Feature

Top 25 Xbox 360 Games

by Matt Helgeson on Nov 22, 2015 at 06:00 AM

Today is the Xbox 360's 10th birthday, which is a great excuse to revisit our list of the console's best 25 games. We originally published this list in earlier this year in April.

Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 in 2005, kicking off the last generation of gaming. This was the most successful period for the company to date; with its excellent Xbox Live service and deep support from third-party developers, the Xbox 360 in many ways became the defining console of the last generation. This success was driven by great games – the Xbox 360 was the destination for dozens of amazing titles, and the difficulty we had compiling this list of 25 speaks to the depth of its catalog.

For the sake of making a list with more variety, we decided that we would include only one game per franchise on this list – that’s why you see only one game from fantastic series like Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, and Grand Theft Auto on the list. Even after agreeing on this approach, narrowing down the list proved tough; many great games didn’t crack this list, and entire genres like fighting and sports failed to make the cut.

Here are our picks for the 25 best Xbox 360 games. Let the angry comments commence, and don't forget to check out our Top 25 Wii Games list as well.

25. Super Meat Boy (2010)

Team Meat (Edward McMillen and Tommy Refenes) created an unlikely sensation with Super Meat Boy, a game that flew in the face of many prevailing trends in the game industry at the time of its release. The game, though primitive in look, features ultra-challenging 2D platforming that recalled some of the best of the 8- and 16-bit eras. More importantly, its charm and dead-accurate controls revealed a game that had been made to the highest level of craftsmanship. In the years since its release on Xbox 360, it’s helped inspire a veritable 2D platforming renaissance in the indie scene – and a return to difficult gameplay.

24. Tomb Raider (2013)

Lara Croft is one of gaming’s most recognizable icons, but her path has sometimes been a rocky one. Since taking over for series creator Core Design, Crystal Dynamics had delivered some solid work on games like Tomb Raider: Legend and Anniversary. However, its 2013 reboot is a true classic and the best game in the franchise to date. Though it amps up the focus on action and takes some inspiration from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, you can’t argue with the results. This deep, polished third-person action/adventure game is one of the best of the generation.

23. Gears of War 2 (2008)

Gears of War served as Microsoft’s flagship new franchise for the Xbox 360, and Epic Games delivered a masterwork with the second game in the series. Gears of War 2 features the usual gameplay tweaks but leaves a lasting impact on the cooperative side. In addition to its co-op campaign, this entry introduces Horde mode, which pits five players against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. This proved to be addictive and has since been imitated by many other games, becoming a staple multiplayer mode in popular franchises like Call of Duty, Halo, and Team Fortress.

22. Dishonored (2012)

Dishonored refutes the prevailing industry wisdom that challenging new IPs can’t debut late in a console generation. Arkane Studios built an amazingly creative stealth game helmed by Raph Colantonio and Harvey Smith. The game tells the tale of Corvo, a deadly bodyguard framed for murder in the steampunk city of Dunwall. By offering a freeform approach to each mission, players can switch between stealth and combat whenever necessary, and Corvo’s otherworldly abilities like being able to instantly “blink” from place to place breathed new life into the stealth genre.

21. Far Cry 3 (2012)

In a generation when many gamers have complained about first-person shooter campaigns turning into “on-rails” experiences that glide from set piece to set piece, Far Cry 3 shows that these single-player modes can excel when offering the flexibility of a dynamic open world. While the story about a one-percenter running awry on a native island rubbed some people the wrong way, the open-world gameplay and unpredictable island wildlife gave players great satisfaction, helping to set up anticipation for Far Cry 4. Its ‘80s infused expansion, Blood Dragon, proved equally superb.

20. Dark Souls II (2014)

From Software’s Souls series became the biggest cult phenomena of the past few years, and Dark Souls II is the finest of the bunch. Dark Souls fans crave the punishing brand of action/RPG combat and the feeling of accomplishment it brings. This challenge is enhanced through polished gameplay and elegant dungeon design, things that Dark Souls II has in spades. From Software also made a slight appeal to accessibility with the addition of quick travel, which speeds up the action without diminishing player frustration or compromising the difficulty.

19. The Walking Dead (2012)

Telltale Games had made a long series of profitable (if unremarkable) adventure games based on a variety of entertainment franchises, and then came The Walking Dead. This episodic, graphic novel-influenced take on the series proved that the company could make a simple, engaging adventure game that not only entertained, but touched the soul as well. By cultivating a bond between the player and child character Clementine, The Walking Dead makes each life-and-death choice in the branching story a gut-wrenching experience. Many consider it a high-water mark for video game storytelling.

18. XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012)

The XCOM franchise was beloved by old-school PC gamers, but was hardly a bankable property in 2012 when 2K Games rebooted the franchise with Enemy Unknown. Developer Firaxis reimagined the old turn-based strategy classic in fine fashion, allowing you to take a squad of soldiers on a mission to thwart various alien threats across the globe in tense, turn-based encounters. Between missions, players can experiment in various collected alien technologies at XCOM HQ to enhance their offensive and defensive capabilities. The death of every operative in combat is permanent, which adds another layer of attachment and tension. All in all, it’s a brilliant comeback for a classic property that translated well to consoles.

17. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (2010)

The Battlefield series has made a huge contribution to the shooter genre, particularly in its large-scale online PC matches, but its single-player campaigns have never had much personality – except for the Bad Company spin-off series. Bad Company 2 had a plot headlined by Preston Marlowe and the 222nd Army Battalion, known for its brash and wild tactics. The plot draws favorable comparisons to movies like Three Kings, and provides some much-needed humor in the overly serious military genre. The star of the show, however, is the tightly constructed multiplayer that hones its focus on Conquest and Rush modes and packs each map with great vehicles and the most destructible environments in series history. This entry also gets bonus points awarded for the excellent Vietnam expansion.

16. Rock Band 2 (2008)

The music game fad, which turned many a house party into plastic-guitar slinging concerts in the early 2000s, reached its apex with Rock Band 2, the second in Harmonix’s full-band series. This sequel ironed out some of the flaws from the first game, and came with an incredibly diverse and rocking soundtrack that’s the finest in the genre’s history. Harmonix kept up the momentum with a steady stream of great downloadable tracks, making Rock Band 2 a game that kept on giving. Though it wouldn’t last, we’ll never forget the good times we had.

 

15. Braid (2008)

Jonathan Blow’s Braid was at the vanguard of a new wave of indie games on consoles that aimed to deliver deeper, emotional messages within creative gameplay and deceptively simple graphics. Braid looks like an old-school platformer, but in actuality is a complex, time-twisting puzzle game. Equally impressive is the story, a meditation on loss and memory enigmatically told and still debated to this day among fans. Braid is both completely unique and brilliantly executed, and helped spark the explosion of challenging, meaningful indie games that came in the following years.

14. Dead Space (2008)

Survival horror has always been associated with Capcom’s Resident Evil series, but Visceral Games, a new studio within Electronic Arts, snatched the crown from the originators with Dead Space. This sci-fi horror game shamelessly gives nods to cinematic inspirations like Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing. As stranded engineer Isaac Clarke, players must use a repurposed to laser cutter to survive on the alien-infested spaceship USG Ishimura –usually by ripping aliens limb-from-head with the game’s strategic dismemberment system. Dead Space cultivated a chilling sense of loneliness and dread, making it one of the true classics of the horror genre.

13. Halo 3 (2007)

Halo has always been Microsoft’s premier game brand. Without the franchise, one wonders if the company would be in the same position in the industry. Halo 3 wrapped up the epic trilogy and the saga of the conflict between humankind and the Covenant, as well as the series hero Master Chief. The storytelling is matched by the visuals; as the first Halo on Xbox 360, Halo 3 showed off a new Bungie in-house graphics engine to great effect. Even better was the fact that players could play co-op with three friends. When we were not tackling the four-player co-op, the multiplayer offered a great experience that kept Halo 3 at or near the top of the Xbox Live charts for years. You can experience it all again soon on Xbox One in the Master Chief Collection.

12. Borderlands (2009)

Gearbox Software took a big risk with Borderlands. Halfway through development, it scrapped its original vision for a gritty, Mad Max-style game with realistic visuals for a gonzo, cel-shaded look and a goofy sense of humor. This genius move helped drive the game to be a huge commercial hit. The game is essentially an open-world action/RPG with the emphasis on first-person shooting and an insane variety of randomly created weapons. By melding the action with the loot-collecting addictiveness of dungeon crawlers like Diablo, Borderlands is like a drug for hardcore gamers.

11. Fallout 3 (2008)

Fallout 3 sets gamers loose in a massive, brilliantly realized post-apocalyptic open world. Some longtime fans worried that the first-person game would simply remake the Fallout franchise as a sci-fi Oblivion clone, but Bethesda managed to balance the old and new. The most impressive feature? The V.A.T.S. combat system, which gives players the ability to switch at will between strategic turn-based action and real-time combat. If anything, Fallout 3’s world felt even more compelling than any of the Elder Scrolls games, filled with grotesque, mutated enemies and memorable sideshows like the “Republic of Dave.” That’s not to mention the impactful choices you make – some of which reshape the entire game experience. This is the role-playing genre in its highest form.

10. Portal (2007)

Few games seem genuinely cut from a new cloth; Valve’s Portal is one of them. Adapted from a student project entitled Narbacular Drop, the game took a simple concept – entering in and out of a set of portals placed in the environment – and created a magical action/puzzle game. Even more impressive is the sly, minimalist storytelling, centered on an A.I. being named GLaDOS. Traversing each of the test chambers presents a unique physical puzzle to solve and the great writing spawned an online cult following for Portal. The cake is a lie, but Portal is the truth.

9. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

With his belt full of gadgets and an acrobatic fighting style, Batman is seemingly made for video games – yet no developer managed to get it right until Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum. The game uses Epic’s Unreal 3 engine to create the haunting psychiatric hospital/prison. Within its walls, Batman must stalk henchmen and iconic enemies like the Joker, Poison Ivy, and Bane through its dark halls. Using Detective Vision (essentially x-ray vision), the Caped Crusader can get the drop on his foes, then swoop down and dispatch them with a very fluid combat system that made it easy to take out groups of enemies as smoothly as Bruce Lee. Though its sequel, Arkham City, was also great, we prefer this more tightly focused experience.

8. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010)

The Assassin’s Creed series can be divisive among fans, who often have divergent opinions about which game is best. However, the majority of the Game Informer staff gave Brotherhood the nod over Assassin’s Creed II. Starring the best character in the series, Ezio, Brotherhood hones everything from the fighting system to the economy and adds interesting new mechanics like the ability to recruit assassins that can be called in for times of trouble. This game also introduces a multiplayer component that feels unique and in the spirit of the franchise, something we doubted could be done. Brotherhood is an engrossing historical epic, and the greatest of a great franchise.

7. Left 4 Dead (2008)

Some games, like GTA V or Skyrim, achieve greatness through scale. Left 4 Dead is an example of a game that is noteworthy for its focus. The game pits you and three friends against levels of bloodthirsty undead with a simple mission: survive. Voted the best cooperative game of all time by Game Informer in 2012, Left 4 Dead throws a quartet of players into the fire and forces them to work together with frantic intensity. The A.I. “director” that adjusts the flow of action and items makes sure that the game is always well paced and tense.

6. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

Some people may feel that the Call of Duty formula has grown stale (though tens of millions would disagree), but let’s not forget that the series is a blockbuster for a reason. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a juggernaut, instantly recasting both the franchise and the shooter genre in its image. The game’s single-player is a fast, polished thrill ride – delivering several memorable set-piece moments and our favorite mission of all time: All Ghillied Up. The multiplayer is equally a revelation. By emphasizing RPG-like level progression and giving players the ability to call in airstrikes and UAV drones for reaching certain killstreaks, Modern Warfare lends a depth of play to the fast, small-environment matches. It’s telling that many of these innovations have been copied so often that they are now regarded as staples for any first-person shooter’s multiplayer offerings.

5. Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Grand Theft Auto had two amazing entries on the Xbox 360. Many resonated with GTA IV’s taciturn and haunted Nico Bellic more than GTA V’s trio of more clichéd protagonists, but at the end of the day, there’s no denying the mammoth scale and brilliant quality of the fifth entry in the franchise. Not only does it deliver the widest variety of landscapes we’ve ever seen in a video game, GTA V also offers the best gameplay in series history. Thanks to the efforts of Rockstar North, driving was finally a pleasure and not a chore. The shooting mechanics were excellent, and things like mid-mission checkpoints helped ease some of the frustrations of past games. Rockstar North once again proved why it’s one of the best game developers in the world.

4. Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Of all the games on this list, Mass Effect 2 is most closely tied with the others in the series – the interconnected trilogy was an unprecedented experiment by BioWare that paid off handsomely. However, the second in the series, just as in original Star Wars trilogy, is our pick for the strongest entry. It vastly improved the combat over the first game, and delivers an epic ending that truly satisfied all players – something that can’t be said for the also-excellent Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 2 set a new standard for RPGs, the power of choice in games, and interactive storytelling. It’s the most polished, consistent, and best of a franchise that’s among the greatest ever in gaming.

3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

While The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was a landmark game in the early part of this past generation, its follow-up, Skyrim, is simply a better game – and one of the greatest games in RPG history. It’s unmatched in size, scope, and variety, allowing players to pour literally hundreds of hours into the game and not discover all it has to offer. The combat and spell skills are remarkably deep, allowing for a wide variety of character types and play styles. Characters can also use “dragon shouts” to unleash powerful blasts at foes. Never before has a game offered so much to do and explore. And dragons – did we mention it has dragons?

2. BioShock (2007)

Ken Levine and Irrational Games aren’t your average game creators, and BioShock is not your average game. A first-person shooter on its surface, BioShock is actually a profound parable about  ambition and a meditation on the political philosophy of Ayn Rand. Set in Rapture, a ruined undersea city created by magnate Andrew Ryan to be a libertarian paradise where the best and brightest of mankind could freely achieve greatness (with some help by genetic modifications), BioShock tells an unforgettable tale while delivering great combat. More importantly, it shows that social commentary isn’t exclusively the domain of indie games, and it doesn’t have to happen at the expense of a great story or fantastic action.

1. Red Dead Redemption (2010)

We select Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption above all the other great games as this generation’s best Xbox 360 title. This sprawling western has it all: a gorgeous open world full of activities and interesting characters to meet, a huge variety of gameplay from frantic firefights to liar’s dice, and an affecting story. More so than any other Rockstar game, Red Dead Redemption packs an emotional punch; John Marston’s indelible tale helps serve as a requiem for the Wild West itself, which is vanishing around him even as he adventures across the American Southwest and Mexico. Throw in a surprising and emotional ending, and you have a game that we’ll never forget. Red Dead Redemption is a classic through and through.