Many people use video game reviews to determine how to spend their hard-earned dollars. While as an adult I don’t take this as seriously and I now make my own money I am more forgiving of games that aren’t perfect. As kids or teens, we have limited money and are usually picked through gaming magazines to determine if that one game was worth the money because we only got a few a year. For me, it was only during Christmas time that my parents bought games. I mostly rented mine throughout my childhood and teen years. Even for rentals, I was picky as I didn’t want to be stuck on my weekend with a dud of a game. Even a 7/10 or 3.5/5 would be considered a waste of time. This was the last generation in which AAA title after AAA title would be considered fantastic and with so many exclusives it was hard to keep up with. The HD era of gaming would see budgets balloon to insane heights and game releases slowed down as a result.
In my eyes, 7/10 or 3.5/5 games are mostly ignored. These aren’t always considered hidden gems either. Some are, but some are just considered forgettable. Not awful or good, but just passes under everyone’s radar. These aren’t the “so bad it’s good” type of games either. A few of these games have cult followings while a few I had only heard of while compiling this list and some I played myself growing up. I compiled this list from Metacritic with games between 74-70. I feel that’s the true blue 7 range. 79 and 78-rated games usually only have about 25% of the critics giving it a 7 to bring an otherwise 8 score down some. These games are at least rated by half the critics as 7/10. While I know a lot of people don’t listen to critics and some might feel this game should be rated higher or lower is subjective. Like it or not, critic reviews drive sales and it may be the reason why you might find a few games on this list you’ve never heard of, thought was talked about worse than you remember, or something along those lines
Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball – 2004
Paintball is an odd choice for a game, but it worked. It was a popular Xbox LIVE title that blended FPS gameplay with the fun of paintball. It was low budget but worked. The series would eventually die out in 2010 due to low sales.
The UFC series is incredibly popular. Maybe a B-tier sports title. It made its home on Xbox with stunning visuals, but people complained of the short length and lack of overall content.
Most Recent Entry: UFC 4 – 2020 (PS4, XONE)
Dai Senryaku VII: Modern Military Tactics – 2005
The Dai Senryaku is a hardcore Japanese tile-based strategy game and it was weird to see this series become an Xbox exclusive for a while. It was praised for its monumental amount of content, but this is a very niche crowd that’s mostly kept on PC. It was criticized for its ugly visuals and sound, however.
Most Recent Entry: Dai Senryaku Perfect 4.0 – 2018 (NS, PS4, PC)
Ultra Bust-A-Move– 2004
It seems every system had its own exclusive Bust-A-Move. The Xbox couldn’t even escape it. It’s the same game we’ve all played before. While slightly more colorful and childlike than other versions, it’s fun and you can play online.
Most Recent Entry: Bust-A-Move: Journey – 2017 (AND, iOS)
An interesting attempt at becoming the best racing sim on Xbox. It was liked for its great visuals and varied tracks but had very little content and no online mode.
Transworld Snowboarding – 2002
A one-and-done by Atari, Transworld was trying to grab at that Xtreme Sports cash and couldn’t catch on. SSX was the dominating snowboard title. While this one looked good it just couldn’t hang with the rest.
NFL Fever 2003 – 2002 NFL Fever 2004 – 2003
The third and final entry at a Madden killer, NFL Fever looked dated and on a budget. It was praised for gameplay that tried to be different, but many people couldn’t look past the dated looks.
Phantom Crash – 2002
This was a decent attempt at a mech game on Xbox before MechWarrior came out. It looked great but had a steep learning curve and was a bit on the dry side gameplay-wise. The sequel would later move to the PS2 and then end due to low sales.
Most Recent Entry: S.L.A.I.: Steel Lancer Arena International – 2005 (PS2)
Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball– 2003
This is a game that really needs no introduction. You ogle at Dead or Alive girls in bikinis playing mini-games. It was every teenage boy’s dream to get a hold of this game without their parents knowing. I wound up playing the sequel by renting it secretly from Gamefly as a teen. The series is fine. It spawned a couple of later sequels and remains mostly the same. Shallow gameplay and perving out.
Most Recent Entry: Dead or Alive: Xtreme – Venus Vacation – 2019 (PC)
Voodoo Vince – 2003
Microsoft was really pushing to get a mascot platformer on their system. While none of them were stellar Voodoo Vince was one of the most original. It was angst and mature enough to reel in the adults and teens while providing fun challenges. It had a wonky camera and some weird elements that turned people off. It got a remaster in 2017.
Most Recent Entry: Voodoo Vince Remastered – 2017 (PC, XONE)
Gunvalkyrie – 2002
This was one of Sega’s contracted games with Microsoft. It was a shooter similar to Panzer Dragoon, but involved puzzles. It looked good and felt unique, but there was something off and janky about the whole ordeal.
NBA Inside Drive 2003 – 2002 NBA Inside Drive 2004 – 2003
Microsoft really wanted to have exclusive sports franchises on their systems but they all felt the second rate. While NBA Inside Drive wasn’t awful it didn’t evolve as fast as the competition. It looked great, but everything else was falling behind. The series didn’t last any longer and was canceled.
Sega GT Online – 2004
A mostly online-only update to the Sega GT series. This $20 entry was great for newcomers, but previous players could import their save. It was too little for the final game in the series but was decent arcade fun.
The House of the Dead III – 2002
This was another contracted game from Sega. One of their promised 12 games. The improved graphics were awesome, and it was classic House of the Dead gameplay, but felt dated and was really short.
Most Recent Entry: The House of the Dead: Remake – 2022 (NS, PC, PS4, XONE, XSX)
Dungeons & Dragons Heroes – 2003
Heroes was well-liked for its fun co-op gameplay, but wasn’t fun solo and wasn’t very deep. The series struggled during this time on consoles and various reboots were hit or miss.
Most Recent Entry: Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance – 2021 (PC, PS5, XSX, PS4, XONE)
Hunter the Reckoning: Redeemer – 2003
Being the final game in the series and exclusive to Xbox, Redeemer was a slick-looking hack-and-slash but had a terrible camera and an unpleasantly boring story. I remember playing the demo of Wayward on my PS2 over and over again and never got a chance to play this one.
ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth – 2002
Another Sega exclusive on the system, this brought the beloved Sega Genesis/Mega Drive series back in 3D! It felt a bit wonky with some control issues, repetitive gameplay, and overall weirdness that either sat well with you or didn’t.
Most Recent Entry: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! – 2019 (PS4, MAC, NS, PC, XONE)
Breakdown – 2004
This is one of the first Xbox games I ever played. It’s a weirdly ambitious title with a lot of realistic gameplay elements thrown inside of a poorly balanced and frustrating mess. The unique elements and interesting story are worth it if you can stomach the problems.
Raze’s Hell – 2005
An attempt at a cutsey yet mature game full of great visuals and humor, but it doesn’t excel a lot in the gameplay department. It’s a unique game and has that “Xbox needs to have ‘X’ type of game” feeling that the system had in its hayday.
Blood Wake – 2001
A weird vehicle combat game with no online play. It doesn’t exceed anywhere, and looks too realistic to be memorable. It looked great, but that was mostly it.
Blinx: The Time Sweeper – 2002
Microsoft’s Ratchet & Clank. This was supposed to be the platformer with ‘tude, but didn’t sell very well. It came off at too kid-friendly and the adult manly console. It also didn’t help that the game was very dated and became a linear collect-a-thon. The sequel would radically change the series, but still wasn’t enough. It wouldn’t see the light of day after this.
Most Recent Entry: Blinx 2: Masters of Time & Space – 2004 (Xbox)
Quantum Redshift – 2002
This was Microsoft’s answer to Wipeout or F-Zero. It looked amazing, but fell short in gameplay. It’s fun, and not broken at all, but it doesn’t stand out from the other games. There’s no soul here.
Xyanide – 2006
This was a late entry shmup offering. The cheap price point was appealing and it looked great, but was hard as nails and very short. A lone sequel would appear on PS2 and PSP the following year, and surprisingly absent from the Xbox.
Most Recent Entry: Xyanide: Resurrection – 2007 (PS2, PSP, PC)
Steel Battalion: Line of Contact – 2004
The infamous Steel Batallion controller is a serious collectible. This game brought the series online and was best played there. It’s very niche and didn’t sell well. The series would be rebooted for Kinect and become a collosal disaster.
