The best of Microsoft's first run
Back in 2001, Microsoft decided it had been left out of the video game industry for long enough, unleashing the Xbox on the world. It quickly made a huge impact and set the foundation for Microsoft's continued influence in our fair industry. The black box with the big green X had a ton of great games for it, but only a handful can be considered the best.
This list is the cream of the Xbox crop: if you're looking to go back to the original Xbox and play the best it had to offer, look no further than these 50 games for everything you'll need. There's RPGs, fighting games, first-person shooters, and every other genre you could possibly want. We couldn't have had Xbox One without the Xbox 1.0, and these were the games that made it such a success.
50. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball
We can only imagine what youre thinking of us right now, but hear us out: Beneath the gratuitous jiggle physics and skimpy bathing suits lies an enjoyable volleyball simulator. Its 2-on-2 beach volleyball like weve all played before, and weve had plenty of matches where the competition heats up for reasons other than the characters onscreen.
The game gets a bad rap for its obvious intended imagery, but lets not completely dismiss it just because of how much skin it shows. If you enjoy playing volleyball on the beach during a nice day, and the real weather outside isnt conducive to such an activity, then fire up Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball and play a set. Theres a lot of substance under that surface beauty, so long as you look for it.
49. Capcom vs SNK 2: EO
Capcom sure loves to match its stable of warriors up against other companies, doesnt it? Capcoms faced the likes of Marvel super heroes and Tatsunoko anime champions, but perhaps the most natural of the crossovers is its tussle with SNK. Both companies specialize in similar fighting game styles, so its only natural that the two would come together seamlessly... and oh man did they ever.
Capcom vs SNK 2: EO features a ton of characters to choose from, three different formats in which to do battle (ratio, one on one, three on three), and six different ability sets inspired by games like Street Fighter Alpha, Fatal Fury, and Samurai Shodown. Considering all the different combinations, there are literally thousands of possibilities for a solid team in this game. It doesnt get much deeper than that, folks.
48. The Warriors
Rockstar Games could have picked any movie to make into a game. The world was its oyster; Rockstar knew wed play anything it dished out. It used that power to bring our attention to a small cult hit from the 80s called The Warriors, following a street gang in a world of street gangs as they try to make their mark. We werent familiar with the movie before, but we certainly were afterward.
Following the story of the movie in the single-player was fun enough, but the real treat of The Warriors is the multiplayer gang fights. Two players can build a gang out of dozens of actual characters from the movie into their own super-gang, then unleash them on their opponents gang in a battle of fists, bottle, bricks, and bats. If there was a way to take just the multiplayer and bring it to the current generation of consoles with some online support, wed sign up for it tomorrow. Its that much fun, and everyone should try it.
47. The Godfather: The Game
The Grand Theft Auto formula can lead to great success if placed in the correct hands. Sometimes the open-world format does little to impress the impressionable gaming public, but every once in a while a studio thats not Rockstar comes along and gets it right. EA Redwood did just that with The Godfather, adopting the classic film into a GTA-style adventure that we couldnt refuse (and that joke is officially out of the way).
It wasnt the sharpest game ever made, but theres a certain thrill in entering a local business and requesting a payout like a real wise guy. Theres a power in battling another family for new turf in the middle of a crowded city. Best of all, theres a nostalgic allure in visiting the main locations of the movie, speaking to the actual characters, and participating in some of its most iconic scenes. We placed the horse head in that mooks bed! How awesome is that?
46. The Simpsons: Hit and Run
Speaking of the Grand Theft Auto formula, Sierra Entertainment hit a home run by bringing the open-world urban setting to Springfield with The Simpsons: Hit and Run. Its one thing performing missions and driving around a big city; its another thing entirely to drive Homers iconic pink car as the big lug himself and drive past all of the major Simpsons landmarks.
Fans of the series will appreciate this game more than those whove never played it before, sure, but even the Simpsons-ignorant can see a fun open-world game when its staring them in the face. When most think of the best Simpsons games ever made, minds may initially drift to the classic arcade game, but dont forget about Hit and Run. Its an awesome foray into a world that many have loved for years.
45. Doom 3
Doom 3 carried a lot of potential with it when it first launched in 2004. It was the first true sequel to id Softwares classic PC shooter in nearly 10 years, and with that came an expectation of greatness. While the finished product wasnt the perfect package we all had hoped, it was still a damn fun game. We missed the denizens of Hell, and it was clear they missed us too.
