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The Best Games On The Original XBox

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The XBox console launched in 2001, two years after Microsoft announced it. The firm’s first step into the console space enjoyed a record-breaking start in North America, selling 1.5 million units in less than two months. Many of those sales were thanks to a strong set of early games, notably Halo: Combat Evolved, which is still regarded as one of the greatest launch titles of all time. 

The console’s slogan was “Power your dreams”. But as with any console, power didn’t mean much without the games to show it off. Microsoft’s reputation and resources opened up solid third-party support, but many early games struggled to utilize the powerful hardware. Over its lifetime, an emphasis on more Western-friendly titles also limited XBox’s appeal in Japan and other Asian markets. 

The console wars of the early 21st century drew lines with publisher exclusives. The original XBox had a strong line-up of unique titles, but it also faced intense competition. While it outsold Nintendo’s GameCube and Sega’s Dreamcast overall, it fell short of the record sales set by Sony’s Playstation 2. 

By the time the final XBox game was released in 2007, it had a library of about 1000 titles. Some of those have become legendary, and here are the best released on Microsoft’s original console. 

Halo is the kind of launch game that every console wants. Bungie’s first-person shooter didn’t just set a new bar for the genre on consoles. PC gamers had always treated FPS as their own, but this was the game that made them jealous. Halo was revolutionary. Alongside its epic, arching science-fiction story, it innovated console multiplayer and introduced regenerating health that would quickly become a shooter standard. Halo was a big statement from the new console on the block, and its 2004 sequel was nearly equal in every way.

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Playing The Sands of Time was a memorable experience and a multi-console high point that the franchise has never recaptured (although a much-delayed remake is in development). The fighting doesn’t quite hit its potential, but athletic moves and intuitive controls made for a platforming experience like no other. The time-turning mechanic at the center of the game set a challenge to all platforming rivals. Mainly, its legendary status is thanks to its brilliantly realized atmosphere and design. To see why, you only have to look at the disappointing rockier, harder-edged sequel. 

The second Splinter Cell title fine-tuned the experience of 2002’s first game. In some ways, it felt like a natural extension of the original, expanding Sam Fisher’s world with a more engaging story and a step up in voice acting. It divided the critics but is probably the original XBox’s high-tech, stealth peak.  

Another launch game was determined to show off the sheer power of this rugged console. An expanded role for its 3D-axis and extra time for counters were a major draw. Its environmental damage set a new benchmark for the series, too. DOA3 is an excellent example of polishing a formula to showcase the potential of a new platform.

This game was a prequel to cult break-out film Pitch Black and a well-planned multimedia extension of the franchise when released alongside the blockbuster The Chronicles of Riddick. It stands head and shoulders above other film tie-ins on this console or any other. An excellent fusion of shooter and stealth, like the broader franchise, it attracted mass interest but was also comfortable with its cult appeal. Graphically, it stood up to big-hitting rivals like Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, which made it one of Microsoft’s key exclusives.

Many of Psychonauts’ development team came from LucasArts, bringing their experience of humorous and compelling point-and-click adventures with them. Psychonauts was inventive in its approach to characters and level design, resulting in an evolved platformer with a psychic twist. If anything, it was a bit too ambitious. Its sales didn’t match its critical response, delaying a sequel for years. 

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