The original Xbox turned 20 recently. For its first-ever gaming console, Microsoft was able to put out a winner that’s become a global brand today. To celebrate, we’re going to highlight the 20 best games for the console.
Please keep in mind that this list is in no particular order in terms of general game rank, playability, or any other metric that exists outside of my head.
It’s hard to believe that there was a time before BioWare was developing games only for Microsoft. It’s doubly hard to believe that this was the company’s first original IP since their very first game in 1996!
Jade Empire was a departure from the Knights of the Old Republic franchise for BioWare. The morality system was still there, but the combat was now real-time. Influence from Chinese culture was found everywhere within the game. It was an absolute blast to play, a joy to experience, and it’s a shame we never saw a sequel.
Despite critical acclaim, Jade Empire performed below expectations.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
While the Grand Theft Auto franchise was thriving on PlayStation 2, its Xbox debut took San Andreas to new heights. A more powerful system allowed for a more beautiful game with a smoother framerate.
It also ushered in a new audience of fans to experience the blockbuster, myself included. From this point on, Grand Theft Auto was a multi-platform, generation-defining release.
Until Grand Theft Auto Online, that is. One day we’ll get a new entry in the franchise. One day…
Burnout 3: Takedown
The Burnout franchise had enjoyed success before Takedown’s release. Its spin on the arcade racer with a focus on fast driving and crashes was already enjoyable. Burnout 3: Takedown took and refined that formula to perfection.
Aggressive driving was the norm here, unlike Project Gotham Racing for Forza. You’re rewarded for trading paint with your opponents. The real star of Takedown, though, was the Crash mode. There was no racing here, just mayhem. The bigger the crash, the more points you’d get.
The soundtrack was pretty killer, too.
Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30
Brothers in Arms didn’t invent the tactical shooter, nor was it the first WWII shooter. Far from it on either front, in fact. It did, however, perfect both genres. Its deep, strategic approach to the FPS rewarded gamers who were patient enough with the game.
There was nothing quite like Road to Hill 30 at the time of its release. Arguably, there are few titles like it even today. While subsequent entries in the franchise couldn’t meet the lofty expectations of the original, it’s still a massive accomplishment at the time of its release.
Fable was never going to live up to its impossible expectations, but it didn’t have to. It may not have been the revolutionary game it was promised to be, featuring a morality system instead of “everything you do changes the world,” but it was still an absolute blast.
An Action RPG that never took itself seriously, Fable was just good ol’ fashioned fun. Charming, hilarious, and satisfying, the game was exactly what the Xbox needed: an RPG for Western audiences. It led to a successful franchise that has spawned across several Xbox generations, as well as an anticipated turn in the near future from Playground Games.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath
The Oddworld franchise has always been a little, well, strange. Stranger’s Wrath was no exception. Combining the wackiness and absurdity the series has been known for with solid gameplay resulted in a hit that was also an Xbox exclusive.
Despite critical acclaim, Stranger’s Wrath didn’t resonate with gamers, sadly, selling well below expectations.
Switch owners can purchase the game’s remaster, released last year, and honestly, they owe it to themselves to buy it.
There is, and never will be, anything like Steel Battalion.
From the outside, it was an enjoyable tank/mech-style game. The real catch, though, was the control setup. There was nothing like it anywhere else.
Steel Battalion was a great example of not just immersion, but also bringing an arcade-style atmosphere to a home console. The price tag was beyond steep at $200 (this was before Rock Band controllers dominated living rooms), which means not many people were able to experience it. Still, it was something that everyone had to try at least once.
Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding
While subsequent releases in the franchise focused on becoming increasingly silly, the original stuck with its roots. A solid snowboarder that focused on exploration as well as gameplay. Amped’s open-world experience was soothing, in a way. It allowed players to explore the mountain at their own leisure.
It was a great alternative to SSX: Tricky as well, which focused more on racing than exploration.
Project Gotham Racing 2
Before Forza, there was Project Gotham Racing.
The name of the game was Kudos. The more Kudos you got, the more you unlocked. Skilled driving and performance helped earn you those precious Kudos.
The combination of arcade and simulation racing, which is arguably present today in the Forza Horizon franchise, allowed for a beautiful experience. It was more accessible than, say, Gran Turismo, but more realistic compared to other arcade racers out there.
We couldn’t talk about Project Gotham Racing without bringing up Geometry Wars, either.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Technically, the Splinter Cell franchise was released on just about every console in existence at the time of its release. I actually have bad flashbacks to working at GameStop and hearing the Chaos Theory advertisement run on the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube demo kiosks at the same time.
With that being said, there’s an easy argument to be made that it ran, and looked, best on Xbox.
Chaos Theory was one of the best-looking games of the console generation, something that could be said about several games on this list actually. It was the culmination of everything that made the original run of Splinter Cell games enjoyable, resulting in a satisfying send-off before making the leap to the next console generation.