Look, we know that the inability to hold a gun and a flashlight at the same time was really frustrating, we get that, but it doesnt ruin the entire Doom 3 experience. The game was still a scary and action-packed romp through a Hell-infested planet, which is exactly what wed expect from a game with Doom in the name. Well, until we saw the new Doom then realised how much we'd been missing.
44. Oddworld: Munchs Oddysee
We had been used to playing as Abe during our ventures into Oddworld. We had grown attached to the skinny blue goof, laughing and farting his way to saving his people from destruction. When we heard of a third Oddworld title, we were excited at the prospect of playing as Abe once again in a whole new way. Instead, we got Munch and his oddysee, but luckily for us Munch is just as awesome as his Mudokon predecessor and we got to switch between the two at will. Thats a win-win.
Aside from the dual-character aspect, the game retained the same charm as the previous Oddworld games. There were plenty of creatures to interact with, plenty of items to collect and other creatures to save, and plenty of laughs to be had. Make sure to save every last Fuzzle you encounter though; its the difference between a good and a really bad ending.
43. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
42. Phantom Dust
We always wish for games that are unique when we turn on something new, but rare is the game that truly stands out as something no one has ever done before or since. Phantom Dust from Majesco Entertainment is one such game, to the point where were having trouble describing it. Its an action game with a strategy influence and some card-based tactics thrown in. Yeah, that might do it.
The game centers around four particular aspects: interacting with NPCs to discover missions to take on, building your skill set (known as Arsenals), assigning yourself a mission, and fighting on different types of surfaces on a planet. There are five different Schools of skills, each with their own perks and weaknesses, and each battle is limited to 15 real-life minutes, so choosing a strategy is essential. This is one of those games that is better left experienced than explained, so if you ever get the chance, check out Phantom Dust. Youll not play anything similar until you do - especially considering the reboot has run into trouble.
Back before the days of Red Dead Redemption, the gaming world didnt have a big spaghetti-Western title to call its own. Wed played plenty of games set in the Wild West, but we never really felt like we were in that crazy era until Gun moseyed into the picture. This was the type of Western wed been waiting for, with cowboys, outlaws, and everything else a Western fan could ask for. All it needed was John Wayne or Clint Eastwood.
Gun gave us a big open chunk of the Wild West frontier to explore, packing it with wild animals to hunt, outlaw gunslingers to duel, and towns to walk through, scaring the inhabitants. Heck, if we wanted to we could head to the saloon, sit down to play some poker, and cheat by hiding cards to increase our odds. At the time, wed never felt more like a true cowboy.
40. Just Cause
There are games that call themselves sandbox games, where an open world is merely playing host to a linear story, and there are true sandbox titles where anything and everything is possible. Just Cause is one of those latter games; if you can see it, you can shoot it, drive it, or approach it. Shades of Grand Theft Auto can be seen throughout Just Cause, and thats never a bad comparison.
Rico Rodriguez, the hero in this action-packed tale, can run, jump, swim, and commandeer cars, trucks, boats, helicopters, and more throughout his mission, and were in total control of all of it. Even if we dont want to pursue the main story missions, we can goof off in this vast world as long as we wish. Weve pulled off some stunts in Just Cause that we dont think well ever be able to pull off in any game ever again. Well, maybe Just Cause 3 will solve that problem.
39. The Suffering
A brief disclaimer to all who read this: If you decide you want to go back and play some of the games on the list, this one should be played in broad daylight with every window open and a friend safely next to you. The Suffering scared the hell out of us back in 2004, and while the visual spooks may not hold up as well now, theres still plenty to worry about.
Outside of the insanity, The Suffering was one of the first games to employ a morality system, which would affect how the story would play out in the end. If you want the best ending, help everyone you can find. If you want the worst, kill them all. If you dont care, expect a neutral ending to match your indifference. The Suffering laid a good foundation for choice-based gameplay; you just have to be ready to be scared crapless to see it.
38. Indigo Prophecy
One of David Cages early forays into console games was Indigo Prophecy, a grim tale of a man named Lucas and his deteriorating mental state. This is one of those games that were going to have a hard time explaining; suffice it to say youre going to want to try it out no matter what, especially if Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls were up your alley. Those games are all successors of Indigo Prophecy; the fun started right here.
