As many would know, this month we saw the 18th, 14th and 6th birthdays of the Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One respectively. Given the age, I’m going to put my focus on the original Xbox and give my Top 5 original Xbox games of all time.
5. Rallisport Challenge 2
Long before DICE was acquired by EA and put on shooter patrol, they were actually accomplished racing game developers. The best of the bunch being the Rallisport series which were made exclusively for the Xbox. While DICE no longer make racing games, one thing they do still do today as they did back then was make incredibly stunning video games.
For the time, Rallisport Challenge 2 looked life like. It was simply astonishing how this game looked in 2004. Luckily, DICE also managed to create a pretty decent rally driving engine which made the game enjoyable (but challenging) to play.
When paired with your own custom soundtrack, Rallisport 2 was almost relaxing to play. You almost didn’t want to race and just go for scenic drives through the gorgeous environments listening to your favourite songs.
4. Dead or Alive 3
You’ll find there’s a pattern as you make your way through this list. All these games were ridiculously good looking for their time. Don’t forget, the original Xbox was a far more powerful machine than it’s competition, but that power was also paired with a far more developer friendly PC like development environment which allowed developers to get great results relatively easily.
Dead or Alive, while not as revered as Virtua Fighter or Tekken, was still a great fighting franchise in its own right and while the series was known for scantily clad and well endowed female fighters, it actually had a legitimately good fighting system which rewarded players willing to put in the work to learn it.
Dead or Alive 3 is even now arguably the pinnacle of the series and a true showcase early on for the original Xbox. But it also helped make a statement about Xbox and it’s support for Japanese games.
As a fan of the Virtua Fighter series, I always liked Dead or Alive’s focus on fluidity and speed of battle. Virtua Fighter was a somewhat slower (in comparison) and more tactical fighter where Dead or Alive was your all out, guns blazing equivalent. The interactions with the environments could lead to some spectacular set pieces. I’m still holding out hope the entire series goes backwards compatible once the program kicks back in.
3. Ninja Gaiden Black
Yep, Itagaki makes the list again. Ninja Gaiden Black was the “Dark Souls” game before Dark Souls was a thing. Ninja Gaiden Black is arguably the perfect brutally difficult action game.
It managed to challenge the player without being cheap and force you to use your wits as well as the full suite of moves and weapons in your arsenal.
While it was one of the best looking games of the 6th Generation of consoles, the backwards compatibility program means we get to see this game in 4K/60 glory which makes it a very playable game even in 2019. Given how cheap it is, there’s almost no excuse for any original Xbox fan not to add this game to their backwards compatible library for Xbox One. A true classic.
2. NBA Street Vol.2
I still see NBA Street Vol.2 as one of the best (if not THE best) basketball games of all time. It seemed to perfectly blend the absurdity of NBA Jam and the sim like nature of NBA Live and distill it into this incredible representation of street basketball. You could almost call it the “White Men Can’t Jump” video game.
While Halo pioneered the “LAN night” with original Xbox players, for me, they started with NBA Street Vol. 2. Every month, 3 of my friends would come over and we’d play NBA Street for hours and hours on end with four controllers plugged in, huddled around a small CRT TV and have an absolute blast. As fun as it was, it got pretty damn competitive too.
This game is literally the only reason I’m still holding onto my original Xbox and if it ever comes to backwards compatibility, I will be selling that behemoth post haste.
With the NBA Live series on life support and 2K seemingly unable to lose their grip on NBA sims, EA really should try going in a different direction and carve out their own niche in the basketball genre by bringing back the Street series. 2K is already trying to muscle in on that territory with Playgrounds, but anyone who has played Street knows Playgrounds just pales in comparison.
1. Halo – Combat Evolved
Let’s be honest, was there really any other choice? How do you go past the game that is literally the singular reason the Xbox platform exists to this day?
Halo Combat Evolved isn’t just my favourite Xbox game of all time, but it’s in my Top 3 video games of all time. It was revolutionary at the time and paved the way for shooters on consoles in a way that Goldeneye and Perfect Dark just couldn’t quite manage without dual analog sticks and the horse power to run without a severely choppy frame rate.
Halo was not only visually spectacular, but it played incredibly well and set new standards for enemy AI and physics that even now are yet to be significantly surpassed, if at all.
Bungie created a beautiful semi-open sandbox and the simple design choice of only allowing the player to carry 2 weapons (which seemed absurd back in 2001) forced the player to utilise that sandbox and approach encounters in different ways. Who could forget the pistol that was a shotgun, sniper rifle and pistol all rolled into one?
From the almost seamless transition between levels, to an engaging story that was told not just through cut scenes, but in game chatter from Cortana was truly unique at the time and set new standards for the genre on consoles.
Unfortunately I feel like the series has never really been able to reach the same heights achieved by Combat Evolved, but Infinite does appear to be channeling the original as much as possible, which gives me hope we may have our best shot yet coming up.