Combat Evolved: The ten games that defined Xbox

Monday, 8th August 2011 07:58 GMT By Kristan Reed

After last week’s look at the origins of Xbox, Kristan Reed looks over the games that helped shape Microsoft’s first entry into the console market.

Halo: Combat Evolved

Developer: Bungie

Release date: November 15, 2001

Microsoft knew it needed to have a system-seller when the Xbox launched, and Halo proved to be exactly what was required to get gamers to slap their dollars on the counter.

Quite simply, Bungie nailed the console shooter on its first attempt, with perfect controls, superb visuals and adaptive, flexible AI that made every single firefight challenging and unpredictable.

The first couple of hours of Halo remain among the most memorable of any video game, and the fact that it also had a genius multiplayer mode ensured that millions bought into Xbox even if they hated Microsoft with a passion. When the online-enabled sequel arrived in 2004, resistance was futile.

Project Gotham Racing 2

Developer: Bizarre Creations

Release date: November 17, 2003

We all knew that Project Gotham Racing was a great launch title for the Xbox, but it felt like one with unfinished business. Bizarre Creations certainly delivered on that potential, delivering a landmark sequel that united the casual and hardcore audiences in this street racing classic.

Apart from being generally superior in every department, the really exciting addition to the follow-up was undoubtedly online play. It was one of the first games to justify shelling out for Microsoft’s controversial Xbox LIVE service. But at the core, the obsessive appeal of continually replaying tracks to scoop the top medals remains one of racing gaming’s best-ever ideas. Now, if someone would only get around to making another.

The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay

Developer: Starbreeze Studios

Release date: June 1, 2004

Normally we tend to bellyache about games failing to do movies justice (honestly, we could bore you at 1000 paces about it), but in this case, Starbreeze’s genre-hopping barnstormer of a game proved that it can work the other way around.

Not that it was exactly difficult to top Vin Diesel’s turkey, but few could have expected Escape From Butcher Bay to be one of the most critically revered games of its era. Not only was it a stunning technical achievement, it was a fascinating blend of game styles, with everything from stealth, melee combat, first person shooting and even mech combat thrown into the mix.

Rallisport Challenge 2

Developer: Digital Illusions

Release date: May 4, 2004

It seems odd now, but rally games were a dime-a-dozen back in the early noughties, and to stand out took something special. DICE’s jaw-dropping sequel was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing it was faintly embarrassing.

With visuals that pissed over the competition, brilliantly intuitive handling, an intensely enjoyable campaign, and the added novelty of online multiplayer, it should have been massive. But what happened? Hardly anyone bought the bloody thing and DICE never made another racing game.


Developer: Double Fine Productions

Release date: April 19, 2005

It might not have been one of the best games ever made, but Double Fine’s surreal platform adventure is certainly among the most-loved – and for good reason.

While most games are content for you to bring down the growling megalomaniac, Tim Schafer and co. sent you into other people’s minds to rid them of their personal demons.

The result is uniformly hilarious, with The Milkman Conspiracy among the funniest things in the history of laughing. Dribbling hyperbole aside, it’s a damned fine platform game in its own right, and one that would’ve been an Xbox exclusive had Microsoft not ditched the bloody thing midway through development. Buffoons.

Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden Black

Developer: Tecmo

Release date: May 4, 2004

Signing Tecmo exclusively to the Xbox for a few years was an absolute masterstroke. Yeah, we’ll gloss over Dead Or Alive Breast Volleyball – it was worth it for Team Ninja’s hack-and-slash masterwork alone.

Renowned for its deep fighting system and fearsome difficulty, Ninja Gaiden didn’t encourage the casual button-masher. Once you adapted to the intricacies of its combat engine, it made rival action-adventures seem piss weak by comparison.

It was also one of the games that Xbox owners could justifiably lord over owners of rival systems – and we all know how important that is.