Playing through Indigo Prophecy requires only the use of the two analog joysticks, using the sticks to decide how to talk to people and where to move. During some scripted events the game employs a Simon-like game with four quadrants that youll have to point to correctly via the sticks. We could be here all night trying to properly capture the appeal of Indigo Prophecy, but we wont be able to. Try it for yourself.
37. TimeSplitters 2
From the where the heck is the next game in this franchise? department comes TimeSplitters 2, one of the craziest stories weve ever experienced in a video game. Split across 10 levels and sending you from the Wild West to the 25th century, nothing about TimeSplitters 2 was predictable, from the beginning to its insane end. We want more TimeSplitters, and anyone wondering why needs only play TimeSplitters 2 to find out.
At first glance it doesnt look like much more than your average first-person shooter: Theres a variety of guns to choose from, a health and armor bar to keep full, and a host of enemies to defeat. Trust us, this is not a generic shooter. Play through a mission or two of the single-player and see how youll end up finishing it without a second thought. Grab some friends and play the crazy-fun multiplayer; youll be drawing GoldenEye comparisons in no time. Its a shame Free Radical no longer exists, as we think a new TimeSplitters would be a perfect idea.
36. Conker: Live and Reloaded
Ah, Conker, whatever happened to you? You started out as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed squirrel racing against your friends and popping balloons. All of a sudden youre a foul-mouthed, beer-swilling basketcase fighting monsters made of excrement and other such oddities. Well, that escalated quickly, didnt it?
The Xbox remake of the Nintendo 64s Conkers Bad Fur Day added new stages and a gigantic multiplayer mode suited just for Xbox Live. You could go to war with one another in a variety of ways, including the standard Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes. Live and Reloaded turned a cult N64 favorite into one of the better games on the Xbox, and all it had to do was add better multiplayer.
35. Need for Speed: Most Wanted
Back on the original PlayStation, the Need for Speed series took us on a Hot Pursuit, adding police chases to the already-excellent racing gameplay. Now, instead of just racing against our friends, we could play the ultimate game of cops and robbers on the virtual roads of the PS1. With Most Wanted, Need for Speed brought the popular feature back from the dead, and fans went wild for it. Theres no comparison to running away from the fuzz at the highest speed imaginable.
Not only did it bring back the police pursuits, it put them in an open setting called Free Roam, where we could drive around the city at our leisure, arriving at our next race whenever we wanted. First we hear about the return of police chases, and then they tell us were going to be able to freely roam around the city and wreak havoc so the police start to chase us? Thats a double whammy of delight, and its what makes Most Wanted such a good game.
34. Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance
Before the Xbox launched in 2001, Solid Snake stealthed his way into gaming history in Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. When the Xbox finally did release, Konami had to make sure that adopters of the new system would get a chance to continue the MGS saga, so it created Substance to appease them. It was a smart move, as MGS2: Substance was a better overall package.
Substance was essentially the full version of Metal Gear Solid 2 with a few extra modes and features. The main story mission was largely unaffected, but the addition of 300 VR training missions and five extra Snake Tales episodes made this the quintessential version of MGS2 to own... until Substance launched on the PS2 and added even more. Regardless, we had Metal Gear on Xbox, and that was enough for most fans.
33. Dead or Alive 3
When Xbox first hit the 3D fighting genre was a tad up in the air. PlayStation had Tekken, and Sony had been riding the series coattails into the upper echelon of 3D fighting games. Nintendo had Super Smash Bros., the arcade brawler featuring virtually all of their famous names. What would Microsoft do? They brought Tecmos Dead or Alive series to the Xbox right from the jump, and Dead or Alive 3 changed the way wed look at 3D fighting from the minute it debuted.
There isnt another fighting franchise out there more intricate or precise in its strategy than Dead or Alive 3. You lived and died on your ability to counter attacks, turning a successful counter into a big-time combo of massive damage. Dead or Alive became the thinking players fighter, encouraging thought and strategy over strict offense or defense. Oh, and the characters werent too hard on the eyes, either. We suppose thats important too.
32. Star Wars: Republic Commando
Star Wars has tried its hand at the first-person shooter genre a few times in the past, and while Dark Forces was really cool, were thinking that the title of best console first-person Star Wars game ever has to be awarded to Republic Commando. Delta Squad was one formidable group of bounty hunters, and we relished the ability to kick some ass with them.
Believe it or not, Republic Commando was loosely considered to be part of the major Star Wars canon; developers said that the game was designed to bridge the gap between Episode II and Episode III and tell a story from the eyes of the troops instead of the Jedi.
31. Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy
Every console generation has a handful of franchises that see one or two games released, only for the name to be completely forgotten soon afterward. Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy is one such case, and frankly the lack of any sequel for this underappreciated gem is a damn shame, especially considering the words To Be Continued at the end. What a tease.
Sporting some awesome telekinetic powers and a gripping story, Psi-Ops deserves another chance in the sun. We still remember the first time we used Nicks telekinetic powers to slam a helpless drone into a wall, or the mind control technique to take control of an unsuspecting enemy. Theres a lot to build on here, so if someone reading this wants to jump on a sequel for this excellent game, wed love the chance to play it.
30. Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance
Real-time hack-and-slash action, isometric view, RPG elements like leveling and customization... were you not aware Diablo came to the original Xbox? Oh wait, it didnt, were talking about Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance, a game that released a mere three weeks after the launch of the Xbox console yet still holds up as an excellent action RPG we still play every once in a while. Outside of Super Mario 64, there arent too many launch or near-launch titles that can say that.
Dark Alliance gives you three characters to choose from: a dwarven fighter named Kromlech, a human arcane archer named Vahn, and an elven sorceress named Adrianna. Each one provided a different approach to battle, but all three together proved to be one incredible team. Get two friends together, pop this in, and watch how many hours you lose before realizing how much time has passed. The game is awesome, trust us.
29. Soulcalibur II
When Soulcalibur II was announced, we found out that each of the three systems it was coming to were getting an exclusive character: PlayStation got Tekkens Heihachi, GameCube got Link from The Legend of Zelda, and Xbox... well, there wasnt really a good character to give Xbox, so Namco reached out to Todd McFarlane and Spawn joined the Xbox cast. We love Link and Heihachi, but Spawn is just plain rad.
Spawn made Soulcalibur II cool, but even without him the game was one of the best 3D fighting games released on the entire system. The fighting mechanics were tight and balanced, the roster was large and varied, and the crazy amount of things to do seemed never-ending. We spent countless hours unlocking everything in weapon master mode, loving it so much we did it again in the recent HD remake. Soulcalibur II has transcended history and the world with its tales of souls and swords, making it one of the best ever.
28. James Bond: Agent Under Fire
There are two words in this industry that are very commonly synonymous with crappy video game experience: licensed game. If you see a game based on another intellectual property, be it a movie, book, or television show, chances are youre not going to like what you play in the end. There are notable exceptions, but most of the time theyre just not good.
James Bond: Agent Under Fire broke that mold with a stellar story (that some would argue is better than most of the recent movies) and incredible first-person shooter gameplay. Think about how happy GoldenEye made you on the N64, advance that experience forward a full console generation, and add new guns and gadgets to the mix. Thats Agent Under Fire. See now why we love it so much?
27. Hitman: Blood Money
The bald, bar-coded assassin Agent 47 has been killing his way across every major platform we can think of, but Hitman: Blood Money for the Xbox may have been his best work. The tight controls and perfect blend of stealth and action slayed us as well as the poor saps 47 was contracted to kill. Some assassins may have a creed, but 47 does his own thing and it works.
Blood Money also marked the first appearance of the Notoriety system, which other stealth games have used since. If 47 was caught on surveillance tape, his notoriety would rise, and that notoriety would carry over to other missions. Being seen on a camera in mission two and not recovering the tape could mean that an enemy in mission 10 will recognize our hitman and attack him. If that wasnt innovation at the time, we dont know what was.
26. Shenmue II
Look, theres a clear reason why Shenmue III was the second-most-desired third game in any series ever. The game had everything: big-time action sequences both with and without quick-time events, a massive map with multiple regions to explore, and an ass-kicking protagonist in Ryo Hazuki. We couldnt get enough.
Shenmue IIs enhanced detective work drew us in even more, making us feel like we had to question everyone we saw to get where we needed to go. Of course, when it was time to throw down, we didnt mind throwing a few spin kicks at some bad guys faces. Here's hoping that, one day, Shenmue III heads to Xbox once more.
25. Steel Battalion
Before plastic guitars and drums were the norm in every living room, Capcom's Steel Battalion asked you to fork over $200 for a gigantic controller sporting two control sticks and 40 buttons. Such was the price for one of the most immersive games of the generation. While it was admittedly overkill, the added physical controls made the game feel remarkable, creating the experience of actually controlling a mech.