Most Recent Entry: Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor – 2012 (X360)
Fuzion Frenzy – 2001
A party game for a launch title is a bit risky but makes sense. Many people visit during console launches and this is a great game to play with everyone. It’s a cult classic and has been added as backwards compatible on every Xbox system. While shallow and lacking in content it’s a must play with real people.
America’s Army: Rise of a Soldier – 2005
The popular yet niche series officially endorsed by the U.S. of A and Uncle Sam. This realistic shooter wasn’t your yearly Call of Duty. It was slow paced and tactical and while dry and dull at times it made you think.
The original release of Doom 3 was a huge deal. It was a technical marvel with fantastic new lighting effects and textures that could fill the latest GPU and all of your RAM. It split fans due to the slower pace and focus on jump scares (that honestly don’t really work these days anymore) and a bigger focus on the story (if you can call it that). The game retains the same dark visuals and monsters from before, but being the first game in full 3D it had a lot of problems.
The first thing you will notice is that this release has no visual upgrades outside of some texture filtering and anti-aliasing and slightly better lighting. The textures still look muddy and the models are still low-poly. With this being the third official release of this game I’m surprised more work hasn’t been done to it. You play as a marine who is stationed on Mars when things suddenly go wrong. The first couple of levels is probably the best since they slowly introduce the gameplay to you and have better-designed levels. Zombies emerge from the dark, and your flashlight is a lifeline. It does have a short battery but recharges within seconds.
The main issue with Doom 3 is its much slower pace in every part of the game. The movement is slow (you have adrenaline that’s used for limited sprinting which is annoying), and the weapons reload slowly (why is there reloading anyway?). Not to mention the weapons just plain suck. The pistol is useless outside of the first couple of levels. I never touched it after this. The machine gun is useless in later levels, and everything else just feels slow. Enemies feel slow as well. The environments are also cramped with too many enemies spawning at once and I constantly backed into walls and got stuck in corners trying to get away. Very rarely does the game ever feel like a classic Doom game with more open areas.
The level design is also terrible. The game is way too long as it is and it’s just boring hallways after hallway finding PDA access cards, running back and forth activating switches, and trying to open doors. nearly eight grueling hours of this. It felt like a chore after the first two. Eventually, you do get to Hell, but it’s such a short level with a boss fight at the end, but it still suffered from cramped areas and nothing new except a couple of enemies that finally show up such as the Hell Knight and Arch-Vile which are some of the toughest enemies in the game. I mostly stuck to the strategy of using guns that shot the fastest such as the Cell machine gun being the most powerful with the chaingun being second. I used the shotgun through most of the mid-section of the game until I got the cell rifle.
There are a few boss fights in the game that all play out the same, and in the end, the entire game is just one long boring chore. It’s fun at first, but if you are a veteran of classic Doom games then most of you may just shut this off early. This is my third play-through of this game and it’s less enjoyable each time. I originally played this on Xbox, and then PC, and then dabbled in it a bit on Xbox 360 and never finished it. Now I completed it on Switch.
Speaking of the Switch the game plays fine, but there is some slow down in the larger areas and it doesn’t always stay at 60FPS. In handheld mode, the game runs fine as well, and you have the option to turn off flashlight shadows to help, but overall it’s great to just have another FPS on the Switch. These don’t come around often. Included is the Resurrection of Evil expansion which I already finished once on Xbox and a new Lost Mission short campaign which I will get around to eventually. It’s nice that there’s some new content. Overall, this could have easily been a remake from the ground up or a mode that made it feel faster-paced like the classic games. If you are itching for a mid-2000s FPS game then go ahead. Don’t come into this thinking it’s like the newer Doom reboots. This game was a specific era of id Software at its lowest point (Quake 4, Rage)
The original Xbox from Microsoft was a super powerhouse back in the day featuring off-the-shelf parts and basically was just a PC turned into a home console. It didn’t receive backing from Japanese developers thus hurting the sales. It had some great exclusives, but nothing compared to what Sony and Nintendo had. This was the best system to get any multiplatform games on as they ran the best here and looked the best. This is my go-to system for that exact reason. With the built-in hard drive, you won’t run out of saving space either. There are going to be a lot of games here as it’s a great system to drop $500 and get a ton of games out of your money. You will mostly see PC ports and fewer JRPGs and platformers. You won’t see any survival horrors or most of the few Japanese-developed games as they command high prices.
The Xbox is fairly cheap to collect for, but prices have slowly gone up over time. Games you could get for less than $1 five years ago are now almost $20. Once people realize a console is cheap to collect for they jump on it causes prices to soar. The Xbox isn’t as popular because it doesn’t have a bunch of obscure Japanese games, survival horror titles, or many exclusives. It does have 7.1 surround sound support with the official Xbox HDAV cables so that’s a thing. It also renders most games in 480p or 720p with a few in 1080i even. It’s a system that holds up well today and I highly recommend it. What I have here are games you can get complete in a box for under $20 and once again, these are all in my own personal collection.
007: Nightfire – Savage Entertainment/EA – 2002
Nightfire is one of the only good Bond games. It feels similar to GoldenEye, but with improved controls and better level design. There are 12 levels and overall the game just feels good to play and is a blast if you’re a Bond fan or a fan of GoldenEye.
007: From Russia with Love – EA Redwood Shores/EA – 2005
This was the last good Bond game. This game featured Sean Connery reprising his role so that makes this game that much better. It has its flaws, but it’s a third-person shooter just like Everything or Nothing. You can tell a lot of care went into the game, and it was heavily covered in gaming magazines back in the day. I remember following it extensively.
Advent Rising – GlyphX Games/Majesco Entertainment – 2005
Boy was this game a flop! In all honesty, it was a huge world that was built out of the mind of one curious sci-fi lover. This was supposed to be a trilogy with a TV series even, but all we got were comics. It’s not an amazing game, but it’s worth playing for the low price of entry. Does anyone remember the million-dollar sweepstakes that were never able to get paid out? This game had a lot of controversy surrounding it.
Area-51 – Midway – 2005
This was a game I bought on PS2 the day it was released. I loved this game to death as a teen. It has David Duchovny and Marilyn Manson! I just loved the atmosphere here. Sure, it’s not the best shooter on Xbox, but it feels great, and encountering the aliens was awesome. I completed the game 100% and played online a lot as a teen. It looks and plays better on Xbox so this is the superior version. It was released late in the system’s life but thankfully got a lot of attention.
Armed and Dangerous – Planet Moon Studios/LucasArts – 2003
This is a very underrated game and no one talks about it. It’s super funny as is made by the guys who did Giants: Citizen Kabuto. You get a shark gun that shoots sharks at enemies. Is that enough to entice you? It plays pretty well too. Well worth the low price of entry.
Black – Criterion Software/EA – 2006
This game came out after the Xbox 360 launched, and it was touted as gun porn. Yep. The main menu just has falling bullets and spinning guns. It was made by the guys who did Burnout and was released shortly after Burnout Dominator. It was mindless shooting and was one of the best-looking games of that generation. It even played and looked decent on PS2, but Xbox was where it’s at. You can even play the game in 4K on Xbox One X if you want. It’s a fantastic shooter that’s all about the shooting. The plot is pretty lame.
Blinx: Time Sweeper – Artoon Co./Microsoft Game Studios – 2002
An early title for the system, Blinx was made by the guys who you may know by Mutant Mudds fame. They also now own the Dementium license for Nintendo DS. Blinx was the first crack at a cartoon-like mascot, but the game is not as widely known as Jak & Daxter or Ratchet & Clank. In fact, most people have never heard of Blinx. There was a sequel but it commands a much higher price because it’s a better game. This is a collect-a-thon with timed missions. It’s fun and looks good for an early title.
An early game for the system, BloodRayne has held up mostly well and made a huge splash with her sex appeal. Majesco went hard on the ads and I remember gawking at Rayne in game magazines. It’s gory, sexy, and full of vampire stuff. The sequel is better, but both games can be pretty tough.
The sequel is much better, has more moves, improved combat, and just overall plays better. It’s a bit harder than the first, but it’s a classic in my eyes. I played this years ago shortly after I got an Xbox 360 and loved it a lot. If you like vampires you will like this. It’s probably one of the best vampire games ever made.
