way to disable it. As previously touted, you will also be able to download new data to the Xbox's hard drive, enabling new content to be added to games either as a free add-on or a commercial mission pack. Obviously the most important part of any online gaming service though is the line-up of games on offer. Luckily Microsoft have an impressive selection here, although most of them won't launch until next year. Heading up the list is undoubtedly the highly anticipated first person shooter Unreal Championship from Infogrames, with four Microsoft games - MechAssault, Whacked!, NFL Fever 2003 and Midtown Madness 3 - due online this year as well. Things should really start to pick up next year, with at least 50 Xbox Live games scheduled for release by the end of 2003, including tactical action games Ghost Recon and Raven Shield from Ubi Soft, and Phantasy Star Online and Sega Sports games from Sega. Also on the horizon but with no fixed release date at this stage is an Xbox version of Counter-Strike, as well as "future versions of Xbox original blockbusters like Halo, RalliSport Challenge, Amped and Project Gotham Racing". And then of course there's a little game called Star Wars Galaxies. Microsoft seem to be betting the family fortune on online gaming, with J Allard foreseeing a frankly horrifying future in which "every important game will be online" within the next five years. "Online technology is the next revolution in video games, and it will fundamentally transform gaming into a new form of social entertainment", according to the flamboyant Xbox supremo. "There will be new categories of collaborative and competitive console games that are possible only online. The ability to download new worlds, levels, characters, weapons, vehicles, teams, statistics and missions will change the way developers think about creating games, and will change the way gamers play them." We fear for the future Related Feature - Microsoft's first Christmas party

Source - press release