The 20 best games on Xbox 360
9th Apr 2012 | 12:00
It's the question on every gamer's lips, their ultimate quest - "What are the top games for my system?"
In an effort to give Xbox 360 owners everywhere a handy 'best of' guide, and stir in a bit of friendly debate (afterall, you're welcome to disagree with any of our choices), CVG writers stopped, collaborated and listened in an attempt to chart 20 amazing titles spread throughout the six-year history of the console, titles that look and play brilliantly to this day. Here are the 20 best games on Xbox 360
01. ROCK BAND 3
Anyone who's played Rock Band 3 with other people knows exactly why this sits as the greatest Xbox 360 game ever - it's an absolute riot and the best multiplayer experience going. Sure, you could play solo, and with a pro mode that actually teaches guitar chord structure, drum timing or keyboard skill it's musically helpful, but playing in a four-piece is where it's at.
Be the dummer, bassist, guitarist or lead singer and rock out to a tracklist that, accounting for downloadable songs, sits at thousands. Harmonising Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody with a falsetto friend while another mate thumps out an improvised drum solo is an experience that, in the heat of the moment, dwarfs every other gaming experience going, offline or on. It's a social blast with a miniscule barrier of entry, offering wide appeal stretching across age groups, skill gaps, musical tastes and genders. It's as much fun as you can have with a videogame.
02. MASS EFFECT 2
Mass Effect 2 is the future of games: a sweeping narrative that reacts to choices made previously, expert pacing, a gripping plot that sees you assemble a suicide squad to stop a galaxy-ending threat - it's a fiction unparalleled in videogames, and every bit the equal to entertainment giants Star Wars and Star Trek.
Its key appeal, however, is the writing, skilfully never saying in more words what it could in fewer. Characters are a high watermark, developed and developing as you talk to them. Take Thane, the diseased Drell with an imminent expiry date. Or Wrex, a tank-born Krogan fighting for clan acceptance. These are characters you want to spend time with, and consequently death and romance in Mass Effect hits like a Thanix Cannon. It's a 30-hour epic without a weak link. A rich universe, convincing characters, an absorbing story...Oh, and the shooting is pretty solid too.
03. ELDER SCROLLS: SKYRIM
Skyrim is what happened when RPG's stopped conceding to rubbish combat and bad graphics simply because they were RPG's, games traditionally offer quantity over quality. It's as mechanically sound as other games on the market, not a glowing appraisal in itself but startling when you consider Skyrim's scale and ambition.
Simply, it's astonishing. You're chained and dropped in a raggedly beautiful fantasy land home to dragons and kings, and flowers to pick and caves to explore, and potions to mix and armour to forge, and even braised lamb to stew. Marry an Orc, punch a mammoth in the face, summon an undead walrus, blacksmith jewellery, sell it, then pickpocket the cash. Skyrim is yours with which to tinker and toy. Depth has been done in games before, and so has breadth and so has quality. But rarely do all three combine at once. An incredible achievement only possible today.
04. THE ORANGE BOX
Some games in this collection are more than eight years old, yet committing Half-Life 2, Episode 2, Episode 3, Team Fortress 2 and Portal to disc proved this: Valve games don't age. You only have to listen to their developer commentary for an insight into their genius.
Every section of every level of every chapter of every Valve game has been considered, tested and reconsidered until it's perfect. Take the introduction of mechanical beast Dog, who teaches you the ways of the Gravity Gun with a game of fetch. Or commanding a swarm of Antlions. Or stepping off the train into City 17 for the first time, passing through refugee checkpoints and being bullied by guards into putting away their trash. And let's not forget Team Fortress 2's brilliantly playable multiplayer, or perfect puzzler Portal which introduces one of gaming's funniest characters, GLaDOS. The Orange Box is still masterful after all this time.
05. GRAND THEFT AUTO IV
When it came out in 2007, GTA IV topped many critics' lists. Since then people have had time to reassess. Some discovered it wasn't quite as good as they'd first thought, but we're sticking to our guns. Nothing's changed, and GTA IV is still one of the Xbox 360's best games.
