It's quite shocking to see the undeniable fact that the Xbox turns 20 years old today. 20 years is a very long time. I was just 19 when the original Xbox launched in North America, and now I'm teetering on the edge of 40 and wondering where all that time went. It doesn't feel real. The excitement around the launch, Halo, Project Gotham Racing… I can still feel it.
20 years have in some ways gone by in the blink of an eye to the extent that a console platform this old can still feel like the newcomer trying to prove itself. The reality is that Xbox bullishly made a place for itself at the table in part thanks to some tremendous exclusive launch titles. They were so good, the memories are crystal clear in my mind.
20 years ago the internet was a very different place. There was no social media to speak of, and there were only a handful of good video game websites. Print media was a much bigger deal, and yet there was still palpable excitement in the air about Halo: Combat Evolved. Xbox was arriving, but it was Halo that mattered. Everyone wanted to play the game that would blow away anything we'd seen on consoles at that point. I wanted to play it so badly I paid a huge import tax bill to get the console and a bunch of games shipped over from Canada.
I was pumped for Halo. As pumped as someone like me, who can't really get pumped unless their football team comes back from the death in injury time to get into the Champions League final, can get. An EDGE 10! "FXXK!" This was going to be a big deal.
I'd watched the preview videos over and over again, having downloaded them on god knows what of an internet connection. I'd pored over magazine articles. I was ready. I even bought a new TV with component lead inputs and a 5.1 sound system so I could best experience this generation-defining game.
Classically, the damn thing arrived and the optical output for the sound was broken. This was not as bad, incidentally, as the imported DS I bought a few years later that arrived with a smashed screen, but it was still a blot on what was meant to be gaming nirvana. I wasn't going to let this ruin such a brilliant moment in time.
I had to return the Xbox, but I wasn't going to do that until I'd finished Halo. 5.1 sound or not, what a magnificent game that was. It's easy to pick it apart now there's clear distance from its release, but back then it was phenomenal. The visuals were sublime. The gunplay, incredible. The AI, revolutionary. The multiplayer, exceptional. There's a reason the classic Halo themes give me goosebumps 20 years later and why fans expect so much from this series.
It wasn't just Halo, of course, Dead or Alive 3 was an incredible launch game that still looks pretty great today - a miracle given that the console almost launched in the previous decade. Project Gotham Racing, although clearly not up to the standard of what Bizarre Creations produced later, kickstarted a franchise I love dearly. Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2X were both well-worth owning, and, hell, I even liked Shrek thanks to its impressive graphics at the time.
I returned the Xbox about a week later, but that launch will always be one of the fondest in my memory. The Xbox in many ways also helped ignite my career. Talking on the now defunct EDGE forum about Halo, I got wind of a fansite looking for contributors. I wrote a review of Halo, became part of the team, and the rest is history.
Thanks Halo and Xbox, for making me the most important person in games media to ever exist.
Disclaimer: 20 years ago Tom bought an original Xbox with his own money, in a co-ownership deal with his brother. He never owned the really cool Panzer Dragoon Orta white Xbox, sadly.