The best original Xbox games highlight just how forward-thinking Microsoft's debut to the home console market was. When the system launched alongside Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001, it filled the void left by the demise of the Sega Dreamcast, and became a viable competitor to Nintendo's GameCube and Sony's PS2. The best games for original Xbox were aimed at a maturing audience of video game players, and it's a plan that worked for Microsoft.
They might not have the incredibly advanced, turbo-charged game engines behind them that power the more modern best Xbox Series X games, but the classic titles on this list demonstrate the impressive back catalogue that helped the Microsoft brand cement its place among the greats. From competitive racing games, high-octane action experiences, fun RPGs, and innovative first-person shooters, the best original Xbox games are legendary for a reason. Here's a look at our top picks for the ultimate trip down memory lane.
This list of the best original Xbox games was updated on October 26, and although we have nothing more to add, we stand by our rankings below.
25. Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding
Developer: Access Software
Indie Built’s early Xbox title may not boast the zaniness of the SSX series, but it certainly makes for a more grounded snowboarding experience. The real beauty of Amped comes from its open-ended gameplay which allows you to carve your own course down each mountain. Exploration is the key to Amped’s success, whether it’s going off-piste to find each level’s hidden snowmen, or seeking out nearby photographers in order to nail that perfect money shot. The series got sillier with each subsequent sequel, meaning snowboarding purists will want to stick with the original.
24. Steel Battalion
Few Xbox games offer as immersive an experience as this marvelous mech blaster. Shipped alongside a gargantuan 40-button controller, even starting up your Vertical Tank is exciting, as you punch buttons and flip switches to get it up and running. The game itself is just as demanding as its button configurations and it feels almost sim-like at times as you wrestle with the dual-stick controls to ensure your tank stays upright while you come under fire from the game’s ferocious enemy AI. Two sequels exist, but the original remains the best, providing you can pay the high cost of entry.
23. Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth
Developer: Headfirst Productions
The Xbox isn’t short of great survival horror games, but this malevolent reimagining of HP Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth is easily one of the best. While your adventure is extremely linear, it’s filled with memorable setpieces - including a frantic chase through a dilapidated hotel - and offers numerous interesting game mechanics including a clever damage system that affects your on-screen avatar in numerous ways depending on where on their body they’ve been injured. The end result is a creepy, unsettling adventure that will stay with you long after you’ve completed it.
22. Forza Motorsport
Developer: Turn 10
Microsoft’s answer to Gran Turismo was deemed a triumph back in 2005. Its excellent online options and the realistic physics that were applied to cars as they took increasing amounts of damage during races were complemented by an extensive career mode, over 200 different cars, and a ridiculous amount of customizable options that would satisfy the biggest gearhead. The online side of the game is long dead, but the challenging career mode stands proud and demonstrates the sheer grunt of Microsoft’s capable console.
21. Fable: The Lost Chapters
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Let’s face it, Fable was never going to live up to Peter Molyneux’s lofty claims, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the console’s most engaging adventures. It might be short for an RPG, but the sheer amount of choice offered to the player along with the lived-in nature of the world makes Albion a fantastic place to visit. Fable Anniversary, released on Xbox 360 in 2013 is the definitive version, but The Lost Chapter is what you should seek out if you want to enjoy Molyneux’s ambitious adventure on original hardware.
20. Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30
Developer: Gearbox Software
WW2 games are abundantly rife on Xbox, but few are as carefully nuanced or as meticulously crafted as Gearbox Software’s Xbox debut. Rather than placing you in the shoes of a battle-hardened nazi-destroying super-soldier, Gearbox’s game instead asks you to take control of two teams of everyday grunts. It’s an exceptionally strong concept that encourages strategic thinking over all-out assault and camaraderie over selfish heroics, as you seek to solve each level using the four Fs: Find, Fix, Flank, and Finish. Its believable characters and strong narration make it one of the console’s most cerebral shooters.
19. Metal Wolf Chaos
From Software’s bonkers mech game commands a handsome price and won’t work on a PAL machine, but it’s worth making the effort to secure it. There are numerous mech games on the Xbox, but few let you play as America’s president and unleash wanton destruction on the scale seen in From Software’s boisterous shooter. Unlike Steel Battalion, the pace of play is fast and fluid, with a focus on arcade-style thrills and over-the-top pyrotechnics. Mechanically it’s all rather simple, but with over 100 weapons to craft and use, few other Xbox titles offer as much bang for your buck. An HD version exists if you want to save some cash.
18. Jade Empire
After finding success with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Bioware put all its energy into creating its first original IP for Microsoft’s console. Jade Empire not only refines many of the story-crafting mechanics found in KOTOR, but also makes steps in allowing you to romance characters too, adding an extra layer to what is an already intricately designed RPG. Like KOTOR, it’s filled with interesting characters, has an excellent plot and a solid path system, but builds on those cores by adding real-time combat and choice-driven gameplay. It’s a pity we never received a sequel, as it’s one of the most interesting RPGs on the console.
17. Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Few first-person Xbox shooters are as inventive as Stranger’s Wrath. The switch flipping and frenzied farting of the earlier PlayStation games was replaced with a sprawling 3D world and frantic high-powered action, but the quirky spirit of Abe’s adventures remained, and Stranger’s Wrath featured a similarly dark ecological message, which still resonates today.
When it comes to combat Stranger’s Wrath hits just as hard as its message does, thanks to Stranger’s ability to collect live ammo in the form of various vicious creatures which can be used to electrocute, stun and even obliterate his unfortunate bounties. It’s an utterly bizarre experience that the studio may never top.
16. The Elders Scrolls 3: Morrowind
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Bethesda’s epic fantasy RPG spoils you for choice, literally. The open-ended nature and sheer size of Bethesda’s game mean you can approach it however you want, whether that’s religiously following the entertaining main story, or ruthlessly pillaging every ramshackle village you come across. Yes it’s not the prettiest of games, and yes its combat feels painfully archaic, but the immense scope of Bethesda’s game means you’ll soon ignore its little niggles and simply enjoy the sheer freedom that it offers you. Seek out the Game Of The Year edition in order to enjoy the full experience.
15. Burnout 3: Takedown
Developer: Criterion Games
Arcade racing rarely gets better than Criterion’s supercharged sequel. It’s a swaggeringly boisterous racer that’s filled with challenging opponents and rewards you for driving as aggressively and dangerously as possible. Criterion’s globe-trotting game eschews realism for over-the-top thrills and spills and encourages you to do everything you can to ensure you stay ahead of the challenging AI – whether that means slamming them into nearby concrete posts or using the smoldering wreckage of your own destroyed vehicle to sneakily catch out any opponents stuck behind you. We’d love an HD remaster, providing the obnoxious DJ Stryker doesn’t make the journey.
14. Crimson Skies: High Road To Revenge
Developer: FASA Studio
While the steampunk aesthetic and pulpy nature of FASA Studio’s high-flying adventure draws you in, it’s the inventive mission structure and finely-honed flying mechanics that keep you playing. Set in an alternate 1930s, complete with nefarious villains and oversized zeppelins, Crimson Skies remains refreshingly unique on Microsoft’s console and still manages to offer fun multiplayer shenanigans today (although its online servers are long dead). Its 20 stages are crammed with variety, while its rip-roaring story and engaging characters are worlds away from the po-faced protagonists you’d usually encounter on its release.
13. Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow
Every Xbox entry in Ubisoft’s espionage series is worthy of your time, but Sam Fisher’s second outing is the one we continually return to. Mechanically it only offers small improvements over its predecessor, but it’s blessed by a far more intriguing storyline, more comfortable voice work from Michael Ironside, and superior level design that makes the most of Sam’s superior sneaking skills. It’s supported by an equally strong multiplayer mode that pits nimble spies who need to rely on stealth and subterfuge against heavily armed mercenaries in tense two-on-two matches. If you’re a lover of stealth games you won’t find anything finer.
12. Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Blinx may have been the first Xbox character to tackle time travel, but Ubisoft’s titular Prince was the one who truly mastered it. While its combat still feels rather unsatisfying, the Prince’s sheer athleticism and the clever platforming of Ubisoft’s reboot is as enjoyable today as it was in 2003. Navigating the gorgeously lit palace feels almost puzzle-like at times as you seek to find the safest route through each trap-strewn area, while the strong voice acting and a tender love story at the game’s core is as powerful a mechanic as the ability to rewind time. Little wonder Ubisoft is remaking it for contemporary consoles.
11. Dead or Alive 3
Developer: Team Ninja
Team Ninja’s dynamic slugfest proved that there was far more to the fledgling series than just cheap titillation. Rather than completely overhaul the mechanics of DOA2, Team Ninja simply tweaked everything, moving away from juggling combos, offering more 3D-axis movement, and increasing the timing for counter periods. Environment interaction remains, but now it’s even more dynamic and opponents can be slammed into a variety of objects or thrown to brand-new areas. DOA3 also introduces four new fighters: Brad Wong, Hitomi, Christie, and Hayate and some of the most visually arresting arenas in the series, including a snowy forest and underwater aquarium.
10. Panzer Dragoon Orta
Orta felt like a step back after Panzer Dragoon Saga as it lacked the nuanced RPG mechanics that made the Saturn game so acclaimed. While it featured the same on-rails approach of the earlier games in the series, Microsoft’s powerful console ensured that the franchise’s unique-looking world had never been so exciting to explore. It remains graphically spectacular today (particularly if played on a Series X) and it’s filled with gorgeous looking environments, exotic creatures, and some truly marvelous mayors. It’s mechanically sound too, with the ability to switch between three very unique dragoons on the fly, adding a layered level of strategy to all the chaotic blasting.