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic

Developer: BioWare

Release date: November 19, 2003

PC stalwart BioWare making an RPG for a console seemed risky at first, but led to the game once described by Kieron Gillen as “the reason to invite Bill Gates into your house”.

The fact that it all worked out brilliantly essentially elevated RPGs as a genre from the nerdy preserve of a few, and made it palatable to many, via perhaps the most engrossing interactive storytelling system anyone’s come up with. Without KOTOR, you wouldn’t have had Mass Effect, so the fact that this game popped up first on Xbox was a huge win for the platform.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Release date: November 17, 2002

We all knew the Xbox was a pretty capable system when it came out, but few were prepared for quite how jaw-dropping games could look on it when a top-tier developer got their mitts on it. Even PC owners started to get a bit jealous.

Developed by the now-ubiquitous Montreal team at Ubisoft, Sam Fisher’s debut outing proved that the Xbox could have a neck-breaking stealth agent of its own. Its uncompromising difficulty would bloody the noses of the powder puff gamers of today from 100 paces, but if you want to know what a real stealth game looks like, look this bad boy up.

Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath

Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants

Release date: January 25, 2005

Lorne Lanning and co’s last Oddworld title might have died a death on the high street, but Stranger’s Wrath remains one of the games that Xbox owners hold closest to their hearts.

Like so many of Oddworld Inhabitant’s warped, surreal titles, it’s bonkers on pretty much every level, and that’s why anyone who played it still bangs on about it so much. Apart from being utterly beautiful artistically, it’s also a wonderful game that seamlessly combines third person exploration with some of the weirdest, most creative first person combat you’re ever likely to see. A true one-off, and luckily for you all, due to get an HD re-release on PS3 very soon.

Steel Battalion

Developer: Capcom

Release date: September 12, 2002

Has any game ever been as insanely, misguidedly ambitious as Steel Battalion? I sincerely doubt it.

Capcom’s Xbox exclusive mech shooter shipped with an absolutely colossal peripheral that was required to actually play the bloody thing, and featured two enormous analogue joysticks as well as a vast console panel with about 40 buttons.

But if you had the desk space to accommodate it, it was like having a crazy arcade machine in your own living room, and required that players flick an inordinate number of switches to boot the OS to start up the mech. But the most bananas thing of all was that if you forgot to hit the eject switch when directed, your in-game character would die and all the save data would be lost. Hardcore.

Special props
As someone of an aficionado of the Xbox’s dark corners, I’m painfully aware that there were an impressive amount of interesting games that we missed off this list – not least the wonderful Panzer Dragoon Orta, which, while one of my all-time favourites didn’t exactly ‘define’ the Xbox.

And then there’s the excellent Crimson Skies: High Road To Revenge, Thief: Deadly Shadows, Rainbow Six 3, Ghost Recon, Secret Weapons Over Normandy, Call Of Cthulhu, Quantum Redshift, Kung Fu Chaos, Full Spectrum Warriors, Deus Ex 2, Jade Empire, Forza, Fable, OutRun 2, Soul Calibur 2, Shenmue 2 and a truckload of amazing games that were ported over from PS2, such as Beyond Good & Evil, Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time, Black, plus all the Burnout, Silent Hill, TimeSplitters, Grand Theft Auto, Project Zero and Hitman titles.

Can the Xbox really be 10 years old already?



  1. slayernl

    Halo, Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Gaiden Black and Fable was for the most people I know THE reason to get an original xbox.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. triggerhappy

    Looking forward to playing Splinter Cell again when the HD collection comes out. The majority of younger, more pampered gamers these days sooo could not handle a stealth game as harcore as that today. When I give my brother games that i think he’d like and he gets ‘stuck’, its game-over and he goes back on Black Ops.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Zana

    When I see this list, I’m glad I went for PS2 instead.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Erthazus

    The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, Ninja Gaiden, Tom clancy’s, SW: KOTOR, Oddworld are great games.

