When Microsoft entered the console market, it had everything to play for. The Washington tech giant was already dominating the world of PC gaming with its Windows operating system, but it had yet to prove that it could establish itself in console gaming as well. The original Xbox arrived to much cautious optimism and quickly built up a reputation as a serious gamer’s console, but it would never have been able to do that without its incredible software library. Here, in no particular order, are the top 25 Xbox games of all time (and remember, we’re only talking OG Xbox here, not any of the followup consoles).
1. Halo 2
Halo was the Xbox’s secret weapon. Without Halo, the Xbox would have been a much tougher sell, but this Xbox-exclusive shooter proved not only that Microsoft could shore up some great exclusives, but that they could compete with the biggest and best shooters of the time as well. Halo 2 ratcheted up the storytelling nous of its predecessor and beefed up the multiplayer, making it a better prospect for all-nighter gaming sessions.
2. Halo: Combat Evolved
And here’s where it all began. Halo: Combat Evolved was a lofty promise; the title alone implied a huge leap forward for shooters. Happily, that’s pretty much exactly what Halo represented. Its visuals were beautiful, its maps were huge and expansive, and it offered a variety of ways to approach problems in its campaign. The multiplayer, too, was a revelation, and is still hugely influential today.
3. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II
Obsidian’s Knights of the Old Republic II is a flawed masterpiece. Despite being blatantly unfinished, it took the Star Wars mythos and painstakingly deconstructed it, digging into the very nature of what makes the Force the Force. The RPG gameplay and writing were at their best here, and we constantly find ourselves imagining what Obsidian could have achieved were they given the time and money to finish the project.
4. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
If Knights of the Old Republic II is the experimental phase, then Knights of the Old Republic represents the more sensible base from which the sequel sprang. This is a classic BioWare-style RPG, complete with charismatic companions, a host of Star Wars worlds to visit, and Dungeons & Dragons-inspired combat. It’s not as revolutionary as its followup, but it’s a very solid game nonetheless.
5. Jade Empire
BioWare throwing its lot in with the Xbox clearly yielded some great results. Jade Empire is another excellent RPG, this time inspired by classical Chinese and Far Eastern mythology. It has a martial arts-inspired combat system alongside the usual BioWare trappings of exploring dungeons and gathering loot. The usual karma system is here represented as Closed Fist and Open Palm, adding to the immersion.
6. Jet Set Radio Future
After the Dreamcast was a failure for Sega (an undeserved failure at that), the company moved on to creating games as a third-party developer. Jet Set Radio Future is one of the fruits of that decision, and we’re very thankful for it. Future continues the first game’s mixture of rail-grinding fun and graffiti punk aesthetic, so if you loved Jet Set Radio, this is more of it but better.
Tim Schafer and company’s off-the-wall platformer is just as good today as it was back in 2005. The Xbox version launched a month earlier than the PS2 version in North America, meaning Xbox gamers got to experience its twisted delights sooner. Whether you’re exploring a feverish conspiracy theorist’s brain or navigating the delights of the Meat Circus, Psychonauts’ weird platforming adventure is essential.
8. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
The third of the Xbox-era Grand Theft Auto trilogy is also the biggest and most overstuffed. It’s an open-world crime sandbox with RPG elements; you can buff up in the gym, wear lots of different clothes, boost other stats, and, if there’s time left in the day, take on the sprawling story campaign. San Andreas is a flawed, maximalist triumph that still feels fun to play today.
9. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath
You won’t find Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee on this list, as although it had some fun ideas, it was just a little too flawed for a recommendation. Stranger’s Wrath, on the other hand, is an offbeat triumph. It’s a first-person shooter with elements of platforming and “action-adventure” gaming, and it’s also a weird Western with plenty of crazy outlaws to capture.
10. Forza Motorsport
Here’s where it all began. Presumably, Microsoft was looking for a simulation racer to rival Sony’s dominance with Gran Turismo, and they found it in Forza Motorsport. Developed by Turn 10, the studio that has been working on the core Forza series since 2005, this game featured a whole host of real-life cars and tracks, as well as hugely detailed customisation options.
11. Half-Life 2
Today, people like to talk about “impossible ports”, games that are released for consoles on which they have absolutely no business being playable. Half-Life 2 on the original Xbox fits that category. Despite undeniably being an early “next-gen” shooter, Half-Life 2 is perfectly playable on Xbox, which is a remarkable achievement. Valve’s masterpiece can still be played and enjoyed on Microsoft’s original Xbox today!
12. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
The Splinter Cell games are some of the most underrated stealth experiences around, and Chaos Theory is the epitome of their Metal Gear and Thief-inspired design. Here, you’ll find a variety of levels to sneak around, with protagonist Sam Fisher’s wide range of gadgets and complete invisibility in shadow making the stages a joy to explore and the guards a joy to outwit.