For starters, Liberty City is a contender for the most convincing game world ever. It feels remarkably, vibrantly alive: reggae flares from open windows, taxi drivers hurl foreign obscenities at jaywalkers, people pop umbrellas when the weather takes a turn. A monumental achievement, and that's to say nothing of Niko and his involving American dream-turned-nightmare tale. GTA IV also showcased revolutionary physics. With Euphoria, previously rag-doll men gained self-preservation, finding their footing in a stumble and collapsing weightily from a gunshot. This, combined with the story and world, makes GTA incredible both from a technological standpoint and an emotional one. Still.
06. FIFA 12
A few short years ago, FIFA appearing on a top-of-anything list is a ludicrous idea, but EA Sports have upped their game considerably. Full licenses, from international teams to English League Two do, of course, return, but there are bold new ideas here. Like the Player Impact Engine, which substitutes samey animation for organic clashes never the same twice. Personality Plus gives players like Aaron Lennon blinding speed, or Didier Drogba the strength of an ox, putting greater importance on squad selection.
Best of all, though, are the matches themselves. Players are responsive, magicians like Messi and Ronaldo loaded with cheeky skills, and goals can come from any angle and any distance. Multiplayer matches especially are battles of wits, almost like real-time games of chess, with tactical manoeuvring and smart play triumphing over ping-pong passing like in previous FIFA's. This is football as it's meant to be played.
Braid's gently whimsical aesthetic couldn't be more misleading. It's like cracking open a colouring book to discover working blueprints for a time machine. Ideas here are that complex, that ingenious, that the brain behind it can't possibly be normal. Designer Jonathan Blow has only released one game this generation, but it was enough to ensure industry-wide recognition. Not just a game with genius puzzles, but genius puzzles full-stop.
Take the rewind mechanic. It's used simply at first, like reversing time to drop the same chandelier on a boss, but soon it's subverted. There's a ring that stops time in the immediate space around it - put it near a turret to clear a path - and a unique mechanic that teams you with a past version of yourself. The ending is unforgettable: play it backwards and the princess is opening doors to for you. Forwards and she's slamming them in your face. Clever, Blow.
08. RED DEAD REDEMPTION
America's wild west hasn't been tapped into by games nearly as much as movies. Red Dead Redemption makes you wonder why the hell not. It nails the frontier iconography, from buffalo-filled plains to snowy forests to bone-dry dustbowls, and a sunset sight from a rocky plateau is one of gaming's best vistas. You can see for miles.
It's a western 'best of'. John Marston's a Last Action Hero in stetsons and the only world he knows is being assimilated by more civilised men. Meanwhile a conflicted lawman fights to protect his town, a snake oil salesman peddles false ailments, and Mexican trouble threatens to ignite a revolution. Before that, however, an entire untamed map is yours to explore. There's poker to cheat at, steam trains to chase, snakes, rabbits and bears to skin (37 species roam the land) and, with Rockstar's returning Euphoria engine, people to realistically drag behind horses. An exemplary Western.
09. SUPER STREET FIGHTER IV
Not long ago the fighting genre was missing, presumed dead. Street Fighter IV is single-handedly responsible for its meteoric resurgence, from living rooms to professional tournaments in Las Vegas. And it's easy to see why.
It's an absolutely perfect blend of old and new: close enough to Street Fighter 2 to welcome back old hands, but fresh enough to entice those without history. The close-up, hilariously exaggerated specials are an awesome addition, as are every one of the 39 finely balanced members of a roster which features new faces alongside classic competitors like Ryu and Sagat. And it's as perfect as Street Fighter's ever been, now with online tournaments and rankings, saveable replays and four-on-four battles. It's a slice from the 90's beat-em-up heyday, beefed up and modernized but as good now as it was then. For many, it's the best fighting game of all time. How can Capcom possibly top this?
10. HALO REACH
Halo Reach demonstrates Bungie finally realizing their monster franchise with current generation power. Halo 3 was good; this is better. Bigger battlefields, more enemies on screen, four-player online campaign co-op and some of the best first-person-shooter multiplayer in the business (the best if military FPS's aren't your thing).
The campaign's packed with memorable moments, like space fighting in a Sabre craft, jetpacking through a city under siege, and piloting the chopper-like Falcon between skyscraper shoot-outs, one set in a nightclub 100 storeys up (with added DJ Brute easter egg). And 16-man multiplayer online or off? Perfection - intricately balanced and, thanks to Bungie's smart matchmaking system, insanely accessible. And then there's Firefight mode, almost worth the price of admission alone. You and three buddies holding off Covenant waves is a compelling test of skill and endurance that never feels like a grind. There's still love for space marines.
