I think we all took the Xbox 360 for granted. Other all-time greats like the SNES and PS2 seem to be remembered more fondly than Microsoft’s console, which tends to be recalled as more of a thing that happened than a platform to be treasured.
I wonder if that’s down to recency. It could have to do with a changing market as well; by the age of the Xbox 360 Nintendo had splintered off from the hardcore console wars and found a very different kind of success with the Wii, which tempered Microsoft’s own stellar sales efforts. This was also the era that the PC emerged as a multiplatform destination, something the Xbox 360 played an important part in.
It might be down to the fact Microsoft’s console branding has never been lovable in that way that seems to endear other companies to their fans. It could also be the way purchasers of early Xbox 360s had to spend years getting the things replaced because they kept breaking down.
Whatever other people’s reasons may befor not revering this console, I’m not having it. I adored the Xbox 360, through its hardware missteps (HD-DVD! Kinect!) and endless UI overhauls (RIP Blades), for two reasons:
1) Because it had the greatest video game controller of all time. And...
2) Because of those games.
The Xbox 360 wasn’t just a multiplatform workhorse during its era, it was also home to a range of exclusives from Microsoft studios (and publishers like EA and Capcom) that make you wonder what the hell has happened at that company in the last few years for all those quality releases to just dry up. Project Gotham, Fable, Gears, good Halo games, it was just hit after hit.
So let’s remember some of those games. This isn’t a list of the best Xbox 360 games, we have that already. What I wanted to do here is remember the games that really defined the Xbox 360 experience, whether they came from a Microsoft studio or were just exclusive to the platform.
Project Gotham Racing 4
I miss this series so much. I think out of any driving game on Earth PGR was able to hit this perfect spot that made driving its cars feel real while also making the whole experience fast and fun as hell.
The first game was probably better, since the series’ fundamentals were more at home with its reduced scale, but this was still a remarkable video game, and one of the most unique RPG experiences in the modern era. Like PGR, it’s a damn shame what Microsoft has done (or failed to do) with it in recent years.
Gears of War II
The first Gears was a landmark Xbox 360 game, but the second was—and remains—the best of the series. Cutting yourself out of a giant city-eating worm is one of the greatest pleasures in all of video games.
Microsoft wanted very badly to crack the Japanese market with the Xbox 360, and just never managed. Part of that effort was a push to sign exclusivity deals with a number of JRPGs, and while Blue Dragon was fun (and looked amazing), the four-disc epic Lost Odyssey was the better game.
The Xbox 360 will forever be remembered as the platform that really helped champion the idea that indie games had a valuable role to play on console. From Castle Crashers to Geometry Wars there were a number of important games driving this movement, but none had the impact that Braid’s rule-breaking platforming managed.
DJ Krush’s contribution to Crackdown’s soundtrack had a big effect on me, but let’s not forget that the game itself was pretty special too, using the Xbox 360's powerful new hardware to create an open world that cared less about realism and more about blowing everything up and punching cars off rooftops.
If only more Halo games could cut the space opera bullshit and just strip the series back to what it does best. Featuring an ending for the ages, neither Bungie nor Halo has been the same since this classic.
It’s far from being Rare’s best game, but it’s easily their best-looking. Microsoft and the Donkey Kong Country creators really swung for the fences here, and while they couldn’t nail the Harvest Moon x Pokemon experience they were hoping for, they at least managed to make a game that stood out from the brown shooters that the Xbox 360 was becoming synonymous with.
Just as the Gran Turismo series began to falter, along came Forza 3 with one of the best driving experiences of all time.
This is the best “next gen” video game I’ve ever played. Nothing has ever made me go “holy shit this is some new horsepower” with more gusto than seeing the zombie crowds this game could pull together to create an entirely new experience that simply hadn’t been possible on older hardware.
Rockstar Games Presents: Table Tennis
The GTA guys making a sports game? In what was essentially just a GTA IV testbed? It should have been a joke game, but the fact it appeared so early in the console’s lifespan—and was genuinely very good—made it a surprise hit.
1 vs 100
Everything that HQ is doing now on mobile, 1 vs 100 was doing on Xbox Live nearly ten years ago. The combination of a live host and massive crowds made up of other Xbox Live users made this one of the most unique—and sorely missed—experiences in console gaming.
Bomberman: Act Zero