Breakdown – Namco – 2004
This one is weird. It’s a person shooter, but with melee combat, and just plays weird. The story is somewhat interesting, but this feels more like an experiment than anything else. Don’t go into this expecting Dino Crisis or Resident Evil. It’s clunky, and hard as balls so play on easy on your first try.
Brute Force – Digital Anvil/Microsoft Game Studios – 2003
This is an Xbox exclusive. See what I mean? They’re weird, clunky, and who are they supposed to appeal to? Breakdown is an exclusive as well. This is a decent third-person shooter where you shoot humanoid dinos and swap between four characters. The multiplayer was more appealing when it was released.
This was an early game for the system, and it almost looks like a PS1 game it’s pretty ugly. This is also really only appealing to Buffy fans so if you aren’t then skip this. It’s a bit clunky and can be really hard with cheap deaths, but it’s not half bad for an early game.
This was a huge part of my teen years. I played Burnout 3 to death on PS2 and was jealous of the Xbox for a faster framerate and the much-touted “sparks system”. Yes, the Xbox could do sparks in real-time. What a system seller! This is the best game in the series and holds up very well today. You will also get to experience the awful thing called EA Trax that lived throughout the mid-2000s. Awful licensed music that no one asked for.
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge – FASA Studio/Microsoft Game Studios – 2003
Another great Xbox exclusive, in fact, one of the best games on the system period. This is a great-looking and well-controlled arcade flight game. The objectives are allowed to be completed how you see fit in each level so they are open-ended. The game is just a blast to play and had a high player count on multiplayer back in the day.
Darkwatch – High Moon Studios/Capcom – 2005
A late release for the system, Darkwatch is a stylish vampire vs cowboys game and looks amazing. It also features Tala, a female vampire that was lewd over in-game magazines at the time and was a big selling point for the game. The weapons are fun, the action is quick and fast-paced, and you just can’t go wrong here. Sadly there was no sequel and it’s fairly short. Later the studio went on to create the amazing Transformers: War for Cybertron.
Dead or Alive 3 – Team Ninja/Tecmo – 2001
This was a launch title for the system and looked amazing. Tecmo was one of the few Japanese studios on board releasing Xbox exclusives and PS2 owners were mad. The framerate was smooth, the game looked good, and the game evolved fairly nicely. It was incredibly popular when it came out and helped sell many systems.
Dead or Alive: Ultimate – Team Ninja/Tecmo – 2004
This was a great compilation of DoA 1 and 2. The Saturn version of DoA 1 was included here, and a remake of the second game with more costumes and content. DoA 1 is more of a research piece as it’s pretty basic and boring, but DoA 2 is a great fighter all on its own and this is the best version of it.
Destroy All Humans! 2 – Pandemic Studios/THQ – 2006
This was released late in the system’s life but was a huge improvement over the first game. Sure, you can play the remaster today, but this one is cheaper and still holds up well today. You play as Crypto 137 is a great character and there’s tons of humor and 50’s stuff jammed into this game. Side quests have fleshed out stories and you can start cults to convince humans to worship aliens. It’s a lot of fun. Sadly, this was one of the last great developers, Pandemic Studios, games before shutting down.
Doom 3 – id Software/Activision – 2005
A late release for the system, and not as good as the PC version, this was an impressive feat at the time and was a huge blockbuster sell. The game featured the entire PC version plus awesome multiplayer. It didn’t look as good as the PC, but it pushed the system to its limits. You can also get the collector’s edition dirt cheap which has a behind-the-scenes DVD and a steel book case. Well worth it honestly.
Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil – Nerve Software/Activision – 2005
Released just a few months later was the full expansion for only $20! So clearly, you can get it for less than that now. It’s only a few hours long but is still a blast and you get to explore hell more and less Mars. It’s basically the same game, but the difficulty is much higher.
Dr. Muto – Midway – 2002
An early title for the system, Dr. Muto was a weird character and didn’t quite catch on. It’s a fun collect-a-thon style game with a lot of humor and lighthearted platforming. It’s not perfect and can feel cheap in spots, but if you want a fun platformer for the system then look no further.
Fable: The Lost Chapters – Big Blue Box Studios/Microsoft Game Studios – 2005
This was a re-release of the original game with more content and was the definitive version. Of course, you can play the Xbox 360 remaster, but if you don’t have a 360 then this is just fine. This was one of the most popular Xbox games and one of the few exclusives that carried on. The game has simple combat, but the story, atmosphere, voice acting, and choices are what really matter in this game. It’s one of the best games of the generation and holds up well today.
Forza Motorsport – Turn 10 Studios/Microsoft Game Studios – 2005
While releasing late in the system’s life, this was the Gran Turismo killer. It went head to head with Gran Turismo 4 that released the previous year and blew everyone away with superior visuals, tighter direction, and fantastic visuals. It almost looked next-gen. Gran Turismo 4′s quality was all over the place and the physics were a little weird. This is probably one of the best racing games of the generation.
Freedom Fighters – IO Interactive/EA – 2003
This was a huge hit back in the day. It played and looked best on Xbox, but the PS2 version is fine. This was made by the Hitman guys and was touted for its tactical third-person shooter gameplay and bombastic levels. It’s a little clunky and hard as balls, but a lot of fun.
Galleon – Confounding Factor/Atlus – 2004
This is made by the guys from Tomb Raider so it plays similarly. While not a looker, it has puzzle platforming elements and you use two characters similar to ICO. It’s pirate-themed too so there’s that. The game uses precise pressure from the analog stick for controlling Rhama who is the more interesting of the two to control. It’s weird, but fun.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2 – Red Storm Entertainment/Ubisoft – 2004
This is the best Ghost Recon game besides Advanced Warfighter. This game holds up shockingly well to even by today’s standards, but it’s only good on Xbox. The PS2 version is some weird deformed bastard child as were all Ghost Recon games on that system. This game is an absolute blast as it was still made by Red Storm who also did the Rainbow Six games. It’s a must-have for the system and an instant classic.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike – Red Storm Entertainment/Ubisoft – 2005
Released a year later, this is an expansion, yeah, and EXPANSION, to Ghost Recon 2 that is even better if you can imagine. This was only released on Xbox so no deformed version on PS2 thankfully. It’s an Xbox staple and should be in every collection if you love tactical shooters.
Gladius – LucasArts – 2003
Yep, it’s not what you think. This is a turned-based strategy game from LucasArts of all places. No hack and slash and gore here. It’s rather deep and fun and has a pretty good story too. The slower pace and involved tactics might turn some away, so only bother if you like TBS games.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies – Rare Limited/Microsoft Game Studios – 2003
This is one of the last good Rare games before they made what they make today. This is a stylish and fun action game and perfect for Halloween! It’s full of cheap deaths, but it’s classic Rare gameplay here. Each room has a set of rules that must be followed or the grim reaper will appear. It’s a fun and different game and should be owned by every Xbox owner.
Gun – Neversoft Entertainment/Activision – 2005
A late release for the system, Gun was one of Neversoft’s last games. These are the guys who made Tony Hawk. This is an open-world Western before Red Dead Redemption came around five years later. It’s similar to that game, so if you liked Red Dead you will enjoy this. It holds up surprisingly well today and is a lot of fun. There’s a slightly better Xbox 360 version as well.
Half-Life 2 – Valve Corporation/EA – 2005
This was a huge deal when it was released. A full-fledged PC game with advanced tech being smushed onto the aging Xbox. While HL2 was released the year prior it required a beefy PC to run. The entire campaign is here and runs at a good framerate despite the downgraded visuals and aliasing. If you don’t play PC games you should check this out or get the better Xbox 360 version in The Orange Box.
Halo 2 – Bungie Studios/Microsoft Game Studios – 2004
Now, this may seem pointless today, but Halo 2 is impressive on the system and obviously the most iconic game in video game history and literally sold the system almost single-handedly. Now, you can play the upgraded version in The Master Chief Collection for PC and Xbox One, but why not experience the original? It’s one of the cheapest games on the system and still has couch multiplayer. I still remember Peter Moore showing off his tattoo of the release date during E3 2004. Boy did I want one! I also remember about a dozen celebrities got a special Xbox made of silver or something in a briefcase with a copy of Halo 2. I believe Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park was one of those if I can recall.