13. Panzer Dragoon Orta
To this day, the death of the Panzer Dragoon series (recent remake notwithstanding) is one of the saddest things in gaming history. Panzer Dragoon Orta shows what could have been. It’s a beautiful, fluid, and graceful rail shooter that may not quite hit the dizzying heights of series highlight Panzer Dragoon Saga, but it should be experienced anyway.
14. Beyond Good and Evil
We’re still waiting for the long-awaited sequel to Ubisoft’s masterpiece Beyond Good and Evil, so now’s as good a time as any to revisit the original. This odd but charming mixture of Zelda-style adventure, genre-hopping platformer, and Pokemon Snap is weird, occasionally goofy, and sometimes hilariously dark, but it’s always engaging and enjoyable to play.
15. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
The later two games in the Sands of Time trilogy are solid platformers, but they don’t hit the perfect sweet spot like Sands of Time does. This game’s endearing characters blend perfectly with its trial-and-error Tomb Raider-inspired platforming, and while the combat is nothing to write home about (unless your correspondent is particularly interested in poorly-implemented melee fighting), it doesn’t get in the way too much.
16. TimeSplitters 2
Recently, Free Radical announced that it would be creating another TimeSplitters game. The world collectively rejoiced, because this series is full of great shooters. TimeSplitters 2 represents the apex of the franchise; it’s colourful, cartoony, and accomplished from a gameplay perspective, using its bouncy core shooting for everything from stealth missions to glass-breaking challenges.
17. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
This might well be another of those “impossible port” situations. Morrowind is a frankly massive PC RPG complete with a huge amount of text to read, and yet the team somehow managed to bring it to the Xbox. For many, Morrowind’s open-ended nature and lack of hand-holding mean it’s still the best Elder Scrolls game, so if you’ve got an original Xbox, check it out.
18. Soulcalibur II
The Soulcalibur series is a consistent mainstay on fighting game fans’ “best of” lists, and playing the second game – still popularly considered the best by many – it’s easy to see why. These games are fast, technical, and intense, and if you’re not playing your absolute best, then you’ll fall even to the most basic AI. The roster is huge, and if you pick it up on Xbox, you’ll even get to play as Spawn!
19. Ninja Gaiden
Celebrated NES classic Ninja Gaiden got itself a shiny 3D reboot on the Xbox. What followed was an incredibly intense, all-out action classic that ran at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second, an almost unheard-of feat for the Xbox generation. The difficulty was completely intact, too; nobody will say that this game isn’t just as controller-shatteringly hard as its forebears.
20. Fable: The Lost Chapters
This re-release of Peter Molyneux’s flawed classic Fable adds a bunch of content to the base release, so if you liked Fable, you’ll find more of it to play here. If you haven’t experienced it yet, The Lost Chapters is the best place to start. It’s a pretty, compelling, and somewhat shallow action-RPG full of memorable characters and locations inspired by British folklore.
21. Full Spectrum Warrior
Full Spectrum Warrior is the curious case of a military shooter without any shooting in it – not by you, anyway. Your task was to guide your squadmates through an active warzone and ensure that they survived. To do so, you had to carefully consider enemy placements and your overall strategy, making this a far more tense and compelling experience than many full-blown shooters.
22. Doom 3
For many, Doom 3 is the black sheep of the franchise, but given the slew of absolute dreck that would follow it in the world of first-person shooters, it now looks like a masterpiece. While the over-the-top shooter action was still here, Doom 3 is more of a survival horror experience inspired by System Shock; it features a dark, moody space station to explore and plenty of jump scares.
23. Thief: Deadly Shadows
Continuing the theme of “third games that are the black sheep of the franchise”, Thief: Deadly Shadows is a superb Xbox stealth experience only soured by the mastery of the two games that came before it. The levels are more linear and the city hub isn’t particularly compelling, but Garrett’s snarky attitude, the excellent stealth gameplay, and the charismatic writing are all still here.
24. Otogi: Myth of Demons
If you love From Software’s modern action RPGs, then you should give Otogi: Myth of Demons a try. It’s essentially a Ninja Gaiden-style action game with a more deliberate focus on movement and combat, and while some may view it as little more than a clone of Ninja Gaiden, it more than earns its own identity. Give it a shot if you loved Ninja Gaiden and you’re hankering for more.
25. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Nobody expected this game to be as good as it was. Escape from Butcher Bay should have been a cheap movie tie-in, but thanks to excellent work on the part of developer Starbreeze, it was anything but. The characters, narrative, and gameplay all worked in tandem to create a moody, atmospheric stealth shooter that somehow still holds up to this very day.