Even beyond that, however, the game was simply fantastic. The gameplay was solid, and the visuals were great for their time. It even had a sequel, Line of Contact, which also used the controller, as well as adding in multiplayer. Then it had another sequel, but we don't talk about that one anymore. It's the mad idealism of the original that keeps this series close to our hearts.
24. Spider-Man 2
Everyone secretly wants to be Spider-Man, but no game really came close to fulfilling those dreams until Spider-Man 2 came along. Although it's a (really loose) movie adaptation, it was the first game to throw a superhero into a big, open world and just let you mess around with his powers. And until Batman: Arkham Asylum arrived in 2009, it was arguably the best.
That's mostly thanks to developer Treyarch absolutely nailing the feeling of web-swinging, enabling you to latch onto absolutely any surface for free-form Tarzan antics. There's a careful rhythm to doing it right, but once you got the hang of it, you could rocket across Manhattan's skyline with the speed and grace of an Olympic gymnast. The whole experience was a seamless, unbridled rush, coupled with plenty of randomly fun side quests, from pursuing non-movie plotlines to chasing down some kid's lost balloons.
23. Burnout 3: Takedown
There are three kinds of racing fans: Those who like Gran Turismo, those who like Mario Kart, and those who like Burnout. And for the Burnout crowd, Burnout 3 is the cream of the crop. Criterion's racer puts action-packed racing and over-the-top crashes over realism for fantastic results, and Takedown perfected the formula that it tinkered with for the previous two games.
The largest addition is likely the new "Takedown" mode, which turns a traditional race into a gauntlet where you need to beat your opponents by smashing them off the road; think of a standard race but add in some destruction-derby elements. It managed to take the unrealistic racer to the next level, packing more competitive action than the last two games combined.
22. Star Wars Battlefront II
Intensity and authenticity: Those two qualities make the game in this first- and third-person shooter from a galaxy far, far away. Developer Pandemic expertly realized battlegrounds near and dear to Star Wars fans, stuffed them full of heavily armed vehicles (mostly well-known), then stuffed in nicely sized opposing armies complete with a detailed class system so that the various unit classes all felt slightly different...
... but that was all in the first game. This second game added compelling new game modes, titanic space battles to complement the planetside platoon action, and--what's this?--playable Jedi, capable of singlehandedly turning the tide of a battle, but which somehow didn't rupture the game's balance. This was the titanic Star Wars war game wed been looking for. Even with a new Battlefront out there, there are some who'd argue that this is the definitive experience.
21. Oddworld: Strangers Wrath
Who would have guessed that Oddworld Inhabitants, creators of quirky and environmentally conscious puzzle-adventures, could pull off a full-blown shooter? Or that it would end up being one of the very best shooters the original Xbox had to offer? Yet the most unbelievable thing about Stranger's Wrath is that the slow-paced, lever-pulling Oddworld universe has been transformed into a fast and frenzied action affair without losing a single ounce of its lovably weird personality. Despite the macho Western setting, the story's theme still concerns nature vs. industry. And despite the hero's tough-guy aura, you're still fighting to protect dewy-eyed innocents from greed-obsessed monsters that look straight out of a demented Jim Henson film.
Even the gun itself isn't what you'd expect. Forget bullets--this baby shoots actual live ammo. As in, living creatures that you snatch off the ground, load into your crossbow and launch, screaming and writhing, at the enemy. It's fun, innovative and totally out of left field, just like the entire game.
20. Forza Motorsport
Please, whatever you do, don't call Forza Motorsport a Gran Turismo clone. When the developers at Microsoft saw what the folks at Sony had accomplished with their realism-obsessed racing simulator, they didn't copy it... they thought, "We can do that better."
Luckily for Xbox owners, they were right. On its very first try, Forza matched the GT series car for car, track for track, and customization option for customization option. Then it made two immeasurably huge improvements--accurate damage physics and online play. The former was long overdue in a genre that prides itself on realism. The latter gathered lonely, closeted car enthusiasts around the world and united them into an elite and knowledgeable culture club.
19. Beyond Good and Evil
Feeling for all the world like some strange combination of Dark Crystal, X-Files, and Independence Day as directed by Tim Burton--and starring a cast of Muppets--Beyond Good & Evil is a game that refuses to be pigeonholed. Its funny, with its cutesy animal characters (one of whom wields fart-fueled jet boots) and chubby, rounded spaceships.
