One of this writer's very first experiences of the Xbox 360 was watching a friend roadie run through one of Gears of War's opening levels and, it's fair to say, minds were well and truly blown that day.
A graphical tour de force, a game that introduced the aforementioned roadie run and popularised the hugely satisfying active reload mechanic, Gears of War also brought the world Marcus Fenix and his ridiculously gruff band of Gears warriors, the last line of defence against the Locust hordes.
Gears was a masterclass in pulse-pounding shooter action, a new standard in cover-shooting and a game that excelled at punchy, violent, jaw-droppingly spectacular action set-pieces. Later entries became a little too bloated for our money, but the original is a wonderfully slick, insanely good-looking showstopper that really showed us all, early on in its life cycle, just what the Xbox 360 was capable of.
- Backwards Compatible? Yes, and available in its Ultimate Edition form
Starting out life as a minigame in the excellent Project Gotham Racing 2, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved is a polished up full release for the twin-stick classic that's a fiendishly addictive fever dream to play.
What at first appears to be a simple enough arcade shooter soon reveals its hidden depths as you engage and learn and begin to identify enemy patterns in the swirling neon swarms that head directly for your tiny little spacecraft here. With full 360 degree scope for shooting and armed with a limited number of lives and bombs - which are cleverly replenished at scored intervals - you spend your time here weaving and shooting and bombing enemies who never shoot back, instead choosing to kamikaze your craft.
It's mesmerizing, hypnotic stuff that really gets under your skin as you start to get into its addictive rhythms. It also doesn't hurt that it all looks and sounds so fantastic. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved is a deceptively deep retro arcade classic.
- Backwards Compatible? Yes
Has it really been thirteen years since we first met Niko Bellic?
Grand Theft Auto IV's hard-nosed immigrant protagonist ushered in a newly mature, gritty and grown-up feel to GTA that excised a lot of the previous silliness of the series in favour of a rather dark tale of a man on a mission, driven by his own personal code and stopping at nothing to rise through the ranks of Liberty City's criminal underworld.
The world-building is top-notch here, with stellar voice-acting, amazing soundtrack and the kind of exceptional, fully-realised setting that we've all come to know and expect from Rockstar. GTA IV is, in hindsight, perhaps the most brooding entry in the entire series and a game that still holds up as an absolute masterclass in open world design. It also benefitted later down the line form some of the very best DLC packs we've seen in the franchise, extra story content that added so, so much to what was already a complex and fascinating tale.
- Backwards Compatible? Yes
Five years on and Rockstar were back with a game that, in hindsight, must have been pushing the Xbox 360 to the absolute max.
Grand Theft Auto V is a towering achievement, a game that refined and improved every aspect of its predecessors, with better gunplay, a much improved cover system, punchier weapons and not one but three mad protagonists to get to grips with.
The narrative here is a twisting, turning, overlapping joy and hopping between Michael, Franklin and Trevor is both seamless and allows Rockstar to fix the tonal inconsistencies that plagued Nico Bellic's story, pushing various personalities onto these separate and distinct characters.
The OTT side of the series was also brought screaming back to life here and San Andreas and Los Santos are rammed full of ridiculous shenanigans to indulge in. With an epic campaign that's a darkly comic satire on modern America and an online mode that's since taken on a life of its own, GTA V is a true modern masterpiece and a game you simply must experience for yourself.
- Backwards Compatible? Yes
The final part of a narrative arc that started with 2001's Halo: Combat Evolved, the Master Chief's third adventure is epic in scale, bringing to a close the story of the fight between humanity, the Covenant and the Flood.
While the campaign here ended up being something of a messy disappointment to many, it was perhaps expected that it could never live up to the unstoppable pre-release hype. One thing that wasn't a disappointment, however, was the actual gameplay. With new weapons and vehicles, more enemies on screen at once than ever before and action that was on a scale entirely new to the series, Halo 3 delivered where it counted most.