11. FORZA MOTORSPORT 4
For years Gran Turismo was the last word in racing simulators. Not anymore. Forza 4 looks better, has a better career and courses - some real, others pure fantasy - and a deliciously deep car designer, of which saved presets can be shared with the world through online auctions house that'll net you in-game money.
Crucially, Forza's cars control better. Handling changes completely between machines, giving each an identity all its own. That's expected of course, but the weight, torque and turning of Forza's cars can't be described - you just have to feel it. There's a rewind mechanic and various tiers of difficulty for masters and greenhorns alike, and a Kinect-controlled garage that lets you open doors and pop hoods in first-person (the mode features a Jeremy Clarkson narration and remains the best use of Kinect yet). Forza 4 is smart enough to appeal to non-petrol heads, but if you love cars, this is practically a way of life.
12. BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM
A few years ago good comic book games just didn't exist. With their 2009 surprise smash Batman: Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady showed everyone how it's done. And they did it effortlessly.
That's the thing about Arkham Asylum. It just works - from the grapple gun which launches you across a world filled with references and Riddler puzzles to balletic fighting which, bafflingly, is deep, rewarding, and mostly on two buttons. Batman's not invincible though, and when Joker (an excellent Mark Hamill) sends in armed goons, you'll get the job done through stealth takedowns, glide kicks, explosive gel and, well, thinking like The Batman. In fact, both combat and predator mechanics are so well-designed they were given a separate challenge mode, adding extra length to a game that, with a 15-hour campaign centred around one very bad night at Arkham ( a rogue's gallery need to be recommitted) could hardly be called short.
13. PORTAL 2
Give Portal 2 to someone who's never held a controller and after a bit of fumbling they'll probably have as much fun as you. This is because Portal puts everyone on an equal playing field - an FPS with no goon-shooting, ammo conservation or finicky circle strafing. Just clever puzzles you don't need to be a gamer to enjoy.
Aperture Science CEO Cave Johnson (a disgruntled J.K. Simmons) has been busy, experimenting with goo that speeds or bounces you, while your floating robot companion Wheatly (Stephen Merchant) manages to upstage even GLaDOS: "It's not out of the question that you might have a very minor case of serious brain damage". You'll escape test chambers early on, journeying through the vacated offices and cavernous vaults of Aperture Science. You won't meet another living soul (bar a bird) in the story, so thank GLaDOS for six chapters of online co-op portalling. Funny and smart - a treasure.
14. DARK SOULS
Dark Souls turned off many with its harsh difficulty and uncompromising penalties that could destroy hours of progress if you weren't careful. But that's the point, and people adore Dark Souls because of it. Why? It's one of the most immersive games ever. It's a world of constant wonder, rewarding exploration but also championing tense and cautious treads, constant paranoid vigilance a must unless you want to be gored by an armoured boar or charred by a dragon. And beware the treasure chest that gobbles careless adventurers.
It's brutal, but there are some universally brilliant moments. Like discovering beautiful crystal caves, defeating the Taurus Demon with a clever sword plunge off a ledge, and discovering the gleaming city of Anor Londo after previously bleak trudges through the swampy Blight Town. Online options too are unique. Other players can leave hints, or even invade your game and kill you. Sound fun? You'll love Dark Souls.
15. BATTLEFIELD 3
Forget a campaign so dull it failed to make even co-piloting a fighter jet exciting, Battlefield 3 is the best thing to happen to military shooters since 2007's Call of Duty 4 revolutionized our socks off. This treads a different path, prizing teamwork and tactics across massive open maps populated with vehicles in earth, sea and sky.
Whereas in CoD the person topping the post-match leaderboard is the man with the most kills, in Battlefield 3 you could be the MVP simply by healing wounded teammates, defending bases or resupplying allies with ammo. Developers DICE pull the trick of making people selfless by giving them selfish rewards - points, guns and class-specific equipment like vehicle-repairing blowtorches, mortars and mines. It's less about skill and twitch-reactions (though that'll definitely help), and more about co-operation, strategy and choosing the right role for the job. And sometimes that role is a helicopter pilot with heat-seekers.
