Microsoft – XBox Live Starter Kit review

online gaming with the XBox
Photo of Microsoft – XBox Live Starter Kit
£39.99 (1 year's subscription included)

“I want to end up sort of unforgettable” – Ringo Starr. Luckily, The Beatles also produced some rather more sensible quotes, such as “I get by with a little help from my friends…”, which is particularly apt when it comes to XBox gaming. A frenetic four-player thrash on Fuzion Frenzy (the classic MS party game) is a total riot, but single player it’s pretty dull. However, you don’t always have your mates round (or in our case, we just don’t have any mates).

And that’s where XBox Live comes in. Using the Live Starter Kit you can go up against a multitude of other gamers from around the world (but mostly Europe) with up to 16-player games on some Live-enabled titles. It’s online gaming by any other name, and you need a broadband connection to hook up to XBox Live; a modem is just too sluggish.

We tested the system on our 512Kbps ADSL line and setting it up was a cinch, a mere matter of plugging the console into our USB router, although an ethernet cable isn’t supplied. What you do get in the Starter Kit is a setup disc and a headset microphone that plugs into a controller’s memory slot. The headset is well built and the mic is a quality affair too.

The console connected to the Live system automatically and after entering some credit card details we were away, free to experience the two demo Live games included on the setup disc; Moto GP (bike racing) and Whacked (cartoon style party game).

The Live interface is simplicity itself to use. You can select a quick match (just jump straight into a random game lobby and then start playing) or an ‘optimatch’ (which allows you to search for specific game parameters such as languages spoken, maps played on, game rules used and so forth).

You can talk to people via the headset mic and listen to their inanities, sorry, replies via the headphone, while the normal game sound comes out of the TV speakers as per usual. It’s a bit odd to begin with, talking to your console, but you soon get used to it. The only problem is the odd moron who’s out to offend or annoy, as you get with all online gaming.

In terms of lag the experience was excellent. Both demo Live games ran very slickly and latency problems were practically non-existent. We did get disconnected from the odd game, but on the whole the service was top notch in terms of speed and connectivity. There’s no lag on the speech via the mic either, and it boasts impressive clarity to boot.

There are lots of smart features added for Live enabled games as well, such as a world best high score table. Live also provides a friends list facility so you can keep tabs on whether your buddies are online or not, and invite them into your games when they’re about.

Company: Microsoft

Contact: 0870 601 0100

Overall this is a great package. Thirty-five quid seems a fair price to ask for a decent headset and a year's subscription to the service, given that it's a high quality service. We were most impressed with how smoothly the demo games played, along with the overall functionality and ease of use of XBox Live. The only downside is you have to pay for that service by renewing your subscription every year, and exactly how much renewal will cost hasn't yet been revealed.