And then you had the multiplayer. Bungie knew full well this was now the most important element of their franchise and they gave the fans an enormous suite of modes to tool around in, including the Forge and the ability to record your very own movies, adding endless hours to the mayhem. The campaign was also available to play in four player co-op, rounding out an entry in the series that was fully dedicated to multiplayer good times.
- Backwards Compatible? Yes, and available as part of the Master Chief Collection
Released just one year after its predecessor, Left 4 Dead 2 upped the ante in every way possible with more weapons, bigger and better levels and tons more zombies for up to four players to wade into war against.
The level design is a big step up here, the new zombie types make for much more intense gameplay and overall this is just a much more complete version of Valve's vision for their zombie-slaying series. It's a bloody, brutal and brilliantly chaotic co-op shooter and a masterclass in team-based gameplay.
- Backwards Compatible? Yes
Playdead's 2010 mini-masterpiece was one of Xbox Arcade's finest hours, a perfectly formed slice of puzzle platforming that drew players in through its wonderfully artistic world.
The trials of the unnamed young boy you guide through a nightmarish gauntlet here are made all the more memorable by clever environmental physics, a beautiful black and white German Expressionist art style and sparingly used ambient sounds that accentuate the horror of what unfolds on the screen.
Limbo's puzzles are intricate but not so intricate that they become a pain, it's short but perfectly formed and, amidst all the gore and wince-inducing death, there's a straight-up fun time to be had here that's full of moments of realisation and self-congratulation as you figure your way past obstacles. Limbo is a proper puzzle-platforming classic.
Backwards Compatible? Yes
Bioware's sci-fi sequel took the core of the original Mass Effect experience and expanded upon exponentially, upping the ante in terms of narrative and refining and upgrading the combat and traversal, resulting in the best entry in the series to date by quite some margin.
There's a cracking narrative here, top-notch voice acting, an incredible and memorable roster of wonderfully diverse characters and properly solid, cover-based shooter action to boot. Shepard and his team are a force to be reckoned with in combat this time around, with a fantastic suite of powers that merge and overlap, giving you tons of options in how you use multiple team members to take down larger foes.
Investigating planets is more interesting, there are far more opportunities to romance, make enemies and decide what kind of Shepard you want to be, and it's all held together by that properly stellar storyline that preps part 3 fantastically well. Mass Effect 2 is a bonafide sci-fi spectacular.
- Backwards Compatible? Yes, via EA Access.
The follow up to 4A Games' original bleak horror classic, Metro: Last Light is bigger, bolder, and in the end better, than its forebearer.
Yes, this may be a controversial enough opinion but, for us, Last Light refines and adds to what came before it, upgrading the combat, adding some properly nerve-jangling and graphically incredible survival horror sections and larger hub areas where you can eavesdrop on the denizens of these haunted tunnels, gaining an understanding of how they live and delving deep into the game's lore, should you choose to do so.
Yes it has some rather embarrassing sections - nobody needed that can-can - and it could be argued it's just not as horrifyingly dark as the first game, but when played back to back this is undoubtedly the better of the two games on a purely mechanical level and it's also full of interesting characters and tense situations to boot. Metro: Last Light is a game that sticks in your mind, a game we return to frequently and a horror effort you should definitely make time to sit down with.
- Backwards Compatible? No, but you can play it in its remastered Redux form
A game that needs zero introduction at this point, Mojang's sandbox behemoth has continued to grow since its first release but, even back in its earliest incarnations, this was a supreme example of games as a means of expressing oneself, an endlessly entertaining creation that affords adults and children alike the power to build, create stories and enjoy the freedom of crafting your very own worlds.
With a story mode to follow along with if you're needing inspiration, one that takes you through the Nether and beyond to a face-off with the Ender Dragon, and endless possibilities in the form of a never-ending flood of add-ons and player-created mods, Minecraft was a phenomenon when it released on 360, just as it still is today.
- Backwards Compatible? No