Xbox’s answer to the Gran Turismo franchise, Forza Motorsport was all about simulation racing while also customizing a car to meet your personality.
The combination of car selection, tuning, and upgrades, combined with a robust campaign and (at the time) a popular online scene resulted in one of the best simulation racers to ever hit the market.
Looking back, it’s easy to understand why this was the start of something special with the Forza franchise.
Elder Scrolls Iii: Morrowind
The fact that Morrowind exists on a console is nothing short of a miracle. An absolutely sprawling, epic open-world RPG, Morrowind brought the Elder Scrolls franchise to a new audience. While subsequent titles would bring it mainstream appeal, there’s no denying that Morrowind is one of, if not the, best in the franchise.
Players are able to do just about anything they want. Whether it’s building your character, selecting spells, skills, exploring the world, and everything in between, there is no shortage of things to do in Morrowind.
Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay
Games based on movie franchises have had a, well, rough time of it. While everyone fondly remembers Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64, Escape from Butcher Bay is arguably the gold standard.
Chronicles of Riddick isn’t just a good game based on a movie; it’s a great game in its own right. At release, it drew comparisons to some of the best first-person shooters and stealth games on the market.
Add in a fantastic story, gorgeous visuals, and an all-around great presentation, and it becomes clear why Butcher Bay is one of the best games on the original Xbox period.
The sequel, released earlier this year, has enjoyed Game of the Year buzz. The original is a masterwork of art in a video game.
A solid story, incredibly humorous, and enjoyable, albeit uneven when it comes to difficulty, platforming all led to one of the most underrated gems of the Xbox era. Psychonauts is the definition of a game that needs to be experienced to be fully understood.
Aside from that, Psychonauts is a game that needs to be played, especially before diving into the sequel. You won’t regret it.
Dead or Alive 3
While the Dead or Alive franchise may be best known for, well, other things outside of gameplay, there’s no denying that Dead or Alive 3 has some of the best graphics ever seen on the Xbox.
As a fighter, DOA has always been unable to maintain the popularity of other games in the franchise, which honestly is a shame. Dead or Alive 3 features fast-paced, slick combat that rewards those who continue to play the game. It may not be the best of the genre, but it’s certainly one of the most fun and enjoyable fighters to release on Xbox.
Ninja Gaiden Black
2004’s Ninja Gaiden was both one of the best Xbox games ever released, as well as one of the best games ever made. Somehow, 2005’s Ninja Gaiden Black was even better.
A game that pushed the Xbox to its graphical limits (a common refrain on this list), Black added in new difficulty modes, missions, and more. It made the game both more accessible to newcomers, as well as more challenging for more veterans. There was more to see, do, and collect. It was a near-perfect game made even better.
An absolute no-brainer to include on this list.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
The BioWare RPG is still regarded as one of the best the genre has ever seen. Bringing players back to the Old Republic, thousands of years before the events in the movies, KOTOR was universally acclaimed as one of the best games of 2003.
So many things RPG fans take for granted today, such as morality systems, branching dialogue, plot twists, and more, were all present and accounted for here. There’s a reason why The Old Republic has continued to have a presence in video games and KOTOR is a big reason why.
A long-awaited remake was finally announced earlier this year, with hopes of introducing a new generation of fans to the beloved game.
While we didn’t quite finish the fight in Halo 2, we definitely needed a weapon.
Say what you want about the campaign, the real gem of Halo 2 is the online multiplayer. While Xbox Live was already alive and kicking in 2004, Halo 2 showed what was possible with console online gaming. The ability to sit in lobbies with friends, both old and new, and play until the sun comes up was met with open arms.
When it comes to the actual gameplay, Halo 2’s is a work of art. A true masterclass of multiplayer mayhem when it comes to mapping design and weapon balancing.
Plus we were finally able to wield plasma swords!
Halo: Combat Evolved
There’s a lot that has been already said about Halo: Combat Evolved.
One of the greatest games of all time, Halo showed the world what was capable in a console FPS. An amazing, revolutionary campaign, combined with multiplayer, both of the competitive and cooperative variety, gave the game plenty of staying power.
Halo: Combat Evolved made console LAN parties cool. Everyone wanted to play it when they had friends over. Nevermind just gaming, it was the thing to do, period. While the franchise may have been overtaken in the FPS genre, its influence cannot be denied.
Conker: Live and Reloaded
Yes, Conker: Live and Reloaded is just a shiny remake of the N64’s Conker’s Bad Fur Day. When the original game is just that good, however, that’s a-okay.
Plus there are tongue-in-cheek references to changes from the original, which fit right in with the game’s style.
Live and Reloaded pushed the Xbox to its graphical limits. The controls were much improved from the original. The multiplayer over Xbox Live saw new life and enjoyed extended popularity.
While the humor and movie references may have become dated, it’s still worth it to spend a weekend hungover with Conker.