It was gigantic. It was loved, it was hated, the controller was laughed at, it was over too quickly; but perhaps more importantly, it had Halo.
Microsoft’s behemoth of a console was important in many ways from a technical perspective (the built-in hard drive and birth of Xbox Live are worthy of a separate discussion), but – lest we forget – it was also a system with a catalogue of games that shone with brief promise before being cruelly dumped for better hardware.
As a Dreamcast fanatic, the Xbox takes up second spot in my list of most-loved consoles of all-time for those very reasons, and the selections below represent some of the more memorable experiences that emblazoned their way into memory:
7. Jet Set Radio Future
It wasn’t a great launch. Besides JSRF, Amped and Halo, quality games were few and far between, but that didn’t stop Sega’s update to their Dreamcast classic remaining as one of the better titles released for the system.
It’s also a game that looks nearly as good today as it did back then, comfortably sitting alongside the likes of Rare’s Grabbed by the Ghoulies with a somewhat future-proof art style. A HD update of either Jet Set game is sorely lacking from the stable of modern retro re-releases, although thankfully it is still backwards-compatible on the 360.
6. Project Gotham Racing 2
The second-best racer on our list was – for many people – the best high-speed simulation they’d had to date, with Bizarre Creation’s stylish Metropolis Street Racer-inspired drifting lineage finally making its mark online. It helped that it looked beautiful, to boot.
It was the extraneous detail that stuck out however. My fondest memories of PGR2 mostly centred around three things: the weird interactive garage; Geometry Wars; and the community-driven ‘Cat and Mouse’ online battles. Although PGR 4 eventually redeemed the series after a somewhat lacklustre PGR 3, this second iteration is still regarded by many fans as the finest game that Bizarre created; outside of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, of course.
5. GTA: San Andreas
It may well be a PS2 game at heart, but for those of us that had moved on to the Microsoft console, Xbox GTA represented a smoother frame-rate, better draw distance and sharper performance.
It’s a toss-up as to which iteration could make this list, but the incredible open world that Rockstar conjured with San Andreas deserves a tip of the hat for its scope if nothing else. I never finished the story (despite playing it across PS2, Xbox, PC and later in backwards compatibility mode), but then I didn’t need to. Once the three cities were accessible, San Andreas came alive with epic road-trips, wanton destruction and exploration on a scale hitherto unseen in the genre.
4. Jade Empire
Quite possibly Bioware’s least-favoured RPG to date, but for those that got sucked into its Eastern-themed world, it ended up one of the best story-driven experiences of the era.
There were so many things to admire here. The seamless transition from RPG exploration into multi-faceted combat laid the groundwork for the likes of Mass Effect, whilst the fantastical art style and witty dialogue imbued the world with a sense of playful mysticism. It never took itself too seriously (unlike stable-mate Knights of the Old Republic), progression was masterfully balanced and forever dangling gameplay carrots just within reach, and finally, the the vocal talents of John Cleese were deployed mid-way through your quest.
That alone marks it out as something to be treasured.
3. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Whatever Vin Diesel’s involvement with Starbreeze and Tigon Studio’s stealth and melee combat classic, it turned out to be one of those rare gems; a movie licence that actually outshone its licence to become its own entity.
It did so with a commitment to physicality and brutality that was unerring. As the prison opened up to take on a semi free-form structure and asked you to interact with its inhabitants with voice, power lifter and fists, the developer revealed a keen eye for incidental detail and maintained the stellar vocal work with a cast of believable reprobates. It was lengthy too, but its duration was filled with a variety of tasks that kept you pushing forwards to see what lay around the corner.
The action was good, but the talking was better, and it’s a real shame that the next-gen sequel never quite hit the same heights.
2. Halo 2
It could so easily have been Halo:CE here, but as James has just reviewed the updated version of Bungie’s classic I’ll save my gushing for its arguably superior follow-up.
To get the surprise out of the way up-front, I loved the campaign, and more so than any other Bungie game before or since. Switching to the Arbiter’s scaly feet proved a much-needed change of pace and tactics, and the ponderous, plodding nature of the story pulled me far deeper into Bungie’s universe than the original. I even loved the ending, and the Gravemind sequence in particular.
And then of course, there was the multiplayer. Not only did Bungie invent the rules for how console shooters should play online, they also began their obsession with polished UI’s and feedback systems that few other developers have mastered today. The levels live on in infamy, and for many, this is where Xbox Live began in ernest.
1. Burnout 3: Takedown
Of course if you were one of those people that believed Xbox Live began with Halo 2, you obviously hadn’t played Criterion’s masterpiece a couple of months prior to its release.
Few other titles offered up as much of an impact as this. Burnout 3′s cars crumpled, smashed and exploded as they flew into the screen at a spectacular pace and frame rate, and the new crash mode and takedowns were the finishing (after)touch. They were also exactly what was needed to invigorate a buzzing online community, which continued to thrive long after the other heavy hitters were released.
Coupled with one of the best licensed soundtracks yet committed to disc, the result remains the highest point for the Burnout series to date.