How can it be 10 years already?
It’s now exactly a decade since the Xbox 360 was first released in the UK, but what is the legacy of Microsoft’s most successful console?
Only a few days ago we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of Sega’s venerable Mega Drive, a classic console whose part in the great console war of the 16-bit era now seems impossibly long ago. By comparison the Xbox 360 is still on sale, with even the odd new game still being released for it. Which is not bad going for a console which celebrates its 10th anniversary in the UK today.
You can see below a selection of our favourite titles released for the format, but the console’s influence on the games industry goes far beyond just its games. The original Xbox had been only a minor success and did little to dispel the notion that Japanese companies would forever dominate the games industry. The Xbox 360 though had a significantly bigger impact.
As its initial codename of Project Midway makes clear, the Xbox 360 was intended to break the Japanese stranglehold, by creating a console built specifically for the needs of Western developers and the tastes of American gamers. Xbox Live became a major selling point of the system and Microsoft helped to innovate every aspect of the modern online experience, from playing multiplayer to buying games online.
By contrast the PlayStation 3’s online network was a lower priority for Sony, and its DualShock 3 controller far less well suited for shooters than the Xbox 360’s. As happens so often in the games industry the previous market leader had become complacent, and Microsoft took full advantage of the fact – even weathering the storm of the Red Ring of Death debacle through pure bluster and its near endless cash reserves.
And yet despite all that the Xbox 360 was the least successful home console of its generation, if only just. Despite dominating in the US and the UK, it failed to make as much impact elsewhere and after the PlayStation 3 recovered from its poor start it eventually outside the Xbox 360 at around 86 million units to 84 million. Although both were soundly beaten by the Wii’s 101 million total.
Even so, the Xbox 360 has undoubtedly been the most influential and the most innovative home console of the 21st century. Although due to how it helped to deflate the importance of format exclusives a great many of its best games were also released on the PlayStation 3 – which makes creating a top 20 list more difficult than usual.
These are 20 of our favourites though, and as you inevitably disagree with them just let us know what you would’ve picked instead via the comments or usual email address.
1. Dark Souls (2011)
Not just the best game on the Xbox 360 but arguably the best game of the entire generation. From Software’s tour de force flew in the face of every games industry trend it could, with its dark, melancholic atmosphere and punishingly hard difficulty. No other game would wear its tagline of ‘Prepare to Die’ with such honour, but importantly Dark Souls is never unfair. It’s tough love means that even the smallest victory is worth celebrating, as you find yourself captivated by the game’s intricacy designed levels and making use of the equally clever online options. (It also happens to have our favourite trailer of last gen too.)
2. The Elder Scrolls IV: Skyrim (2011)
Bethesda and The Elder Scrolls series have been around for a long time, but it was during the Xbox 360 era that they both went mainstream. And what’s most impressive about Skyrim, and before it Oblivion, is how little was sacrificed to get there. Both games, and the two similarly designed Fallout titles, can almost be played as first person action games if you want. Or you can sit around at your farmstead crafting armour, start a family, or even play the story missions. But no one ever does just that…
3. Bayonetta (2010)
After leaving Capcom at the end of the PlayStation 2 era, the Xbox 360 generation saw Platinum Games become one of the most celebrated developers in the world, with cult games including Vanquish, Anarchy Reigns, and Metal Gear Rising. But this spiritual successor to Devil May Cry remains their best game on the 360, with an incredibly deep but accessible combat system, and an endlessly inventive string of boss battles and set pieces. Like all of Platinum’s games it wasn’t much of a hit though, and only got a sequel after Nintendo agreed to make it a Wii U exclusive.
4. Mass Effect Trilogy (2007 – 2012)
Starting life as an Xbox 360 exclusive, the complete Mass Effect trilogy is one of the most impressive achievements of the previous gen. Telling the story of a galactic war across three games, where decisions made in previous games can affect later ones, worked almost flawlessly – except for the famously fumbled ending. The third person combat is extremely solid, but what really makes the game is the genuinely affecting cast of characters. Chatting with them after a mission is often more rewarding than any of the actual action, and that’s regardless of whether you’re trying to romance them or not.
