What are the best original Xbox games ever? As much as it seems like only yesterday that we rather foolishly spent an entire student loan on a launch day Xbox with a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved, the 20th anniversary of Microsoft’s first foray into video game consoles is, in fact, now looming large on the horizon.
In order to celebrate this (terrifying) fact, we thought we’d take a stroll down memory lane and have a look at the very best games released on this absolute powerhouse of a console. There are the beginnings of some legendary franchises here, cult classics, actually decent movie tie-ins, games that gave console players their first taste of proper online gaming, sporting favourites and much more.
We’ve also gone ahead and helpfully flagged up whether each entry included here is available via backwards compatibility on the current crop of Xbox consoles (Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S).
The Best Original Xbox Games
Below is a list of the 30 best original Xbox games, as determined by our team:
Michael Ancel’s action adventure took us all by surprise when it released back in 2003. The story of Jade, Pey’j and their fight against the Domz on the planet Hillys is a perfectly formed slice of gaming that packs in lots of different mechanics to keep things fresh, looked incredible for the time and features stellar voice-acting and world-building. Some have complained it was a tad short but, for us, this is a plus point as there’s no flab here, it’s all killer no filler.
Beyond Good and Evil was remastered in HD in 2011 and, whether you played it back in the day or not, is still well worth a revisit. Now, when are we going to get the rest of the trilogy, Mr Ancel?
- Backwards Compatible? Yes (Xbox 360 version)
Namco’s 2004 action game might not have the best combat we’ve ever seen, and the story is risible stuff, but it makes it onto this list because of its flashes of brilliance, ingenuity and successful attempts to fully involve the player in its world.
Amnesiac super soldier Derrick Cole’s adventures are elevated to something well worth experiencing due to a first-person perspective that was massively immersive for the time, a fact that’s heightened here by tons of little incidental details and animations as you interact with the world around you. It’s also just a really dumb good time on many levels, you even get to gorge on a ton of hamburgers. What’s not to love?
- Backwards Compatible? Yes
Back in 2005, Gearbox’s Brother’s in Arms: Road to Hill 30 elevated WW2 shooters to a whole new level with its fantastic melding of intense first-person shooter action and squad-based tactical gameplay.
Jumping into the boots of Sgt Baker, a real-life member of the legendary 101st Airborne Division, players fought through 17 beautifully designed levels, using well designed command controls to order a handful of units to take cover, lay down suppressing fire, flank and charge enemy forces as they pushed through war-torn Europe. With a brand-new addition to the franchise just announced, we’re eager to get back to some Brothers In Arms action, and this first effort still ranks as one of the very best in the series and a true great amongst WW2-based video games.
- Backwards Compatible? No
One of the absolute all-time great arcade racers (or just all-time arcade games in general), Criterion’s Burnout 3: Takedown is fast-paced, boost-based bedlam.
This world tour of wreckage sees players speed through levels slamming into other cars to perform takedowns, always looking to cause as much carnage as humanly possible whilst keeping their turbo topped out and scooping up tons of cash for devastating as much of their surroundings as possible. It looks great, it feels great…it’s just a proper tour de force.
A huge hit that was adored by the games media, it’s gutting that we never got another entry in the franchise that closely adhered to and then modernised what this game did so supremely well, as it truly is a masterful combination of all the things we really want to do behind the wheel of computer game cars.
- Backwards Compatible? No
An action-arcade flight sim banger, FASA Studios’ Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge introduced players to a highly stylised alternate 1930s full of planes, Zeppelins and crazy sky pirates.
The hook here is the newb-friendly arcade nature of things as you barrel around steampunk skies in the boots of Nathan Zachary, leader of the Fortune Hunters, blasting enemies to pieces across some glorious looking vistas. The graphics, voice-acting and explosions are all impressive, but it’s the open-ended mission design, actually decent escort sorties and choice of single player or up to 16 player online dogfights that really seal the deal. Crack this one out via backwards compatibility on next-gen Xbox consoles and you’re in for a proper treat. This is a cult classic for plenty of good reasons.
- Backwards Compatibility? Yes
Team Ninja’s 2001 fighter might not have made any revolutionary changes to its predecessor, but it did make some important tweaks, nips and tucks and presented its chaotic action in visuals that were some of the very best of the time.
With now fully unrestricted movement across a 3D Axis, less focus on combos and increased openings for counters, this was all about uncomplicated fun in some of the slickest looking arenas yet seen in the genre. With four new combatants added to the mix, who you could now slam into objects and fling into entirely new areas of arenas, Dead or Alive 3 is a no-holds barred fighter that still looks and plays great today.
Backwards Compatibility? No
It's fair to say Peter Molyneux knows how to completely hype things into the stratosphere and even when Fable released all the way back in 2004, his promises and revelations of what were to come in his next game were already part of his signature pre-release press antics.
Thankfully, Fable did actually manage to live up to at least some of these promises, providing an RPG experience that may not have delivered on the endless possibilities and limitless choices we were told to expect, but was still a great time and a wonderful game overall. It was a little on the short side, something Fable: The Lost Chapters amended to a certain extent. Fable, you weren't everything we expected, but we love you regardless.
- Backwards Compatible? Yes (Xbox 360 remaster)
The first entry in a franchise that’s continued to evolve and impress in the years since it released in 2005, this was Microsoft saying “we can do that!” to Sony’s Gran Turismo and the results are still impressive today. There’s a big beefy campaign to careen through, graphics that still look great and a wealth of super-charged cars to select from.
It may not quite hold a candle to the racing games we’re blessed with today, most notably this very franchise and its amazing Horizon spin-off, but Forza Motorsport is still a cracking good time that's jam-packed full of customisation, cars and overheating brakepads.
- Backwards Compatible? No
Rockstar’s 2004 behemoth (it didn’t hit Xbox until a year later in 2005), Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the biggest selling games of all time, one of the greatest games of all time and an experience it’s quite simply impossible to overhype.
CJ’s journey back into a life of crime after the murder of his mother, an epic state-sprawling odyssey that encompasses three whole cities, is an entry in this storied franchise that, in many ways, has yet to be topped.
It may have been criticised in some quarters for not looking quite as sharp as it could have, but once you’re playing, once you’ve got the stellar soundtrack cranked up and are driving, shooting and just plain goofing around to your heart’s content across this enormous playground, it’s clear this is one of the most playful and plain fun GTAs ever released.
- Backwards Compatible? Yes (Upgrades to Xbox 360 version)
The reason we picked up our original Xbox console back at launch, Bungie's FPS masterpiece, Halo: Combat Evolved, feels as good to play now as it ever has.
It's all about the wealth of choice you've got in how you take down your enemies here, a new standard at the time, that allows you to change out vehicles, cycle through a spectacular array of weaponry and use tactics to your advantage as you take the fight to the clever Covenant. This is the game that introduced us to Master Chief and Cortana and is rightly praised as one of the all-time greats. It's also readily available to play in its anniversary edition or as part of the amazing Master Chief Collection.
- Backwards Compatibility? Yes, as part of the Master Chief Collection