Best Original Xbox Games Of All Time - GameSpot

305 27/09/2021

It's been nearly 20 years since Microsoft made its foray into console gaming with the Xbox. Many of the most popular Xbox franchises today--including Halo and Forza--made their debut on the rather large black box. Though a bunch of original Xbox games are hard to get a hold of nowadays, some of the best original Xbox games are available to download from the Microsoft Store or can be found on mobile devices, PC, and even modern consoles. We've rounded up the 20 best original Xbox games (in alphabetical order). Round of applause for the gamers who played these games with the "Duke" controller.

For newer Xbox experiences, check out our roundups of the best Xbox One games and best Xbox Series X games to play right now. And if you happen to have a Game Pass subscription (you should), we have a list of the best Xbox Game Pass games, too.

Burnout 3: Takedown is the epitome of fun when it comes to arcade racing games. While its predecessors also encouraged you to ram other racers with your car, Takedown made this spectacle the central theme. This fast-paced racer often felt like equal parts action and puzzle game. When you take out an opponent, your boost meter is replenished, allowing you to zip around the deliberately tight courses with more speed. Burnout 3's single-player World Tour mode was a great ride, but Takedown's lasting power came from its local multiplayer. Whether you were competing in normal races or trying to rack up takedowns in the variety of crash-focused variants, Takedown was a consistently exhilarating experience. It remains one of the best arcade racing games of all time. Sadly, the Burnout series has been dormant for some time except for the remastered version of Burnout Paradise, which is available on current-gen consoles.

Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series made its console debut on the original Xbox with The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Considering that massive open-world RPGs like Morrowind were rarities in 2002, it's impressive the game was ever released on Xbox to begin with. While Morrowind suffered from extremely lengthy load times and performance issues, those who were patient got to experience one of the best RPGs of the era from the comfort of their couch. Morrowind's Vvardenfell setting was richly realized and filled with characters with interesting stories and personalities. The game gave players the freedom to forge their own path rather than keep them on a linear progression like most console games back then. Morrowind may not look as pretty as newer entries in the franchise, but it's still one of Bethesda's crowning achievements. It would be nice if we'd get a Morrowind remaster rather than yet another re-release of Skyrim.

Remember the hype around No Man's Sky in the years leading up to its release? It was mightily similar to the anticipation around Lionhead Studios' Fable. It also shared a similar fate at launch due to absence of many talked-about features. Granted, Fable was still positively received by fans and critics, but it wasn't the revelatory and novel experience that was promised. It was also pretty short by role-playing game standards. By the time the game started really hitting its stride, it was almost over. Fable: The Lost Chapters remedied this issue by adding new quests, areas, weapons, monsters, and more, which helped Fable feel far more fully realized. Though The Lost Chapters didn't turn Fable into the game that was expected, it did add enough to round out an excellent action-RPG that holds up pretty well today.

Today, the Forza series is one of Microsoft's most successful and popular IPs, and it's not surprising at all considering Turn 10 Studios knocked it out of the park with the very first entry. Forza Motorsport zipped onto the original Xbox in 2005, just months before the launch of the Xbox 360. It basically pushed the Xbox hardware to its limits with its car renders, tracks, and racing physics. Forza Motorsport featured both real-world and fictional tracks from around the world, but the stars of the show were the vehicles. With more than 230 cars across nine different classes and a bevy of customization features, Forza Motorsport gave Xbox users a worthy alternative to Sony's popular Gran Turismo.

While Grand Theft Auto III was the first game in the controversial franchise to make the leap to 3D, it was Vice City that really capitalized on the new perspective. Set in a fictional version of Miami comprised of two islands, Vice City starred Tommy Vercetti, a mobster who just finished a 15-year prison sentence for murder. Though Vice City had an interesting story and excellent variety of missions, much of the fun came from using the vibrant world as a playground to see what kind of trouble you could stir up. Rockstar Games nailed the 1980s setting, and Vice City is arguably still the best locale in series history.

Is there more iconic menu music than Halo's entrancing theme? Definitely not within the first-person shooter genre. Halo: Combat Evolved introduced the world to one of the defining franchises of the 21st century. Combat Evolved contains a number of the most beloved campaign missions in franchise history, including The Silent Cartographer and Assault on the Control Room. Yes, it also is home to The Library, a mission that has perplexed more than a few people since its release. Along with the truly excellent campaign, Combat Evolved supported System Link for up to 16 players for competitive multiplayer. Since Xbox Live wasn't around at the time, you had to lug your Xbox around to have multiplayer matches exceeding four players. Plus, we all knew someone who was a constant "screen-looker" when playing on the same TV. Combat Evolved is still great today as part of Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

It simply wasn't possible to only include one Halo game on this list. After all, Halo 2 is also one of the best Halo games thanks to another brilliant solo campaign that dove deeper into Halo lore and one key addition: online multiplayer. Halo 2 was the defining experience on Xbox Live for the original Xbox and was home to several of the most memorable maps, including Zanzibar, Lockout, Midship, Burial Mounds, and Coagulation. Halo 2 also added dual-wielding, a popular feature that will sadly be missing in Halo Infinite.