Halo: Combat Evolved – Bungie Studios/Microsoft Game Studios – 2001
The famous launch title for the system and the only real reason to get an Xbox back then. Sure, the remastered version on Xbox 360 or even Xbox One is much better on the eyes, but it’s Halo! You have to experience it on the original system at least once. Okay maybe you don’t, but it’s dirt cheap.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – Eurocom Developments/EA – 2002
Yeah, it’s Harry Potter, so what? The earlier games were actually good and no complete movie tie-in cash grabs like the later games. This is a fun and well-made platforming adventure game whether you like Harry Potter or not. Yes, the craze is long over, but this was right at the beginning of Harry Potter Mania!
Hunter: The Reckoning – High Voltage Software/Interplay – 2002
This is a twin-stick shooter with vampires! It has over twenty levels and weapons and you can play as three different people. Well, it’s more like Gauntlet than anything, but it’s a lot of fun despite not having an interesting story or characters. If you liked Gauntlet you will like this.
Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb – The Collective/LucasArts – 2003
This is one of the few good Indiana Jones games that isn’t LEGOs or a point-and-click adventure. It’s a third-person action game with loads of weapons and a decent plot. It’s actually one of the better third-person action games of the generation but was easily overlooked. It’s not voiced by Harrison Ford, but the replacement does a good job.
Indigo Prophecy – Quantic Dream/Atari – 2005
A late system release and ugly as sin, but this is David Cage’s first game that would carry the same mini-game esque gameplay. You probably played other games from Quantic such as Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls, or Detroit: Become Human. This is where it all started. It has an interesting story and is mostly quick-time events rather than gameplay. It was really different back then and nothing else was quite like it. It was re-released on later consoles, but you can only polish poo so much.
Jade Empire: Special Edition – BioWare/Microsoft Game Studios – 2005
This was when BioWare was really cooking on Xbox. After the last two Star Wars games, they pushed out Jade Empire which was a martial arts-based action game with story choices. It looked amazing, and the special edition has a new character so this is the version to go for. It’s enhanced on the Xbox One X so there’s also that to look into. This is a fantastic action RPG and one of the best of the generation. It helped define the Xbox a console that could have great exclusives that weren’t shooters.
This game was a sleeper hit back in the day. It actually even inspired Cliffy B.’s cover system for Gears of War. There wasn’t anything really like it back in the day. It’s really repetitive and has a dumb story, but the gameplay is sharp and fun and even has a unique Gameboy Advance port that’s excellent. Too bad there wasn’t a sequel as this is quite entertaining.
Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders – Phantagram Co/Microsoft Game Studios – 2004
This game was weird for a console and why it didn’t do well. It’s an RTS. There is some hack and slash elements in which you control your commander on the field, but you also manage your troops, move them around, and strategize on what to do. It’s a fun game and some of the best RTS done on a system back in the day. Only try this out if you like that genre though.
Legacy of Kain: Defiance – Crystal Dynamics/Eidos – 2003
The Kain series is beloved by anyone who liked these games back then. The series just stopped after this game and never continued. The only reboot got shelved a while back. Defiance has you play as Raziel and Kain who have different abilities. The game has a lot of puzzle-solving, backtracking, and combat like in previous games. It’s pretty decent, but the entire series has a clunkiness to it that never got ironed out. This is made by the Tomb Raider guys and features the voice of Tony Jay!
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – EA Redwood Shores/EA – 2003
The Lord of the Rings series from EA was a huge part of my childhood. I loved the movies and the games were so awesome. They had great combat, recreated the movie scenes so well, featured all of the actors, and had a good amount of unlockable content. These games are an absolute blast and are some of the best movie license games ever made. Peter Jackson may not have liked them but I sure did.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Stormfront Studios/EA – 2002
Same as the above. While it doesn’t feel as polished and looks a little more dated it’s still fantastic and captures all the great bombastic moments of the movie. Both games are well worth a play-through if you are a fan of the movies. The Gameboy Advance ports are also top-down Diablo-style dungeon crawlers and are also worth a play.
While not a fantastic FPS, it’s still mindless fun and you just get to mow down everything that moves. Don’t worry about the story or characters and just jump in for the gameplay. Things get mixed up a bit when you get to pilot ships and do dog fights.
Max Payne – Remedy Entertainment/Rockstar Games – 2001
Released shortly after launch and was one of the first major hits for this generation Max Payne is an instant classic. You may know Remedy’s other work from Alan Wake and Control, but this is where it all started and played best on Xbox over PS2. The bullet time gameplay was copied for years, and the iconic comic book cut scenes and Max’s weird grim, and that weird level with the baby crying and you run on a trail of blood in slow motion. It feels dated but still plays well.
MechAssasult 2: Lone Wolf – Day:1:Studios/Microsoft Game Studios – 2004
This was a game that helped define the system. It is a fantastic mech game that holds up even today. With bombastic levels and great controlling mechs, you can now control other mechs and vehicles too. The game is a blast and one of the best on the system. The limited-edition is also dirt cheap and includes some extra stuff. The developers would later go on to make the F.E.A.R. series.
Medal of Honor: European Assault – EA Los Angeles/EA – 2005
Releasing as the last Medal of Honor on consoles, European Assault was the better of the three that were released that generation. It had better visuals, better-designed levels, and was overall just more interesting. You can command a three-man squad and you now get secondary objectives. It’s a great WWII shooter but sadly was released during the steep decline of the genre.
Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction – Pandemic Studios/LucasArts – 2005
A late console release, Mercenaries took the world by storm. I remember being so excited for this game and realizing it played like crap on PS2. Pandemic were masters at their craft and created some amazing games for this generation. Mercenaries had destructible environments which were mostly unheard of back then with tons of different gameplay. You were to take out 52 terrorist leaders based on a playing card system. You could also do it however you wanted. Tank, Jeep, helicopter, moving everyone down with a mini-gun. The choice was yours.
Metal Arms: Glitch in the System – Swingin’ Ape Studios/Vivendi Universal – 2003
The only game this studio ever made, Metal Arms didn’t sell well but is now a cult classic. You play as a robot with guns! This is just a fun and well-designed third-person shooter with some vehicle sections thrown in. It doesn’t have an amazing story but just comes for the action. This played and looked best on Xbox.
Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition Remix – Rockstar San Diego/Rockstar Games – 2006
A very late release, Midnight Club 3 was one of the best arcade racers of this generation. It featured an awesome hip-hop soundtrack and tons of licensed vehicles. The Remix version adds 24 new cars and more content so it’s the best version to pick up. The game is open world and just feels great. It was good enough to stand out over Burnout and Need for Speed.
Midtown Madness 3 – Digital Illusions CE/Microsoft Game Studios – 2003
Originally a PC-only arcade racing game, Madness 3 has players drive thirty licensed vehicles around two cities doing things from delivering pizzas to robbing banks. The game feels a bit dated, but still plays well and is a zany and fun arcade racer that you won’t get anywhere else.
I remember getting this game for my 13th birthday. I also got a shirt with it! I also discovered the band Adema, which is amazing, and helped drive my love for rock music further. The game feels dated compared to later games in the series, and each character only has one fatality, but Test-Your-Mights are back and the Krypt that was introduced is now a staple in the series. It’s still a fun fighting game.
A huge step up over Deadly Alliance in every way. More characters, new Hara-Kiri suicide fatalities which have never been in any other game since, and each character now has two fatalities and some of these are the best in the entire series. There’s a new adventure Krypt mode which is boring and ugly as sin, but you need to complete it to unlock stuff in the Krypt as half the roster is locked away. The new Chess Kombat is a blast and the Puzzle Kombat mode is a rip-off of Super Puzzle Fighter but does it right. This was the first game I ever pre-ordered, the Premium Pack for PS2 actually, and I played countless hours online. The PSP version is also really good and there are a few different Kollector’s Editions that have an arcade-perfect port of the first game that commands a high price.
MotoGP 3 – Climax Racing/THQ – 2005
This is one of the best racing games on the system. The Xbox had the best racing games thanks to the powerful hardware and MotoGP 3 was fantastic. It had a smooth framerate, great sense of speed, and amazing handling. It’s a surprise it didn’t do better. If you love motorbikes or just good racing games this is a must-have.