16. FALLOUT 3
It may be running on the outdated engine that powered Oblivion, but it's a good idea to look past graphical hiccups, long load times, and disappearing characters. Why? Because this is a very, very good RPG. It starts out like most Bethesda RPG's - in an enclosed setting that teaches you the mechanics. Here it's your birthday. You're part of a vault-dwelling community waiting out an apocalypse. Soon though, you emerge, and what you see is remarkable. It's a vast, dead land, Washington post-nuclear holocaust.
In it? 12ft mutants to kill and makeshift settlements to explore (there's one run by kids underground, and another on a battleship). There are unlockable perks, like being able to sell ears, befriend animals, and drink water without fear of radiation. And moral choices to make - do you grant horrifically deformed humans entry in a hotel? It's an Americana Oblivion with offbeat humour, gore and, of course, guns.
17. LEFT 4 DEAD 2
Admittedly, shooting zombies isn't a wildly original concept, especially in 2012, especially on an engine established in 2004, and especially when there are only four levels. Why then has 'what Valve did next' established a contingent of gamers that play it to this day? Pure genius design.
Say hello to the AI Director. That's the name Valve gives to its chaos-theory-like non-linear gameplay which level-to-level mixes up dramatics, difficulty, enemy spawns and weapon drops. Levels are never the same twice - a perfect excuse for only having four (potentially six with DLC). 'Last stands' are the highlight, which task you with defending a farmhouse or hospital from zombie hordes until help arrives. There's competitive multiplayer too, with one team playing as survivors while another, as zombie grunts or infected with special attacks, tries to stop them. You can complete Left 4 Dead 2 in an afternoon, but you'll never see everything it's got.
18. CALL OF DUTY 4: MODERN WARFARE
It's the (game that gave birth to the) best-selling game of all time. This is Call of Duty at the height of its powers, before mechanics lost impact through repetition and the campaign became a parody of itself. It's fresh, raw, and running at 60 frames-per-second.
The campaign is an eight-hour globetrotting blockbuster veering between rainy ship assaults, nightgoggled extractions and Iranian rescues missions, at one point literally dropping a bomb on you. It's also got one of the greatest FPS missions ever, a tense Chernobyl assignment behind enemy lines: belly-crawl past a convoy, snipe the arm off a wanted terrorist, then drag your captain to safety in a thrilling helicopter evacuation. And then there's a multiplayer so brilliant it's barely changed. Hundreds of games since have nabbed its addictive perk system, clever levelling, and the guilty pleasure of instant gratification. A beast of a shooter that's smarter than you think.
Bioshock has been hailed as a philosophical triumph. Don't worry if all that objectivism flies over your head, however, as the game itself stands firm with inventive mix-and-match combat. Combine the freezing powers of ice with a wrench to cracking effect, electrocute foes in puddles of water with a lightening bolt, or buff up your whirlwind trip-mine with fire.
There's more to Bioshock, however, than fighting and philosophy. The underwater city of Rapture is a fascinating setting, miraculous, tragic. Founded as a place where men could excel free from religion or government, now a hellish playground for Big Daddy's in diving suits and mutated Splicers. But it's not without beauty. Like the initial descent into Rapture which passes you by schools of fish and a blue whale on the way, or a poignant moment listening to a doomed New Year reveller's memoir. It weaves a delicate story over a thick layer of firepower.
GEARS OF WAR 3
Epic Games' Gears of War was the reason to own an Xbox 360 when it debuted exclusively on the platform in 2006. It's still a beast of a cover shooter, with solidly punchy shooting and characters with a hefty sense of weight, but 2011's trilogy-capper topped everything.
It's one of the 360's best-looking games, with set-pieces that'll leave you breathless (a submarine trip through alien waters, or using a Silverback exo-suit to take down a skyscraper-sized Leviathan), and ultra-tight third-person shooting. Fans of its multiplayer wouldn't expect anything less. Every weapon placement and spawn ensures maximum fairness, and weapons including chainsaw guns and flamethrowers maximum fun. Then there's the four-player Horde mode, which pits you against waves of enemies, now with tower defence elements and ability to play as the enemies themselves. Rendering a squad of COG soldiers to giblets as a charging Berseker is an unmatched pleasure.
So, there you have it, our 20 favourite games on Xbox 360. But it doesn't end there. Whether chin-stroking agreer or vehement disputer, we want to hear from you. Did you agree with our number one pick? Did we leave off your most beloved game? Let us know in the comments!