While Jade Empire was well-received when it released, it didn't garner a huge fanbase. Its poor sales were likely due, at least in part, to the fact it was BioWare's first original IP. The studio had just released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (also on this list), which obviously had built-in name recognition. It's a shame Jade Empire didn't inspire a legion of fans, because it's one of the very best action-RPGs on the original Xbox. Inspired by Chinese mythology, Jade Empire starred the Spirit Monk, a hero with six different possible archetypes and play styles. With the help of KOTOR's morality system, Jade Empire offered a player-driven story that reacted dynamically to your choices. While the real-time combat didn't add anything fresh to the genre, it still felt great to play. Jade Empire is arguably the most under-appreciated game on this list, but you can remedy that by picking up the solid iOS, Android, or PC port.

Rollerblading has never gotten the same amount of love as skateboarding in games, but thankfully Jet Set Radio Future exists. An Xbox-exclusive sequel to the Dreamcast game, Jet Set Radio Future was set in a futuristic version of Tokyo. You played as a member of the GGs, a rollerblading group seeking to take control of the city by spraying over graffiti left by your rivals. Jet Set Radio Future made excellent use of cel-shaded graphics, which gave the game a timeless look that still looks good today. With great handles, cool level designs, and a ton of tricks at your disposal, Jet Set Radio Future was the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater of rollerblading in many ways. It also came bundled with the Xbox console for a while, which helped expand its release. Sadly, a third game in the series was never made, but there are numerous fan-made projects based on the franchise as well as mods.

Remedy Entertainment's story-driven action game prowess may have shined brightest with Control, but the studio got its start in the genre with the Max Payne series. Remedy developed the first two Max Payne games, with Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (bad subtitle) being the better of the two. You played as the titular detective for the NYPD assisting a contract killer in unraveling a massive conspiracy. Though Max Payne 2 isn't a lengthy game, it never wastes a moment thanks to top-notch writing and action gameplay. Like the original, which adapted the "bullet time" mechanic from The Matrix, you can slow down time to shoot enemies and dodge shots. Bullet time is more than just a novelty in Max Payne 2; it's a central mechanic that can be used strategically to take out waves of enemies in quick succession. There aren't many linear third-person shooters like Max Payne 2 nowadays, and there's no indication that Rockstar Games has any interest in making Max Payne 4.

Confession time: If Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was released on the original Xbox, it would own this spot as the best Metal Gear game from that console generation (and arguably all time). That said, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance, the expanded version of Sons of Liberty, is possibly the most ambitious entry in the series. Sons of Liberty is utterly bonkers in a lot of ways. You primarily played as a young man named Raiden, which was a surprise to everyone. But Hideo Kojima's choice to abandon the beloved Solid Snake in favor of a character no one had ever heard of turned out to be quite clever and led to one of the most fascinating twists we've ever seen in a game. Though the act of actually playing early Metal Gear games, including Sons of Liberty, could feel more like work than play, the thought-provoking narrative more than made up for the clumsy tank controls. Substance adds a bunch of new content to the original game, including new missions and playable characters. Sons of Liberty is an imperfect masterpiece, and it'd be cool if more games didn't show their hands before release.

An updated and expanded version of Team Ninja's 3D Ninja Gaiden reboot, Ninja Gaiden Black was easily one of the best Xbox console exclusives. It was arguably the most challenging and punishing game on the platform as well. Ninja Gaiden offered hack-and-slash action that required meaningful and quick decisions rather than rapid button mashing. Though Ninja Gaiden Black was actually even more difficult than the original release, it added a really well-made setting called "Ninja Dog" that helped you learn how to play the game properly (even if it also made fun of you a bit). In addition to the welcome new difficulty setting, Ninja Gaiden Black brought new weapons and a new mission mode. Ninja Gaiden Black is still an excellent 3D action game more than 15 years after its release. You can play Ninja Gaiden Sigma, an enhanced version of the game, in Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of the great success stories when it comes to reboots. With the help of series creator Jordan Mechner, Ubisoft crafted one of the defining games of the generation and popularized a mechanic that would conventionally be thought of as "cheating the game." The Sands of Time made expert use of the ability to rewind time thanks to the magical powers of the unnamed Prince's dagger. This central mechanic had limitations, but it made experimenting in combat and platforming sections a joy. The Sands of Time kicked off an impressive run of Prince of Persia games, but it remains the best 3D entry in the series due to its great writing, compelling mechanics, and stellar level design.