NBA Street V3 – EA Canada/EA – 2005
I played Vol. 2 to death when I was a teen on PS2. It was one of and still is, the best basketball games of all time. It’s not a sim, but the stylish gameplay was so addictive and the controls were amazing. Pulling to huge slam dunks and powerful moves was so satisfying and this carried over in V3. The courts are well designed and there are plenty of game modes. This series needs to come back. I actually bought my copy of V3 during the closing liquidation of Circuit City in 2008 and that memory will always be with me. You can’t take it away.
Need for Speed: Underground 2 – EA Black Box/EA – 2004
Underground 2 is still considered by many the best NFS game made to date. Some people stopped playing after this game and won’t play any others. There’s a reason for that. Underground 2 was when open-world racing games were new and this game perfected it. It just felt right, the physics, handling, the looks, and had tons of events to do and the customization was so much fun. There was just perfect magic of things that came together to make this game. It’s way better than the first so just jump right into the sequel. If you haven’t noticed the mid-2000s was the last of the “good EA” before we know them now.
This is a series of sports games appealing towards the “manly man” with a lot of sex and potty humor and half-naked women. This game wouldn’t fly today, but it’s still a solid sports game and can be pretty funny at times. Take it with a grain of salt and go in not expecting anything serious.
Pac-Man World 2 – Namco – 2002
An early game for the system, the first game was pretty good on PS1 and the sequel here is just lighthearted and fun. It’s the only Pac-Man spin-off that didn’t force traditional Pac-Man gameplay here. It’s a platformer adventure with great visuals and fun levels. Don’t let the bad reputation of other spin-offs ruin your fun here.
Pariah – Digital Extremes Toronto/Groove Games – 2005
Dubbed to be the next best thing since Halowas released too little too late. Halo 2 had been out for a year already and if you were an original shooter exclusively on the Xbox and you weren’t Halo you were going to have a bad time. The game flopped hard and barely sold any copies. It’s one of the cheapest games on the system, but it’s still worth playing. It looks really good and doesn’t have an interesting story, but one play-through is enough as there aren’t many original FPS games on this system.
Phantom Dust – Microsoft Game Studios Japan/Majesco Sales – 2004
This was a sleeper hit for the system and rocked the Xbox world. There was a sequel in the works for Xbox One and it was canceled, however, an HD version of the game exists if you have an Xbox One or PC. This was an action-strategy card game and had over 100 quests. It’s unique for the system and a must-have. However, if you don’t like card strategy games then this game isn’t for you.
Prince of Persia: Two Thrones – Ubisoft – 2005
A late console release, Two Thrones was the final in the Prince of Persia trilogy reboot. This is the best in the series and went back to the more lighthearted fantasy-style graphics. I personally love Warrior Within’s dark approach and Godsmack’s guitar riffs in that game rock but to each their own. This game is polished and holds up well today.
Project Gotham Racing 2 – Bizarre Creations/Microsoft Game Studios – 2003
PGR is Microsoft’s lesser-known racing child and was sadly dropped over Forza. PGR was less sim and more arcade in the early days and featured a kudos system that rewarded players for their driving style and still had licensed cars. PGR 2 is one the best racing games of the generation and shows more and more that Xbox was the console for great racers.
Project Snowblind – Crystal Dynamics/Eidos – 2005
This was a sleeper hit back in the day and I picked this up when it hit $20 on PS2. It looks and runs best on Xbox, but this is a fairly entertaining FPS of the time and one of the best of the generation. This is made by the Tomb Raider dudes and was actually supposed to be a Deus Ex game. It looks good and has a decent story, although forgettable. It had a lot of fun multiplayer back in the day as well.
RalliSport Challenge 2 – Digital Illusions CE/Microsoft Game Studios – 2004
Microsoft had a LOT of racing games under their belt and sadly, RalliSport didn’t do as well as other games, even Colin McRae. This game has some great physics and is a little more arcade-like compared to Colin McRae. It looks great as well and is worth a pick-up if you love racing games.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War – Gray Matter Interactive Studios/Activision – 2003
Return to Castle Wolfenstein was one the biggest FPS releases on PC at the time and the Xbox version had new content and a fully playable copy of Wolfenstein 3D. It was one the most played multiplayer games on the system, remains one of the best FPS games on Xbox. Let’s just completely forget about the PS2 version. That was poo and sadly I was stuck with that one.
An early game for the system, Robotech tells the entire Macross storyline, so we get a rare Japanese mech game on the system and it’s damn good. You can switch between modes and progress through the entertaining story. It’s a shame it didn’t get much coverage despite being a pretty good mech game.
SSX 3 – EA Canada/EA – 2003
This is easily one of the best extreme sports games ever made. The Xbox version looked and played the best and was just an absolute blast. The big jumps, crazy tricks, and overall content were just a ton of fun for a series that was constantly getting better. The sequel is still fun, but not as good as this one. If you love snowboarding or the Tony Hawk games you should pick this up.
Scaler – Artificial Mind & Movement/Global Star Software – 2004
Uh, this isn’t a Spyro clone. It’s an action platformer like Spyro but with a weirder dragon. The game didn’t get any attention or sales despite its charm and surprisingly solid gameplay. I’m also surprised this game doesn’t sell for more than it does, but that may change at some point. It’s a hidden gem for sure because I never heard of it back in the day. If you like collecting eggs and bashing cartoon baddies then give this a go. It’s probably the closest to Jak & Daxter you will get on Xbox.
Second Sight – Free Radical Design/Codemasters – 2004
Made by the TimeSplitters folks, Second Sight is an original game where you play a man who has psychic powers and utilizes weapons and stealth. It has an entertaining story and some excellent gameplay mechanics. It wasn’t a huge hit because it’s hard to tell what the game is by description only. It plays and looks best on Xbox.
SoulCalibur II – Project Soul/Namco – 2003
This is by far one of the best fighters of the generation and on this system. Each system got its own exclusive character with Xbox getting Spawn…for some reason? It looks fantastic and plays amazingly well and sadly the sequel became a PS2 exclusive due to poor sales on other platforms. If you have a fight stick this is a great choice.
Spartan: Total Warrior –Creative Assembly/Sega – 2005
A late-game for the system, and it was a big deal as it was made by a strict RTS developer who made the Total War series on PC. This was their first dip into the action scene on consoles and it has flaws, but it’s still a lot of fun. The character moves fast and there’s tons of sword and sandal hacking and slashing. Don’t expect a complex story or anything here either. There are lots of upgrades though.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell – Ubisoft – 2002
This was an early game for the system and one of the first massive hits. Splinter Cell took the world by storm and revolutionized the stealth action genre. The game looked amazing on Xbox and not too hot on PS2 which was the version I got stuck with. It holds up very well today but requires a lot of patience. Michael Ironside as Sam Fisher is one of the most iconic characters of all time. He’s great to hear on screen. Each version has something exclusive for it. Xbox has DLC, PS2 had a new intro, and GameCube let you use the GBA as a map. This sort of thing carried on through the trilogy.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow – Ubisoft – 2004
Pandora Tomorrow was a massively popular sequel and was a huge hit online. It was bigger, better, improved graphics, controls, new gadgets, and an advanced story. This was a fantastic sequel and the Xbox version is still the best here.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory – Ubisoft – 2005
Sending the Xbox out with a bang Chaos Theory is the best in the trilogy. It looks insanely good, almost too good, and was set in Japan with a more open-ended level design. The other versions look good too with Ubisoft sucking every ounce of power out of each system and even creating tricks to get certain effects to run on the PS2. Each game is good in its own way and you can pick up the entire trilogy for around $30. It’s a no-brainer and one of the best action games of this generation that actually holds up really well.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords – Obsidian Entertainment/LucasArts – 2004
Hot off the heels of the first smash hit, KOTOR 2 is much improved visually and gameplay-wise. This is considered one of the best Star Wars games ever made and for good reason. These are the guys who later brought you Fallout: New Vegas and Divinity: Original Sin. These guys are masters at storytelling and RPG stuff. If you don’t like Star Wars there’s nothing here for you, but the original story that isn’t tied to a movie was pretty rare in this day and age and this is one of the best games of the entire generation.
Star Wars: Republic Commando – LucasArts – 2005
This was a sleeper hit back in the day but didn’t very well thus no sequel. It didn’t do Battlefront numbers sadly but has recently been re-released in HD. This is one of the best Star Wars games ever made and has some great tactical FPS gameplay. Again, if you aren’t a Star Wars fan you won’t really care for this, but it’s a solely unique game in the entire series and plays really well to this day.