9. Project Gotham Racing 2
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Bizarre Creation’s follow-up to its Xbox launch title was a huge improvement thanks to its tweaked driving mechanics and excellent online service. While its servers have long since shut down the core experience of Bizarre’s sequel remains – mainly its beautifully-crafted Kudos World Series mode, which lets you drive as stylishly as possible around 11 real-world cities, including Barcelona, Edinburgh, and Sydney, as you attempt to master 14 distinct types of car categories. And if you do somehow get bored with everything that’s on offer, you can while away your time blasting shapes in the excellent Geometry Wars mini-game.
8. The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Many of Butcher Bay’s development team went on to work on Wolfenstein: The New Order and as a result, multiple strands of that game’s DNA can be found in this rich FPS. As well as being one of the most astonishing looking shooters on Microsoft’s console, Butcher Bay’s main triumph is how beautifully its stealth and core shooting mechanics are blended together. They’re complemented by a commanding performance from Vin Diesel and a strong narrative structure that easily makes up for the lack of any multiplayer modes. It’s quite simply the best entry in the Riddick medium.
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Few Xbox releases will tickle your funny bone like Double Fine’s debut adventure. Many of Tim Schafer’s team worked at LucasArts and their mastery of sharp dialogue, inventive gameplay mechanics, and effortlessly funny humor is woven throughout Psychonauts’ DNA. While it’s a platformer at heart, the introduction of Raz’s psychic abilities lead to some wonderfully inventive level designs, which become even more outlandish once you start visiting the “mental worlds” of certain characters. Endlessly inventive and filled with memorable NPCs the only negative thing we can say about Schafer’s game is we’ve had to wait 16 years for a true sequel.
6. OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast
Developer: Sumo Digital
Normally we like to keep these lists to system exclusives, but Sumo’s adaptation of the hit arcade racer is so good we just had to include it. In addition to featuring a near arcade-perfect port of the 2003 arcade game, it also includes the 2004 follow-up SP. That means you have 30 sensational locations to drift through as well as the gigantic Coast 2 Coast mission mode that tasks you with doing everything from drifting for as long as possible, to outmaneuvering your opponent so you don’t lose your girlfriend. It’s a game that’s screaming for a high-definition makeover.
5. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
It took a year for Rockstar’s acclaimed game to hit Microsoft’s Xbox, but the wait was worth it. There’s an excessiveness and playfulness to San Andreas, which simply doesn’t exist in the later games and it created a void on consoles that was later filled by the Saints Row series. The beauty of Rockstar’s game is that it gives you an entire state to run riot in and allows you to do almost anything that takes your fancy, from skydiving off a giant cock (the feathered kind) to executing a drive-by on your trusty BMX.
Developer: Rockstar North
4. Ninja Gaiden Black
Developer: Team Ninja
Team Ninja’s second Ninja Gaiden game on Xbox isn’t actually a sequel, but instead a tweaked version of the 2004 original. It ups the difficulty level even higher - although there is a Ninja Dog mode for those that do struggle – adds new cutscenes, introduces new weapons, and features a brand-new combat-based mission mode. The end result remains the greatest hack-and-slash game to be found on Microsoft’s console, thanks to its insane amounts of gore, truly challenging boss fights, and extremely satisfying combat mechanics. The only real downside is it drops the three unlockable NES Ninja Gaiden games found in the original for the 1988 arcade game.
3. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Bioware’s ambitious RPG remains one of the best games to feature the Star Wars name. Cleverly adopting the same D20 system that powered the third edition of Dungeons & Dragon to success, Bioware’s game offers a thrilling story, brilliantly written characters, and rich branching conversations that slowly piece together the memories of your amnesia-stricken avatar. KOTOR’s combat is just as well crafted as its rich dialogue, while its many engaging side quests, upgradeable force powers and numerous references to Star Wars lore make you feel like you're part of some lost forgotten movie. Obsidian’s sequel is equally worthy of your attention.
2. Halo 2
While Bungie’s launch title built the blueprints of the franchise’s impressive legacy, it was the 2004 sequel that not only cemented Halo as one of gaming’s most important franchises but also proved the worth of Microsoft’s console. So much of Halo 2, particularly in regards to its multiplayer, are standard aspects of both the series and the first-person shooter genre in general. Halo 2's online-focused multiplayer offered an experience that no other console of the era could match, while additions like the energy sword and dual weapon wielding dramatically improved the base combat mechanics of the original game. The only reason it’s not managed to nab the top spot is that the core story fails to eclipse the magnificence of Master Chief’s first adventure.
1. Halo: Combat Evolved
If people felt that Microsoft’s entering of the console race was laughable, Bungie’s game was the title that highlighted just how serious the publisher was. Even today, some 20 years after its release, Halo’s influence on the genre can still be felt, from its commandeering of various vehicles to its innovative and shamelessly copied shield system. It’s not just Halo’s combat mechanics that impress, though. Bungie’s game offers gigantic levels that just beg to be explored, it has a surprising amount of strategy due to limiting you to just two weapons and also boasts some of the most satisfying enemy AI you’re ever likely to encounter. Its multiplayer components are equally strong, and it remains the best launch game to ever grace a Microsoft console.