Beneath that cute surface is real depth, with a plotline that delves into themes of government conspiracy, revolution, love, and trust. Its gameplay is all over the place, from Metal Gear-style stealth sneaking to space dogfights, hovercraft races, nature photography, and one particularly brutal game of space air hockey. And when the final credits pan across a series of photographs of the characters, youll feel like youre looking at pictures of your actual friends.
Originally pitched as the ultimate open-ended experience, Fable was released as an unfinished, fairly linear action-RPG and an object lesson in not believing the hype. But somehow we love it anyway; for all its hacky-slashy gameplay and deep flaws, it's still a rush to watch your character age, marry the girl (and/or guy) of his dreams and be loved or feared by mobs of villagers depending on what he's done.
Fable's main quest is short, and all the side diversions packed into the world get old after a few hours. But it delivered a lot of special, memorable moments while it lasted, and watching your hero grow up and develop gave you a connection to him that most games just don't offer. Fable wasn't what we were promised, but it was still groundbreaking in its own way--after all, how many games let you just hang out in taverns turning into a fat boozehound?
17. Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30
God only knows how many times we've single-handedly won the Second World War by cutting through wave after wave of the Nazi plague, marching relentlessly on through the bloody wastelands like a possessed, bloodthirsty super soldier, never stopping to think, just focused on kill, kill, KILL!
And then Brothers in Arms rolled into town, teaching us to do things differently and that, actually, war is a team game where unilateral thinking gung-ho heroes tend to end up getting their guts shot out. Road to Hill 30 had plenty of intense Hun-in-the-crosshair action, but it was also focused on smartly paced, squad-oriented tactical masterminding, effectively ambushing us with a refreshing approach to Jerry hunting.
At times, hiking across--or flying over--Mercenaries' huge battle-scorched landscape was a strangely bleak and depressing experience. Pandemic successfully captured the deathly joyless atmosphere that must, we imagine, suffocate the air in times of war.
Thankfully, the developer also captured the magical, chimney-stack wonder of blowing buildings up and watching them fall down, providing you with a Richter scale-shattering array of heavy weapons and air strikes to play with. Laser-guided death has never been so devastatingly fun.
15. Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge
Crimson Skies sucked you in with its cool steampunk setting--full of gigantic zeppelins and weird-looking Howard Hughes fighter planes--but it was the arcade-style dogfights that kept you playing. With the dramatic sweep of an adventure serial, Crimson Skies had you effortlessly swooping through lush, craggy landscapes as you took on air-pirate missions and blasted bogeys out of the sky.
While there was plenty of charm in Crimson Skies' mission-based, pulp-fiction storyline, it was really just a training ground for the high-flying Xbox Live deathmatches. Pre-Halo 2, this was unquestionably one of the best online games on Microsoft's black box, and shoving magnet-guided rockets into 15 other opponents still has an undeniable charm today.
Unlike seemingly every other giant-robot game on the market, MechAssault wasn't a slow, methodical, walking-tank-battle that stressed customization and weapon management over fun. Instead it was fast, relatively simple, and packed to the gills with explosive carnage, which made it a perfect candidate to be one of the first--and therefore most important--Xbox Live games. That it's still one of the most fun doesn't hurt that standing, either.
Whether you were playing online or by yourself, though, MechAssault's real draw was the feeling of piloting a big, fast, armed-to-the-teeth battlemech through open landscapes dotted with fully destructible cities. It looks a little fuzzy by today's standards, but there's still nothing quite like fighting lightning-fast rocket duels as huge futuristic buildings get pounded to rubble all around you.
13. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Sands of Time was a truly classic adventure that teetered tantalizingly close to perfection. While the ability to "rewind time" was the game's party piece, it was the Prince who stole the show with his repertoire of athletically impressive moves. Warm, hazy lighting lent an ethereal glow that poured over the brilliantly designed levels, and navigating the Persian hero perfectly from an elaborately plotted A to B was a satisfying thrill.
The best part of the whole thing? It's a love story! A well-written, heartwarming love story! In a game! A video game! No princesses in other castles! No contrived hero/damsel claptrap! Best of all, no anthropomorphic animal/human affection (were looking at you, Sonic the Hedgehog 2006)! Just good ol movie-style romance that gets us right in the feels. How many games can truly do that?
12. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Take the go-anywhere, do-anything aesthetic of Grand Theft Auto and stick it into a fully realized fantasy world and you've got the best first-person RPG ever made (at least until the next-gen sequels, Oblivion and Skyrim, came along). Will you follow the epic main quest to become a prophesied hero and free the land from demonic oppression? Or will you wander from town to town, stealing wooden spoons and murdering elves for their hats? It's up to you.
