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.
4. Ninja Gaiden Black
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.