The original Xbox was home to some great racing series, including the long-defunct Project Gotham Racing franchise. Project Gotham Racing 2--which is actually the third entry in the series--pushed the series to impressive heights when it launched in 2003. If you liked your racing games to feature a tantalizing mix of simulation and arcade racing, this was the game for you. Project Gotham Racing 2 had a whopping 14 classes of cars and a wonderful career mode that took place across 14 cities. It was absolutely massive in terms of scope and replay value.

Double Fine's Psychonauts built up a fervent following of diehard fans over time, but it was a commercial failure when it launched in 2005. Luckily, today we can talk about Psychonauts' resurgence, as Psychonauts 2 is finally real (and it's truly stellar). But it all started with the quirky and surprisingly deep original that revolved around a camp for kids with psychic powers. You played as Raz, a burgeoning psychic who left the family circus business to hone his powers. Psychonauts has a beautiful visual design, a cast of memorable characters, and some incredibly cool environments to traverse while using a steadily growing arsenal of psychic powers. Though it may look like a game aimed at kids, Psychonauts delivers a meaningful and powerful message and artfully grapples with some challenging themes. You don't need to play the original to enjoy the sequel, but we'd recommend checking it out on PC, PS5/PS4, or Xbox Series X/Xbox One.

Ubisoft may not care about Sam Fisher nowadays, but we sure do. The Splinter Cell series was the best action-stealth franchise on the original Xbox. While all four Splinter Cell games on Xbox were well worth playing, the third entry, Chaos Theory, offered the best mix of stealth and action. Chaos Theory significantly improved stealth detection, making the experience more fair and rewarding than in the first two games. Chaos Theory also gave Fisher new weapons and gadgets that diversified the gameplay, giving players more freedom to approach each level in their own way. This was Splinter Cell at its best, but hopefully Sam Fisher will eventually make a real return in a new mainline game (We'd even take a remastered collection, Ubsioft.).

SSX Tricky was more of an expanded edition of SSX than a full-fledged sequel. The EA Sports snowboarding game released just a year after SSX, and most of the tracks were reused with slight changes. But SSX was an excellent game, so more of the same with welcome (though minor) changes wasn't a bad thing. From a gameplay perspective, SSX Tricky moved the series in more of an over-the-top direction with the impossible (and super cool) Uber moves that somehow let your snowboarder detach the board from their feet in mid-air. SSX Tricky was the ultimate snowboarding game of the time thanks to its great tracks and smooth mechanics that essentially begged you to go for just one more run.

Of the many, many Star Wars games that have been developed, an argument could be made that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is the best of the lot. Knights of the Old Republic took place roughly 4,000 years before the Galactic Empire came into existence, which helped it tell a radically different story with all new characters. KOTOR featured clever battle mechanics reminiscent of Dungeons & Dragons' D20 system. The round-based battle system could be tweaked to your preferences--either to feel more like a turn-based game or a real-time action game. Either way, KOTOR's combat had some serious depth that made the lengthy adventure consistently engaging from a gameplay perspective. To this day, KOTOR is one of the most well-written pieces of Star Wars media. While it hasn't aged super well, KOTOR is available for cheap on iOS, Android, and PC.

How can you not adore a first-person shooter that includes multiplayer characters such as the Gingerbread Man, Duckman Drake, Robofish, and Snowman? All three entries in the Timesplitters franchise are wacky rides, but Timesplitters 2 is the best of the bunch. Local competitive multiplayer is where Timespliters 2 really excelled thanks to incredibly fast-paced gameplay and a wild array of weapons. Burning the Gingerbread Man with the flamethrower was quite mean, but these kinds of absurd moments were what made Timesplitters 2 such a humorous first-person shooter. The 10-mission campaign was also deftly crafted, with each mission set in a different era. Though they were linear by design, new objectives unlocked as you made progress, and each and every level ended with a riveting escape scenario. Earlier this year, Deep Silver announced that a new Timesplitters game, the first in more than 15 years, is currently in development.

Choosing the best Tony Hawk's Pro Skater Xbox game definitely isn't easy. There are four really awesome THPS games on Xbox. We're going with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 here, because it was a turning point for the franchise. Pro Skater 4 added open-world game elements, removing the time restriction for runs that was present in the first three entries. Each of the big levels contained a wide variety of challenges that you could find by skating around and talking to people such as other pros. This free-skate focus made Pro Skater 4 feel less constrained. The core gameplay felt better than ever before, too. Nowadays, the best way to experience classic Tony Hawk games is to pick up the remastered version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, but here's hoping Activision makes a new open-world entry in the series down the road.

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