Morrowind featured countless plotlines and battles that you could tackle any way you saw fit. Whether it was with intense first-person sword-fighting, magic, sneaking or--in rare cases--actually talking your way through a bad situation, there was usually a solution that'd fit your style of play.
11. Jade Empire
BioWare's first few hits were based on established franchises, with Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragons holding up its fantastic games. Jade Empire was one of the developer's first attempts at creating an entire universe of its own, and while the world wasn't as interesting or involved as Mass Effect's would be, it was still incredibly interesting--it's no wonder fans clamor for sequels to this day.
You make plenty of choices on your way to the end of the game, choosing to follow either the Way of the Open Palm or the Way of the Closed Fist as they fight to find their master. Early seeds of future BioWare game mechanics--including player romance and choice-driven gameplay--were present in the game, making Jade Empire a true spiritual predecessor to games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect.
10. Panzer Dragoon Orta
Xbox's superior power was put to spectacular use in Panzer Dragoon Orta, creating one of the most breathtakingly cinematic shooters ever seen. Even back in the days of the Sega Saturn, Team Andromeda were pushing the hardware further than anyone thought possible, and while Orta may not have been quite as revolutionary, it was still a magnificent spectacle.
Add in a strategic dragon-placement system similar to that found in obscure RPG classic Panzer Dragoon Saga and you soon find yourself cunningly avoiding enemy fire and moving around to exploit weak spots for massive damage. Although it was essentially an on-rails shooter, such words can't do justice to the game's majesty. You'll suspend your disbelief until you really are riding a terrifying dragon beast through fiery skies... what better recommendation can we give?
9. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
It's a pity that Escape from Butcher Bay was tied to such a crap movie as The Chronicles of Riddick. The characters in this prison-break drama were more compelling, the action was far more brutal, and it was a far, far better vehicle for a charismatic antihero like Riddick than any lame summer blockbuster could be.
More than that, Butcher Bay was a seriously awesome adventure; the first-person perspective was really just there to rub your nose in the beautiful horror of its grimy sci-fi prison. It also put an especially personal touch on all the fistfights and knife fights you got into, and made it just that much cooler when you did stuff like make a guard shoot himself in the face. Add some immersive, cinematic action sequences that'd put Half-Life 2 to shame, and you had an ahead-of-its-time inmate sim that still stands as one of the Xbox's best games.
8. Project Gotham Racing 2
The original Project Gotham Racing hit when the Xbox launched, bringing fantastic control, beautiful representations of real-world cities... and a lot of little problems. PGR2 erased the memory of those with one of the most engrossing single-player racing epics seen last generation. As you gradually improved, progressed further, and unlocked new cars and tracks, you began to get a feel for the game's subtly-tuned racing system and the global cities that made up its tracks.
The smooth and steady gameplay progression was completely addictive, and attempting to wow the computer and earn Kudos--points awarded for daring and stylish driving--was an added incentive to bring your A-game. Once you thought you had it all down pat, you could take the fight to Xbox Live. When the game originally launched, Xbox Live was just coming into its own, and this game was a landmark driving title that showcased just what Microsoft's online service was truly capable of.
7. Tom Clancys Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow
We saw no shortage of Splinter Cell games on Xbox, but the standout of the group was definitely this second entry. Pandora Tomorrow's single-player campaign was yet another masterpiece in stealth and tension, with exotically detailed locales, top-notch celebrity voice acting, and fluidly animated new moves like army spins and upside-down shooting. What distinguished Pandora was its completely unique and utterly addictive multiplayer.
The two-on-two versus mode enabled you to sneak and shimmy through matches as a Sam Fisher-like spy, with agility and shadow as your most powerful weapons. Or, be a mercenary and rely on more traditional weaponry--assault rifles, grenades, trip mines--to blast holes in those pesky black ninja suits. The two options were both addictive as hell, and so different that one played in third-person view and the other in first-person.
6. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Before it veered off into a more serious direction, Grand Theft Auto was all about over-the-top, ultraviolent, rags-to-riches excess--and no game embodied that ideal better than San Andreas. While its not that pretty to look at now (and wasnt back in 2004, really), San Andreas didnt just offer up a city in which to go nuts--it gave you an entire fictitious state, with three distinct cities and miles of open countryside and small towns in between.