Sudeki – Climax Solent/Microsoft Game Studios – 2004
Microsoft desperately needed a JRPG and this is as close as they got. The game was famous for the busty heroine and she was splattered all over game magazines and ads, but sadly it still didn’t sell enough. It’s a great RPG and has real-time combat. The story is entertaining and is plays well even today. It’s not incredibly long and can be finished in a weekend. It has great art and high production values.
Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus – Studio Gigante/Microsoft Game Studios – 2003
Well, Microsoft needed a fighter other than Dead or Alive and this was it. Created by the co-creator of Mortal Kombat, John Tobias, you can see the inspiration here, however, the game does feel a little on the generic side I mean just look at that stupid box art. The characters don’t really stand out thus the low sales and no sequel. It’s still a fun fighter and has fun mechanics, there aren’t many fighters on the system so you might as well.
The Godfather: The Game – EA Redwood Shores/EA – 2006
Released after the Xbox 360, this was a downgrade from that version, The Godfather was released with a slew of 1930’s mafia games trying to be the next GTA. The Godfather was surprisingly good and retained the voices of some of the original actors such as James Caan, but Marlin Brando didn’t make it in due to his death around this time. The game has a damage system during shooting, an open world, carjacking, and scenarios played out from the movie. It’s fairly entertaining, but mostly for Godfather fans. It’s not GTA at all, but it’s just great to see this movie turned into a game.
Thief: Deadly Shadows – Ion Storm/Eidos – 2004
Thief was a huge hit on PC and when it came to Xbox it was a big deal. The game looked phenomenal on the system and was led by Deus Ex creator Warren Spector. The stealth action game requires a lot of patience as most levels are open-ended and it’s up to you on how you complete the objectives without getting caught.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 – Headgate Studios/EA – 2006
Released at the tail end of the Xbox life, this is probably the best golf game on the system and pushed the system fairly well. While the Xbox 360 version is superior this is still great nonetheless. The best thing about this game is the Tiger formula is perfected here and it plays very well.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x – Treyarch/Activision – 2001
This was a launch title for the Xbox and was the first two games “remade” with updated visuals and the Tony Hawk 2 moves could be down in the first game. It also included Treyarch exclusive levels. This is similar to what Vicarious did with the recent remake, and while that version is superior, this is still a great way to go for the first two games.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 – Neversoft Entertainment/Activision – 2002
This game was the reason why I started skating as a kid. I played all the games up until this point and it was the sole reason why I wanted a PS2. I played this at a neighbor’s house for months until I finally got my PS2. This is the best game in the entire series and nothing tops it. It’s crazy seeing the game looks better on Xbox and runs better too. It had a fantastic licensed soundtrack, perfect level design, fun cheats, and perfect controls. It didn’t get any better than this. Of course, you can pick up the other games for the same price, but this is the best one.
It’s crazy to think there was an exclusive Unreal game for Xbox. The ease of Xbox Live is what drew Epic towards the system. The PS2 did get Unreal Tournament but it wasn’t very popular and didn’t have online play. While the servers are long dead now couch multiplayer is still fun and there’s still a fun single-player campaign. The version featured characters and weapons exclusive to Xbox and looked good too.
Unreal II: The Awakening – Legend Entertainment Company/Atari – 2004
It’s crazy to think so many PC games got ported to the Xbox, but Unreal II is fun if the unremarkable shooter in the single-player Unreal series. There was never a third game, but this one is entertaining and looks pretty good on the system. If you’re short on FPS games on your Xbox give this a go.
Vexx – Acclaim – 2003
Vexx is an underappreciated action platformer. It features a cute little creature with ‘tude who comes into possession of a pair of gauntlets that grant him powers. You whack and jump your way around levels and enjoy the forgettable story.
Whiplash – Crystal Dynamics/Eidos – 2003
Another game from the Tomb Raider crew. Whiplash is a weird and funny cartoon platformer with interesting game mechanics. It didn’t sell well as people didn’t understand what the game was about, but it’s fun and you will get a few laughs from it. It reminds me a lot of Pinky and the Brain with the dup Redmond and Spanx.
This was a very late release for the system and I had no idea it ever came out at the time. This is the sequel to the excellent N64 cover shooter. It looks dated but it’s still fun like the N64 game. It’s got a stupid story, but the action is where it’s at.
Yager – Yager Development/Kemco – 2004
Yager is an interesting aerial combat game that looks very good for the system. It comes off as rather generic, but the gameplay is really good and there’s some fun to be had here if you like flight combat games.
For starters, I’m no Buffy buff. I never watched the show growing up, nor did I as an adult. That’s okay though, as there are many great video games based on movies and TV shows that are fun without needing to watch the material it is based on. Buffy seems like this kind of game at first. While it’s clearly geared toward fans of the show, I have no idea what’s going on in the story. You are basically trying to stop some evil vampire spirit from ending the world. That’s literally it. You chase him around as he possesses various characters from the show. It’s dull and rather uninteresting and the game is also poorly written. Buffy’s one-liners get old as all five of them repeat constantly throughout the game and so do the one-liners from the enemies.
That’s just the beginning. Buffy has an array of acrobatic moves and they are actually quite good for such an early 64-bit era game. The animations are well done and the combat, when it does work, is pretty awesome. Buffy can punch and kick and execute enemies with a wooden stake. She also has Slayer Power which allows her to add on some powerful moves at the end of combo chains. This, again, seems great on paper, but it’s poorly executed. While the animations are nice there’s constant knockback and you can’t interrupt the enemies’ attacks. This is the key flaw in the entire combat system. There’s no dodge button, no parry, and no way to counter attacks at all. You just have to take it and fall down and get back up, but some enemies will stomp you, and then multiple enemies join in and you end up dying and losing health over cheap gameplay mechanics. The game is just very cheap all around.
Another issue revolved around this is the terrible jumping and extreme distance you get knocked back at. This leads to cheap deaths off cliffs as some of the fighting areas are tiny and are not designed around how far Buffy can be thrown. I would make it to the end of a level and die just because I got picked up and thrown off of a cliff due to the poor level design. It’s everywhere in this game including platforming segments that shouldn’t exist here. I never finished the game due to the second to last level having so many cliffs of death, tiny arenas, and platforming woes that after the 7th time dying from a cheap death I put the disc back in the box and shelved it. I’m not missing out on much anyway.
If that isn’t painful enough the level design is boring and trite. You walk down boring brown or gray hallways, fight a few enemies, flip a switch, and move on. The level design is just bad and every location is so uninteresting. A foundry, a high school, a sunken church, all just blandly designed. At least the character models look decent and the voice acting is all right. This also leads to healing and other items which leads to the biggest flaw this entire game has, and what I think, completely breaks it. All these other things would be done if you didn’t have to execute every enemy with a stake. You can knock them down to no health and they won’t die until you execute them. This leads to more cheap deaths as instead of them dying when their health is down you then have to break through their constant blocking, get knocked around more, and lose more health, just to get in an execution. They will not die unless you have a stake or the glaive. Enemies block every single move you do, making combat take way longer than necessary, and they also shouldn’t take so long to die. For a beat ’em up enemies should have more balanced health bars.
There are also items like holy water, hellfire, and a super soaker that contains both. This is a completely useless tool as it depletes within seconds and requires fonts to replenish and only a few levels have them. It’s mostly used just to take down certain force fields. Seriously, what a waste of time and effort. And that’s pretty much all Buffy has to offer. Some decent combat and animations are all the game has to go for it but is horrendously broken with terrible gameplay mechanics throughout the entire game.
I honestly can’t recommend this to anyone unless you are a Buffy fan, and even then you aren’t missing out on much at all. The story is boring, the level design is uninspired and bland, and the game is nearly broken thanks to poor design decisions.
Max Payne 2 was released a little over a year from the original and a surprising amount of fat was cut from the original. It’s the same game, but more refined and updated and feels more tightly woven than its predecessor. A lot of problems were fixed, but new ones arose as well. The narrative continues right after the first game with Max still trying to avenge the death of his wife and child, still trying to get to the bottom of The Inner Circle, and a new love blooms: Mona Sax.