    Everything else is a mediocre pile of shit. end of story.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. OrbitMonkey

    I got a xbox for Butcher Bay *happy memories*, KOTR is to my mind the last good star wars game, but I’ve got to disagree about Psychonauts or Strangers Wrath being in anyway a positive “defining” moment for the xbox.

    Both flopped hard & Microsoft can’t even be bothered to get the HD remake of stranger for Live. I’d argue that these 2 games were only defining in that after their failure Microsoft decided that their would be no more risky innovation for the xbox brand.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. The_Red

    Psychonauts, god among men :)
    Love, love, LOVE that game.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. viralshag

    Butcher Bay was awesome.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. Blerk

    I haven’t played nearly as many of these as I feel I should have.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Shonak

    Oh my, RSC 2. How I loved this game. Each E3 I pray that they finally announce RSC 3 but no luck. :(

    #9 3 years ago
  10. Superfrog

    Great selection, even though the following gems are missing:

    * FABLE: It’s just one of those exclusives that defined Xbox, period. ;)

    * CRIMSON SKIES: Awesome, awesome exclusive, both in single and multiplayer.

    * MOTO GP (THQ): Definitely belongs in that list for defining Xbox Live. I still remember the almost flawless 16-player online experience already during the closed XBL beta testing phase.

    * DEAD OR ALIVE 3/ULTIMATE: Both games defined fighting games on Xbox and set a graphical benchmark, especially the launch title(!) DoA 3.

    * PANZER DRAGOON ORTA & JET SET RADIO FUTURE: Both should be mentioned not only for their excellence but also representative of Sega’s exclusive efforts on Xbox. Their multi-game exclusivity deal with Microsoft literally made the Xbox the unofficial successor to the Dreamcast.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Shubb9

    Before Demons Souls, From Software made 2 of my favourite games for the xbox – Otogi 1&2. They were bloody brilliant. I still have my ridiculous Steel Battalion controller, back in the day I’d lug it round to my mates house cos he had a projector and that was gaming heaven, better than any arcade. If there was any game I’d give my left nut for an HD remake, SB would be it.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. manamana

    ^ so go and get your pincers. Its announced long time ago for the 360, respectively Kinect. Can hardly think of a Kinect Steal Battalion, when I think of the enourmous controller tbh.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. Ireland Michael

    I agree with everything on this list… Except Pychonauts.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favourite games, but I don’t see how it defined the Xbox, simply because it was on the PS3 as well. It seems like an obvious choice, but I probably would have put Fable in its place.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. The_Red

    Kinda true. I played it on PS2 and most people I know have either tried that version or the PC one (Due to Tim Schafer’s involvement).

    I think the reason it’s there is because it was hyped (or known) as a big Xbox exclusive for some time.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. Blerk

    Splinter Cell was also on PS2, of course. It is kind of surprising not to see Fable in the list, though.

    #15 3 years ago

    NGB is my favourite game ever.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. hypeb147

    Halo, Ninja Gaiden, and Splinter Cell were my most memorable experiences

    #17 3 years ago
  18. ManuOtaku

    Halo, Oddworld (both games), otogi (both games), panzer dragon, thief, ninja gaiden, jade empire, kotor, morrowind, gun valkyrie, the thing, brute force, the splinter cell games and manhunt were my most great memories of the original xbox among others, but those are the top of the crock.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. Shubb9

    @12 Steel Battalion on Kinect?! This news passed me by, was the PR posted April 1st? How the hell is that gonna work? I reserve the right to keep my left nut if it’s complete dogs dinner. Otherwise, its pincer time! Ouch.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. manamana

    @Shubb9 it was announced almost a year ago at Gamescom. Here’s the trailer: on Youtube.
    Graphics look like last gen, though, so maybe you can keep everything in its place. :-D

    #20 3 years ago
  21. Johnny Cullen

    It was actually announced at TGS.

    #21 3 years ago

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