The process of signing up to Xbox Live is pretty easy. You create a profile and store it on your HDD (or memory card) and then select to make it Live enabled.
There’s a bit of typing involved so connecting a USB keyboard is a good idea (the 360 has 3 USB ports, two at the front and one at the back. There is also one on the side but that’s used by the HDD).
Once you’ve signed your life away (and your credit card) you’re constantly connected to Xbox Live. By default it’s configured to automatically logon on start up and you can disconnect if you like, but isn’t any reason to. It’s all very seamless and access various options in Live is via a blade (menu) in the dashboard, which looks similar to this:
The profile is made up of various things, but the two key things are Rep and Gamerscore. Rep is something you earn when you play online. Other players can post reviews on you where they can mark you as preferred or un-preferred player to play against. If they pick preferred, your star rating will go up, whilst if they pick un-preferred, they’ll have to pick from a further 6 categories as to what they didn’t like.
Gamerscore is something you earn by unlocking achievements in games. Achievements are just rewards you get for doing something. They can be as simple as completing a section of a game or utterly stupid, like killing 10,000 people online in Gears of War!
And because of the achievements it means that most games have no cheats, because if they did, the achievements would be meaningless. Unfortunately it can be incredibly frustrating. One such achievement is for nailing the final boss to Gears of War, Raam. I lost count of how many attempts it took me to kill him, I was getting close to doing a bit of Wii style TV breakage.
Getting back to Xbox Live, the whole thing comes into it’s own when you play something like Project Gotham Racing 3 where it’s completely hooked in. Whenever you complete anything, even if it’s just throwing a car round the test track, you’re ranked against everyone else who has played. And I like that. It’s a real incentive to try harder.