5. Ultra Street Fighter IV (2009)
Responsible for revitalising not just Street Fighter itself but the whole of the one-on-one fighting genre, Street Fighter IV’s secret was to peel back years of over-complication and return the series to its rightful status as the best competitive multiplayer experience in gaming. There were multiple versions and updates over the course of the Xbox 360’s lifespan but the final Ultra version includes almost every extra and adds in a last few new characters and options. It’s just a shame that publisher politics are making Street Fighter V a PlayStation 4 exclusive.
6. Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
Not only is Modern Warfare the game that changed multiplayer gaming forever, but it also still has one of the best story campaigns of any shooter today. But it is the competitive multiplayer to which the series owes the majority of its success and longevity. The range of options and fast, accessible play that began in Call Of Duty 4 has not only been slowly evolved in subsequent sequels but it’s been imitated by just about every other multiplayer game on the planet, whether it’s a fellow first person shooter or not.
7. Portal 2 (2011)
Not only does Valve’s first person classic have one of the best, and funniest, scripts in all gaming but it’s married to an equally clever puzzle game. If solving spatial and physics-related puzzles in cold, clinical laboratory settings doesn’t sound like much fun then all you need to do is play a few minutes to understand why the series is so beloved. Wheatley and GLaDos are not just there for comedy value, their personalities are given a degree of depth and pathos that other video game characters can only dream of.
8. Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
In terms of technical merit alone GTA V is a staggering achievement for the Xbox 360. The quality of the graphics, the size of the open world, and the level of interactivity is still unsurpassed and probably won’t be until Rockstar make their next game. Importantly, GTA V also plays a lot better than previous sequels, with much more competent gunplay and driving. The nihilistic storytelling is sometimes hard to stomach (although there’s always Red Dead Redemption if you prefer a more likeable protagonist) but the plot-free GTA Online is another staggering accomplishment that deserves its place on this list all on its own.
9. Braid (2008)
Xbox Live Arcade was a huge innovation for Microsoft in two ways: it made the notion of buying downloadable games, many of which were released only in digital form, seem normal and it gave indie developers a platform to sell their more avant-garde wares. Together with fellow 2D platfomer Limbo, Braid was the poster boy for the movement: a game that no publisher would dream of releasing at retail but whose complex puzzles and layered storyline was nevertheless a huge financial and critical success.
10. Halo: Reach (2010)
It would be impossible to imagine any top 10 for an Xbox format that didn’t include one of the Halo games. No other title has ever had as much influence on the first person shooter genre on consoles, especially when it comes to online play. The story campaign here is a slightly unnecessary seeming prequel, but the multiplayer is best the series has ever been – at least until (the very different) Halo 5. And with ancillary options such as the Forge level editor it’s still amongst the most polished and versatile in all gaming.
11. XCOM: Enemy Within (2013)
Turn-based strategies are not the sort of game that usually thrive on a home console but this hugely accomplished reboot of the classic PC franchise worked perfectly with just a joypad and an ordinary TV screen. Fast-paced and accessible in a way that most doubters would probably never imagine XCOM can be just as tense and exciting as an action game. Enemy Within is the slightly updated standalone expansion, but sadly neither it nor the original were a success and XCOM 2 has already been demoted to PC-only.
12. Gears Of War 2 (2008)
While Halo was the most influential console shooter of the PlayStation 2 generation, that accolade was passed onto Gears Of War on the Xbox 360 – or at least shared with Call Of Duty 4. Just as almost every post-Halo first person shooter has copied its recharging health and two-gun inventory limit, the influence of Gears Of War’s third person cover system and co-operative campaign mode has been just as widespread. The Horde survival mode introduced for the sequel has also been adopted as standard by almost every subsequent shooter, including Halo itself.
13. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (2010)
As well as indie titles the other style of game that Xbox Live Arcade opened up was the retro remake. Ever since Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved proved that there was still a hunger for old school arcade games there was a flood official and unofficial homages to classic titles from the golden era of arcades. The best was this stunning update of Pac-Man, which does relatively little except update the presentation, add a few new power-ups, and turn the game into a series of bite-sized challenges. But in so doing it secured the series’ fame for decades to come.
14. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)
Proof that licensed games don’t need to be third rate cash grabs, whether you’re interested in Batman or not is irrelevant as it’s the mix of game styles and meticulously designed world that is the real draw here. The visceral melee combat is a revelation and the stealth sequences, where you stalk villains from the shadows, is wonderfully open-ended given the relatively simple mechanics. Some prefer the open world sequel but it’s the original that’s the most tightly designed and truest to the source material.
15.Burnout Paradise (2008)
Microsoft did extremely well with its Forza Motorsport series, slowly eroding Gran Turismo’s dominance in the real driving simulator genre. But our vote for the best racer on the Xbox 360 goes to Criterion’s endlessly entertaining arcade racer. Although still retaining some sense of realism in its handling the game manages to make crashing the most exciting thing you can do with your ride. Given the innovation in its online and open world experience it’s a real shame the series has now been shelved in favour of Need For Speed.
16. Crackdown (2007)
The original selling point for Crackdown was simply that it came with access to the Halo 3 beta, with many assuming that to be a sign from Microsoft that the game itself was less than remarkable. But actually it was anything but, and is still arguably the best co-op experience in an open world environment. And given there are still inexplicably few official superhero games this gave you the means to create your own super-powered do-godder. The sequel was hugely disappointing but the new game for the Xbox One looks set to do true justice to the original.
17 . Child Of Eden (2011)
Even Microsoft seems keen to forget Kinect at the moment, but this underrated classic almost justifies it all on its own. It doesn’t have to be played with the Xbox 360’s motion controller, indeed it’s a little more accurate with a joypad, but combined with a large TV and a decent sound system Kinect turns it into an almost transcendent sensory experience. As the spiritual sequel to Dreamcast classic Rez the gameplay is very similar, and essentially an on-the-rails shooter. Except with an interactive soundtracks that even purports to induce synesthesia.
18. Battlefield 3 (2011)
The real home for Battlefield is always going to be the PC but DICE still managed to make a number of very creditable versions for the Xbox 360 (we almost gave this slot to Battlefield 4, even though it’s more limited than the Xbox One version). A completely different style of first person shooter to Call Of Duty, the game’s huge maps and varied vehicles makes it seem at once both realistic and like a gloriously over-the-top ’80s action movie brought to life. No match ever plays out the same and yet every one is filled with ‘Did you see that?’ moments.
19. Deadly Premonition (2010)
As obscure as it may seem, as imperfect as it most certainly is, anyone that’s played and enjoyed Deadly Premonition will understand why it’s on this list. The graphics may be awful and the controls almost unusable at times, but this is still one of the best narrative-driven games of all time. Intended as a homage to Twin Peaks, this so masterfully recaptures the same sense of surreal tension that it becomes vastly more immersive than any photorealistic rival. But the game has some serious gameplay innovations too, and the way it allows you to roam around the open world town, as the lives of everyone else continue on without you, has still never been done better.
20. BioShock (2007)
It’s curious how the more recent BioShock Infinite seems to be remembered less and less fondly as time goes on, while the reputation of the first game in the series moves in the opposite direction. Many games boast of adult storytelling but in BioShock it was actually true, as it used its strange underwater setting and bizarre characters to make a point about human nature in a way only a video game could. But even though the story’s best twist is over by the halfway point the first person action and tense, almost survival horror style, level design has never been bettered.
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