Top 5 Xbox 360 games
Compiling this short list made me appreciate just how impressive the lifespan of the Xbox 360 has been.
After picking one up 10 years ago in 2006, it’s probably my most-played console ever, having clocked hours upon hours online and offline, hunting achievements and having an all-round good time.
Below are my 5 favourite games on the system. They obviously have special significance to me and I haven’t played every game on the system, but I believe they are objectively great examples of their respective genres, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone.
5. The Orange Box
I was lucky enough to not have played any of the Half-Lifes, Portals or Team Fortresses before picking this up on a whim second-hand. I came away thinking I’d have paid full price for any one of the five, never mind the full package.
Half Life 2 is the real jewel in the crown here – one of the finest single player FPS experiences I’ve ever had, the game is a rollercoaster from start to finish. The physics are still some of the best around – everything has a solid, real feel to it that most games don’t manage to capture. The weapons all have just an excellent weight and feel about them, and nailing The One Free Bullet achievement is great fun, forcing you to play with the environment and physics as much as possible with the fantastic gravity gun.
The other must-play title in the collection is Portal. I’ve played and enjoyed Portal 2 since, but I prefer the original’s more confined and minimalist environment. The puzzles are well designed and satisfying, and the taunting charm of GLaDOS gives the wraps the game in a fun and intriguing narrative.
If you consider yourself in any way a shooter fan, The Orange Box is a must-play.
4. Rayman Legends
2D platformers saw something of a renaissance in the 360’s generation, thanks largely to the emergence of the Live Arcade. But despite some quality indie titles like Super Meat Boy and N+, it was publishing powerhouse Ubisoft that left me the most impressed with Rayman Legends.
Legends builds on the excellent Origins with an even-more-lovely aesthetic, more content in every area and the utterly inspired rhythm-based levels. The tight controls are still here, with Rayman and friends running, punching, jumping and wall-jumping with satisfying precision, interacting with the levels in a way that feels right.
And speaking off the levels – there really is no filler. Despite being more than 160 of them (not including the daily challenges), every one of them is a joy to run through and repeat. This game hooked me more than any other single-player game on the 360, it’s up there with Super Mario World as the gold standard in 2D platforming.
3. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2
You may have already read my piece on why I love the Geometry Wars series, if so you won’t be surprised to see an entry in this list. It was tough to single out just one game from the trilogy, but GW2 just about edges out its peers. The game strikes a great balance between variety and repetitive, old-school high-score chasing that makes the series so good. I’ve never felt more competitive in a game than when I was locked in a constant battle with a random online friend, fighting over the top of the leaderboards of the game’s 6 modes. The leaderboards are shoved in your face on the main menu screen, so there’s no escaping your inferiority if you’re not in first place.
Each of the 6 modes are expertly crafted – asking the player to play the game in a different way. Particular highlights are Pacifism – the game takes away your ability to fire, leaving you with the ultimate dexterity test of weaving through explosive gates to whittle down the horde of blue diamonds hunting you down – and Sequence a gauntlet of 20 mini-levels, requiring lightning-quick reflexes and meorisation to navigate.
If you were only going to play one Geometry Wars game this would be the one I recommend.
2. Dark Souls
A lot has been written about the merits of Dark Souls, and rightly so. In my opinion this game was the most important of its generation – it bucked the worrying trend of games (in particular big-budget games), being watered down in terms of challenge and originality.
Most games released now are too afraid to respect the player, often holding their hand through lengthy tutorial sections, signposting the way for the player in some cases to a degree that the player is almost passively experiencing the game they should be dictating. Publishers are afraid that letting the player work out and discover things for themselves will turn them off – and in fairness this may be a valid concern; games are cheaper and more abundant than ever before, with people often having several games on-the-go at once. If a game is too difficult to ‘get into’ from the offset due to its opacity and steep learning-curve, it may be put aside. Thankfully, Dark Souls ignores this concern and forces the player to think for themselves, which results in a much more satisfying adventure than most other games.
It’s not just the challenge that makes this game great though. Dark Souls is a beautiful game, with some of the best art design and atmosphere of any aventure game I’ve played. The desolate and gothic aesthetic fits the gameplay perfectly, and the inter-connecting design of the overworld is satisfying to discover and learn. It’s one of those rare games that makes the player actually feel like they are levelling up rather than the character, as you master the parry and the roll through your own actual experience with the combat, you’ll find you sweep aside enemies with the same weapons you had when they demolished you in your first encounter with them.
Action-adventure is probably my favourite genre, and Dark Souls is the best iteration of that genre in my opinion. Demon’s Souls is my favourite PS3 game and should be played if you get the chance, but Dark Souls remains the best of the series.
Dark Souls is available from Amazon here.
1. Halo 3
I was a Halo 2 fanatic back in the days of the original Xbox, sinking hours into the at-the-time-revolutionary Xbox Live multiplayer. Initially upon release Halo 3 was oddly underwhelming, perhaps due to the fact that Bungie hadn’t changed anything too obvious and not strayed too far from the formula of its predecessor. Despite not being blown-away I nevertheless kept playing…and here I find myself, 9 years on from release, still playing.
The game’s mechanics are simply so well crafted and implemented, they do not get old. The balance of the multiplayer’s maps and polish of the gunplay mean there’s a wealth of competitive depth to be delved into and enjoyed. The graphics may not be spectacular, but they serve their function so well – accommodating the gameplay and lending the perfect style to the game.
I recently replayed the single player in co-op and was pleasantly surprised at how well the campaign holds up, improving immensely on Halo 2’s lackluster offering, and providing much more than Halo 4 and 5’s disappointments. But the real gem truly lies in the multiplayer, offering in my view the best online console FPS ever. The joyous highs and painful lows found in Team Slayer are amongst the most acute emotions I’ve had in gaming, and playing 8-player LAN remains my favourite thing to do in gaming.