It could be argued that the launch of the Xbox 360 was the point at which gaming went truly mainstream. Of course, such a thing is impossible to quantify, but the Xbox 360 did absolutely huge numbers; we distinctly remember almost every household we went into in the 2000s and early 2010s having an Xbox 360 in it. With such a huge presence in the gaming world, it stands to reason that there would have been some incredible Xbox 360 games as well, and lo and behold, that’s certainly the case. In no particular order, here are the top 25 Xbox 360 games of all time.
1. Halo 3
The original Xbox succeeded in large part thanks to Halo, so it stands to reason that the Xbox 360 would need to continue the franchise. It did just that with aplomb, starting with Halo 3, a direct followup to Halo 2 (believe it or not) that brought the series’ characteristic open-ended shooter action into the HD era. Master Chief and his compatriots had never looked so shiny and new.
One of the most influential and well-regarded shooters of all time, BioShock blended immersive sim-lite action with a genuinely profound philosophical narrative about the nature of choice and consequence. We won’t spoil any of its story beats here, but suffice it to say that if you haven’t yet played BioShock, then you absolutely owe it to yourself to experience this masterpiece at least once.
3. Fallout: New Vegas
Controversially (perhaps), we’re opting not to put Bethesda’s Fallout 3 on this list. While it kickstarted a new era for the post-apocalyptic RPG series, it was Obsidian’s New Vegas that really gave us what we wanted: an open-ended RPG shooter with lots of choices to make, great characters to meet, and excellent writing to absorb. Fallout 3 be damned; this is the definitive Fallout experience (after the originals, of course).
4. Dark Souls
It’s almost impossible to write anything about Dark Souls without coming across as trite now. The game is so hugely influential that revisiting it almost feels like revisiting Shakespeare; surely everyone knows it’s good, right? Well, it bears repeating, because this brutally difficult action RPG is masterfully designed and executed, barring a few stumbles towards its conclusion.
5. The Mass Effect trilogy
We’re cheating a little here by including all three Mass Effect games in a single entry, but they’re inextricable from one another. The first Mass Effect is a great RPG slightly overloaded by micromanagement, Mass Effect 2 is a streamlined masterpiece, and Mass Effect 3 is a controversial game that still ties up most of the trilogy’s plot threads reasonably well.
6. Red Dead Redemption
After Grand Theft Auto IV (which we may well come to on this list later), Red Dead Redemption cemented Rockstar’s reputation as the perfect alternative to Ubisoft’s increasingly rote sandbox design. Red Dead Redemption is a huge open-world Western adventure packed with things to do, but its core narrative is also excellent, touching on themes of redemption (obviously) and forgiveness.
7. The Orange Box
Valve’s The Orange Box is shamefully good value, to say the least. It contains Half-Life 2, as well as two extra episodes that bolt on another 8-10 hours of gameplay, but it also packs in two more games on top: the excellent multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2 and Portal, probably one of the greatest puzzle games ever made. For many, The Orange Box was their introduction to “real” gaming.
8. Portal 2
After The Orange Box introduced many gamers to the masterful design ethos of Valve, Portal 2 was an extremely solid continuation of the first game’s ideas. It might not have the same lean, sleek execution of its predecessor, but it packs in a huge amount of brilliantly-designed puzzles and some solid writing as well. Hey, it’s Portal – you really can’t go wrong.
9. Fable II
After Fable laid the groundwork on the original Xbox, Fable II realised many of its ambitions, expanding the rather limited scope of the first game and enhancing many of the action-RPG mechanics. Fable II is still somewhat shallow by PC RPG standards, but its endless breadth of quests, satisfying exploration, and varied combat make it well worth at least a playthrough.
10. Grand Theft Auto IV
There was a version of Grand Theft Auto V released for Xbox 360, but for our money, the best Grand Theft Auto experience on the console is the fourth game. Many have said that it’s too dour, too serious, and too full of itself, but Rockstar’s attempt at telling a more serious and less overtly satirical story led to many surprisingly poignant and painful narrative moments, so it gets a place on our list.
11. Gears of War 2
The first Gears of War was a solid shooter, and the third one was slightly too unambitious for its own good, but it’s Gears of War 2 that cements the series as a true classic. Though it’s a game of setpieces, they’re pretty much all excellent and memorable setpieces, and the chunky, visceral third-person cover shooting is at its absolute best here.
12. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim is one of the most re-released games of all time, and it’s easy to see why: this is a compelling, vast open-world adventure where there’s almost always something new to see around the corner. You could play Skyrim and its accompanying DLC packs for hundreds of hours and still not see everything they have to offer. Just try to overlook some of the still-extant bugs.
13. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Thanks to an Xbox Live Arcade re-release, we get to include this masterpiece on our Xbox 360 list. Symphony of the Night is just as much of an enduring classic now as it ever was, and playing it on the 360 means you’ll get some nice border art and a few extras as well. This is pretty much the definitive version of the game, so if you’ve never experienced it before, look here first.
14. Far Cry 3
For our money, Far Cry 3 is the last time the series was unequivocally, inarguably good. Far Cry 4 was labouring the point a little, and Far Cry 5’s ending soured many to its charms, but Far Cry 3 is a tight, taut experience with a solid core narrative and an emergent playground of a world to explore. Vaas is criminally underutilised as a villain, but the screen is on fire when he’s around.
15. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
When Sid Meier and Firaxis announced they were rebooting the classic XCOM strategy series, there was much consternation. How can they make this endlessly complex turn-based strategy game work on consoles? The answer, it turned out, was simple: just make an excellent game that streamlines some of the original’s mechanics, but keeps its sense of creeping menace and tension.
Do you like Thief? Has it been a long time since you played a game with Thief’s sprawling level design, emphasis on exploration, and surprisingly detailed combat engine? If so, you need to give Dishonored a look. It’s essentially Thief but with a more detailed emphasis on world-building, and while its protagonist is nowhere near as engaging as Garrett (due to being silent), it’s still an excellent immersive sim.
17. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
The Call of Duty series has bounced between mediocre, awful, and pretty decent for the last few years, but Call of Duty: Modern Warfare arguably represents the last time it was truly brilliant. The campaign has some unforgettably shocking moments and actually comes close to a human, three-dimensional examination of war, and the multiplayer is just as iconic as it’s ever been.
Again, we’re cheating a little here, as Banjo-Kazooie is a Nintendo 64 game that got itself a port to the Xbox 360. However, the port is great, updating the dated visuals and fiddling with very little of what made the classic collect-’em-up platformer so compelling. This is the best version of Banjo-Kazooie you can play, complete with an addictive soundtrack and animal squawking noises.
19. Rayman Legends
After Rayman Origins showed that the floaty-handed wonder could still be relevant in the modern era, Rayman Legends expanded his repertoire significantly, adding in new kinds of levels and some rather delightful rhythm-action platforming. Elsewhere, though, it still offered the same gorgeous, painterly visuals, wonderful soundtrack, and huge amount of content as its predecessor, only bigger and better.
20. Left 4 Dead 2
The first Left 4 Dead feels like a tentative experiment next to its sequel. Left 4 Dead 2 adds more special zombie types, more complex objectives, and melee weaponry to its predecessor’s frantic multiplayer zombie-slaying action. Even better: if you pick up the DLC for Left 4 Dead 2, you’ll get the entire campaign of the first game, but with the second game’s engine and extra mechanics.
21. Batman: Arkham City
Arkham City is a classic case of the sequel being significantly better and more involving than the original game, but when the original game is Batman: Arkham Asylum, you know you’re in for something special. Arkham City expands the scope of the first game, giving Batman a sectioned-off area of Gotham City to play in. The counter-based combat is just as fun as ever, and the boss fights have undergone improvements, too.
22. Forza Horizon
With Forza Horizon, Microsoft declared its intention to open up the Forza Motorsport series and make it more accessible to a wider audience. The customisation and in-depth car-nut stuff weren’t gone, but they took a backseat to more arcade-style gameplay and an emphasis on immediacy over tinkering. The series is still going strong today, and you can thank this original instalment for that.
23. Shadow Complex
What if Metroid, but under the tutelage of Tom Clancy? That’s the basic premise of Shadow Complex, and although Clancy isn’t involved (the game is based on a story by Orson Scott Card, although he wasn’t involved in its creation), the military setting and shadowy conspiracies certainly bear his hallmarks. This was one of the first Metroidvania platformers in the current wave, and it’s still great fun today.
Minecraft has been released on pretty much every major platform since its launch, so it’s probably a little unfair to describe it as an Xbox 360 game. However, it did get a launch on the 360, and that’s where many people first discovered this delightfully relaxing little sandbox builder. Minecraft is a phenomenon; it’s an open-ended joy, but only if you bring an open mind to it.
Hideki Kamiya’s unique brand of chaotic action games reached a new level with 2009’s Bayonetta. You can see the hand of Devil May Cry’s creator at work here, whether that’s in the over-the-top presentation or the mixture of exploration, puzzle-solving, and frenetic combat. The plot’s complete nonsense, but when the gameplay is this joyously entertaining, it doesn’t matter.