The game starts off similarly to the first game, we get some weird trippy dream sequences, but they aren’t nearly as awful with zero platforming this time. Once you are in control of Max you can instantly feel the difference. He has more weight, his animations are smoother, and gunplay overall just feels punchier and sharper. More weapons were introduced with many old ones coming back. The new M4 and Kolishnokov weapons are a great addition, but unnecessary. One assault rifle is good enough as well as the addition of the HP5, but the Ingrams do just fine for a sub-machine gun. While the older weapons pack more of a punch the new weapons just feel like they were added just to add to the weapon count, less would have been fine. A new dedicated projectile button has been added so you can throw grenades and molotovs without equipping them.
Bullet Time has been refined and fixed as well. Max can now spin around in a 360-degree motion while dodging and the bullets impact harder and there’s less of a delay when you shoot. There is also better feedback on enemies when hit as they stumble more and drop their weapons so you know they’re dead in bullet time. Max can also stay lying down while continuing to empty a clip so the delay in getting up doesn’t make you completely vulnerable as the first game did. The difficulty has been dialed way back and I died a lot less than in the first game. All these great fixes and additions make Max Payne 2 the better of the two games already.
When it comes to level design, Max Payne 2 has more interesting levels like a creepy funhouse, a sprawling mansion, a construction site, and some apartment slums, but there’s a lot of backtracking and I feel the overall scope of the game feels claustrophobic. The variety is better, but you explore those few areas longer and I just feel I wanted to see more of New York inside this noire world Max lives in. Also, gone are the boss fights so the game feels better paced and I felt a tempo of gameplay going that the first didn’t have. However, the game is much shorter clocking in at 4-5 hours. There aren’t any collectibles or anything like that so once you fly through the game it’s over and there’s no reason to ever go back honestly.
Max Payne 2 is a memorable ride. The story is still told in those awesome comic strips, and I feel at the end of the game we get to know Max and Mona well enough to understand their characters and want them on screen more. Their love story is a great centerpiece for this Mafia revenge tale and it makes Max and Mona feel more human. There’s still a cliffhanger at the end of the story, and a third Max Payne game didn’t come until a decade later, but what we get is one of the best single-player shooters of the PS2/Xbox era. It’s tightly compacted and solid and while it’s short, sometimes that means quality and that is rare even to this day.
Bullet time. While The Matrix made it popular amid pop culture, Max Payne started it all in the video game realm. You play as a cop, Max Payne, who is framed for the murder of another NYPD cop. Your wife and newborn child are also murdered and you are trying to get revenge on the people who did it. The story isn’t anything amazing, but Max Payne’s voice actor, and the well-done writing, keep you hooked long enough to find out what happened behind the scenes. The game is told in a comic noir graphic-novel style and it suits the game well. The cut scenes are imaginative and different and don’t look cheap or like the developers were trying to take shortcuts.
Outside of the story, the gameplay is all about shooting because that’s literally it. Max runs around with various weapons such as Barrettas, Ingrams, shotguns, grenade launchers, Molotov cocktails, grenades, and assault rifles to mow down the Mafia and corrupt cops. Bullet time is the main gameplay element here and when activated Max does a jump dodge in the direction you move and you can see him dodging bullets in real-time. This is actually a mechanic you must master as most situations require you to use it to stay alive. You can’t stand in one spot or you will be dead in a few hits and there’s no cover system. I had to quicksave every 2-3 minutes as well because the game is so difficult. It’s cool to jump dodge around a corner, but once Max lands there’s a delay in him getting up and you are completely vulnerable to gunfire. I had to make sure I jump dodged behind cover or across a hallway so I wouldn’t die the second the bullet time finished. You can also activate bullet time and just run your meter down so you can run and gun with it too.
There are very few scenarios in which you do more than press buttons. One scene has Max driving a crate crane around an area, but it’s nothing special, and there are some interactive objects that trigger comic cut scenes, but 95% of the game is just shooting. The weapons themselves feel good and I felt I had to switch up weapons depending on the situation to make my life easier. The locales are varied, but they are a bit too stale and boring for my taste. They don’t quite capture the noir feeling of the comic cut scenes, but there is one level early on called Ragna Rock which was a gothic cult house that reminded me a lot of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, so that’s a good thing. The game really does feel like a first-generation PS2/Xbox game, but it’s very polished. The game flows nicely, but the difficulty is all over the place, you will die dozens and dozens of times in this game.
The visuals are clean and look nice even 20 years later. I installed a texture upgrade patch and some other things to make the game upscale to 4K nicely and play on modern hardware, and it looks pretty good. Even in the original, the facial textures are nice and very realistic, and the aesthetic of the game stands out over most shooters of its time. The voice acting is great, and I finished the game in about 7 hours. After you finish it there’s literally nothing else to do as the multiplayer mode was scrapped. It’s a fantastic single-player game that holds up well even today despite its insane difficulty and unbalanced gameplay. The story isn’t anything special, but Max is a great character to dive into and it makes for a fun evening.
Ghost Recon has always been a part of my childhood as it was one of my dad’s favorite games. While we only had the inferior PS2 versions, they were kind of fun to play and really challenging. The slow pace of crawling through enemy territory and deciding the best way to take them all out without dying after 3 shots could sometimes be quite rewarding especially since this is what the series was popular for. GRAW carries this over on the PC version specifically while the Xbox 360 version is faster-paced. I personally think this is a much inferior version and the slower pace feels dated and boring.
After so many Ghost Recon games, it was exciting to get a new game in the series on the brink of brand new technology. While the PC version sure looks great, it uses a slightly different engine and is in a first-person perspective rather than a third like the Xbox 360 version. Everything just feels completely different such as enemies not staying tagged with the orange diamonds and this became a real big problem. You get a drone in this game but it’s tied to a tactical map rather than viewing it in real-time overhead. You can use basic commands to send squad members to an area and take out enemies, but you’re so blind and the angle of the camera for the map is really strange and distorts your perspective. Many times my men died because I didn’t know what was ahead and unless you play at a snail’s pace you’re going to die a lot.
That also goes for your character. Two or three shots and you die and the checkpoints are so infrequent and spread apart that it leads to many frustrations. The PC version should have a manul quick save feature and it doesn’t. The character walks like a geriatric on a crutch or sprints as fast as a turtle. The maps are bland and void of any type of action or ambiance. Just plain walls, silos, warehouses, and blown-up cars. Once I did get a few bad guys tagged I would send my guys out, but stray too far and the tags disappear which is really pointless. Just on the training map alone, I died maybe 6 or 7 times because it’s just so hard to see what’s coming up in a large open map. I need something like, I don’t know, my drone’s tags to stay up and I see where every bad guy is and either skip some or avoid certain areas.
At least giving commands is rather simple as using the mouse wheel or number row tells your guys to stop, follow, attack, or carry out commands set on the map. However, the AI is weird as sometimes my guys would pop people I never even saw and then not engage on tagged targets I told them to attack. They would just stand there and stare and sometimes get shot up and tell me that the target isn’t reachable. With all of this combined, this makes for a buggy and frustrating mess of a game that doesn’t exist on the Xbox 360 version. The snail’s pace alone isn’t fun and is boring and bland and takes away all the character and amazing pace of the console version. Why Ubisoft tried to make the PC slower is beyond me as I wanted the 360 version just with better visuals maybe? Even the art style is completely different despite most of the maps and missions being the same.
Overall, GRAW on PC is a huge letdown as Ubisoft thinks we want a slower more boring game? It feels more like Rainbow Six than Ghost Recon and carries with it too many of the issues from past Ghost Recon games. Get rid of the slow pace and animations, make the AI better, and stop making up crawl around a massive map trying to pick off targets. It’s just not fun at all. Some people may love this, such as those who actually like boring tactical shooters that play at a crawl, but GRAW on PC just doesn’t cut it and shouldn’t exist when a superior version exists on Xbox 360.
The very first game I ever pre-ordered. I have never been more excited about a game in my life. Watching gameplay trailers on a PC from 1997 on a 19″ CRT monitor while I stash away allowance bit by bit to get the Premium Pack for PS2. 2004 was an exciting year for gaming and for Mortal Kombat. With Deadly Alliance receiving mostly positive reviews, but a lot of criticism from reviewers, Deception turned everything to 11 and added interactive arenas, more game modes, and online fighting. Yes, the online part was the biggest selling point of Deception.