It also featured a compelling story that started small, with gangs fighting over crappy neighborhoods in Los Santos, but soon ramped up to become a ridiculous crime epic with jetpacks, VTOL jets, and multimillion-dollar properties to buy. It was (and still is) one of the best games imaginable for creating insane stunts and just going completely berserk, and was an ideal way to get that out of our collective system before moving on to the more adult GTA4.
Psychonauts was clever. It was also funny--laugh out loud funny. Talking to a game's supporting cast normally consists of button-mashing through conversations as quickly as possible, but shooting the breeze with Psychonauts' adorably quirky--and impishly styled--bunch of misfits was an absolute joy, thanks to the comic brilliance of the dialogue.
Besides the entertaining psychobabble, the disturbed mindscapes that made up the game's levels were utterly original and blindingly fun to outsmart. Psychonauts was food for your brain as well as lubrication for your laugh valve--if you like sampling great games that failed to make any kind of impact in the charts, make sure you check out Psychonauts.
4. Ninja Gaiden
One of the most hotly anticipated games in the history of the Xbox, Ninja Gaiden lived up to the lofty expectations that developer Team Ninja's Dead or Alive fighting-and-cheesecake series could never quite match. From the first second you slipped the disc into the Xbox the game was brutally intense, with punishing difficulty; your only option was to get good at it, and fast. The reward was being able to play one of the most engrossing action-adventure games ever.
While the main focus was the speedy ninja combat, clever level design with light Zelda-like touches and gorgeous graphics--so beautiful they were like a preview of the next generation--bolstered the action. The developers' heritage with fighting games allowed them to offer the most complex yet smooth character control in an action game yet, and mastering ninja Ryu's moves was an addictive odyssey for hardcore players.
3. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Set 1,000 years before the Star Wars films, Knights of the Old Republic gave you the chance to explore a galaxy torn between the Republic and the Empire-like Sith. As an amnesiac Jedi with a terrible secret, you traveled from planet to planet, righting wrongs (or wronging them even further), gathering followers and busting out the crazy Force powers in all-or-nothing lightsaber battles.
KOTOR was awesome on every level--an engaging storyline, characters you actually care about, and turn-based battles that moved so fast, they felt more like real-time hack-and-slash. Even the branching conversations were fascinating, which was great, because you'd spend a lot of time just navigating your way through them. Add a ton of side quests, cool outfits, upgradeable Dark and Light Force powers, and a smattering of never-before-revealed Star Wars trivia, and you had an RPG masterpiece that put to shame anything else bearing the Star Wars logo.
2. Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo overwhelmed us all when it first arrived... and not just because of the massive Microsoft marketing push. The sci-fi shooter simply excelled in so many categories that it's hard to know where to begin the praise. There are, of course, the big things. The action was spectacular, constant, and a breeze to master. At the time, Halo's control scheme was the most intuitive a console FPS had ever seen. More impressively, the deep and engrossing story felt like an organic part of the gameplay experience, never overshadowing or taking a back seat to the battles. The visuals proved what the Xbox was capable of technically and the music proved what it was capable of artistically.
Then there are the little things, seemingly insignificant at first but actually crucial elements of what made Halo so special. Hearing the surrounding Marines react to your heroics as they fight and seeing miniature space vessels make their way across the atmosphere above you all contributed to a fully realized, breathing universe that still captivates gamers to this day.
1. Halo 2
The original Halo may have single-handedly sold the majority of Xbox consoles, but its sequel was the game that truly defined the big black box. Yes, the action was improved. New features like dual weapon wielding, vehicle jacking, and access to the all-powerful, all-badass energy sword twisted the gameplay in just the right places. Yes, the plot was better. The revelation that you got to play as a Covenant soldier took the story in an unexpectedly complex and morally ambiguous direction. And yes, the graphics were enhanced.
But it was this successor's multiplayer that will forever be remembered. Taking the already wildly popular 16-player matches out of the system-linked college frat houses and unleashing them upon the entire world over Xbox Live is what made the Halo franchise the phenomenon it is today... and that it will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Xbox was the first video game console to define online multiplayer and Halo 2 was its iconic masterpiece.
The top of the Xbox
Those are the games we think are the best out of the Xbox's entire library, but we're sure there's a few titles you guys hold dear. Let us know what we missed in the comments below, and give us a reason why your game should make the list. Maybe someday we'll be convinced.