This is the direct sequel to Deadly Alliance. Quan Chi and Shang Tsung have failed to take over and Onaga The Dragon King has decided to rise from Outworld and claim everything as his. A man named Shujinko is now the game’s lead (the first of many to come in later games) who must stop the Dragon King and reverse the actions he made during the Konquest mode that helped give Onaga his power.
Let’s talk about Konquest mode first as most people will dive into it right away. It’s awful and should never have existed. It’s an expansion on Konquest from Deadly Alliance in which Raiden just walks along a path and each “level” is a training tutorial for all the characters. This is an adventure mode where you get quests, find the treasure for the Krypt, hidden secrets, and find out the back story to Deception, as well as meet many MK fighters and surprises. Sounds great on paper right? Well, it’s horribly executed as one of the worst attempts at a free-roaming RPG/adventure hybrid I’ve ever seen. Shujinko runs around in supersonic fast forward motion, the realms are void of any life, they are terribly laid out, and the worlds rely on a grid system to figure out where every secret and item is. The problem is that the map is useless with no actual grid on the map so you run around for 10 minutes trying to find D2 or H8 only to realize it’s locked away and you can’t go there until you complete the Konquest.
That’s the main downfall of Konquest. Quests aren’t logged and the entire game has to be played with a guide. It would take dozens and dozens of hours to figure everything out yourself as locations to solve quests and even chests are incredibly cryptic or specific. Some chests with Krypt keys only appear on certain days of the month and times and you would never know without a guide. You can meditate to make time move by faster, but this whole entire game mode is just frustrating, messy, and irritating. Doing the actual main quests is fine as there’s always a large green pillar of light pointing where to go, but talking to a random character and getting a one-sentence quest saying to find a gem is not how quests should be done.
On top of all this, the world is terribly laid out. They try to force a look onto each realm such as Chaosrealm having magic portals that project to you various little floating islands that are “chaotically” made up and don’t make sense. Orderrealm is just a giant circle floating in the sky with “order” to the layout and it looks nice and dystopian. It’s a little corny with the way the worlds are represented, but it’s kind of cool to finally explore these areas despite there being nothing to do in them. The visuals are also abysmal as this looks like an early PS2 game that launched, even a little worse than that. Horrendous textures and models, awful voice acting, and laughable animations. It looks like an amateur game developer made this in a weekend.
Outside of Konquest is when things are much better when you actually get to fighting. If any game were to use realistic martial arts it’s Mortal Kombat. This fighting system and this era of games aren’t most peoples’ favorite. The realism is nice with some good animations and each character having two martial arts and a weapon style. You can branch into these styles with long combo strings, but that’s where the issue lies. This realistic slower fighting style is in contrast to the fast-paced action of the 2D games. The characters look like stiff plastic dolls and the combat is all about memorized combos. It’s fun, and it works with Mortal Kombat, but it’s also not the best way to play these games. The slower fighting pace means more strategy is involved and a new Breaker system has been added to quickly get out of combos.
The interactive environments are some of the coolest features of Deception as they are basically fatalities within a stage. There are yellow lines that indicate when a player can get knocked out and take damage to a new tier and red lines that will kill the player. The arenas are large enough to where a game of tug-of-war always ensues and it makes playing tenser, especially online. Do you just knock them into the trap or play with them so you can do a fatality? Speaking of fatalities, each character has two unique ones some are great and some are lame. Li Mei, for example, has two fatalities that are just boring. Super punches to the chest and you explode? Yawn. Kick your head off? Seen it before. Some others are rather runny and unique, but there are also Hara Kiris that allow the loser to do a fatality on themselves taking the glory away from the opponent. Whoever inputs their code first gets to take the fun.
Outside of combat, you can play Puzzle Kombat which is just Street Fighter Puzzle with MK characters. At the end of each round there is a fatality unique to the player, but getting your power level up means you can perform a special move that each character has. It can be played online as well and is super addicting and can be a game on its own. The last mode is Chess Kombat which is one of the most unique modes to ever grace a fighting game. Just like a game of chess, you can pick which character is what piece and you play chess, but instead of just knocking a piece over you fight it out MK style. Each piece gets a certain amount of health so pawns of the least amount of health. It’s a great twist that adds more skill to the game and can also be played online. It’s a ton of fun and I hope this mode returns to future games.
Besides the Krypt where you can unlock various stuff for fans like promo videos, behind-the-scenes art, and various goodies, there’s not much else. Online play is incredibly smooth with a full lobby where you can talk to other players in, challenge players, and you have a win/loss ratio next to your name. I never had any connection drops and playing online extends the longevity of the game tenfold.
I also want to talk about the new characters. Since MK4, Midway has had trouble adding interesting new characters and that trend continues for the third time. Dairou and Havik are just boring awful characters that don’t have any personality or soul. They feel forced and I’d rather have a classic character put in than these two.
Overall, MK: Deception is a fantastic fighting game that is only hampered by slower combat, and a horrible Konquest mode that must be played to unlock half the game’s roster and extra costumes. Puzzle and Chess Kombat are excellent modes that add dozens of hours of fun, and online play is always welcome.
Note: As of May 31, 2014, you can no longer play Deception online due to GameSpy servers being shut down. Even then, not a single person played this online past 2006-2007. As Armageddon and other fighters came out Deception’s user base quickly fell after the first 18 months and never went back up. Get a buddy to play next to you instead.
Vengeance was a weird experiment for the series and was exclusive to the Wii. The game engine was downgraded and crammed into a weak console and just didn’t work. The controls were awful, and the game just felt like a PS2 game, to be honest. It was ugly, clunky, glitchy, and was just not fun to play. I can only recommend this game for people only curious and want to have something to laugh at.
8. Far Cry 2 – 2008
Far Cry 2 had some big shoes to fill, especially after 4 years since the first game was released. What we got was a generic game filled with not much to do and a boring world to play in. The shooting was good and there were some fun moments, but overall the game was so boring to me and didn’t quite change enough to make this game feel like an amazing sequel.
Best Version: PC
7. Far Cry – 2004
The first game isn’t the best in the series, but it was mainly remembered as a technical marvel back in 2004 and crippled PCs like no other game before it. The insane draw distances, textures, and lighting effects were stunning for their time and the massive multiplayer maps were revolutionary. The game wasn’t remembered for its story or characters and was also bashed for its terrible stealth gameplay, but this is a fun game to go back to.
Best Version: PC
6. Far Cry: Instincts – 2005
Instincts were the first console outing for the series and it was well praised as both a technical achievement and well-rounded stealth gameplay and intuitive controls. Originally released for the Xbox and later upgrade to the Xbox 360, Instincts is just a solid game all around. While it still didn’t tread the story and characters path like later games did, the core gameplay is solid and is still one of the best shooters on Xbox.
Far Cry 4 was too little too late for the series and tried to be too much like Far Cry 3. The game looked fantastic on its updated engine for next-generation consoles, but it was mostly boring and had awful characters. The “Ubisofty” gameplay was ever prevalent here and held the game back with formulaic item hunting and boring fetch quests. Honestly, this game is probably my least favorite in the whole series and is incredibly forgettable.
4. Far Cry: Primal – 2016
Primal actually tried the change the entire game for the first time by going back to prehistoric times. It seems drastic and over-exaggerated, but it helped the series break free of the typical formulaic “Ubisofty” gameplay and tone down the bullet heavy gameplay with spears and ancient weapons of the past. It is incredibly fun and different from the other games despite still not treading too much new territory.
This is by far the best game in terms of story and characters. The main villain is memorable and vicious and the overall premise of the game just keeps you hooked. This was the first time Ubisoft changed up their game engine and started using next-generation effects and expanded the gameplay to what we see in Far Cry today. It was a well-rounded game with good stealth implementation and tons of action and things to do.
Far Cry 5 is the culmination of the entire franchise and perfects it and pushes it towards a new medium and that’s an FPS RPG. The missions are more organic and pop up as you explore rather than a map marker hunter type of experience. The story and characters are further advanced and this is the most story-rich game since Far Cry 3. The game looks beautiful, plays well, has so much to do, and is just a great shooter.
Blood Dragon is an interesting game as it was a side project and was made on a low budget. Using actors from the ’80s to voice the characters and having an 80’s action movie vibe the animations to the guns themselves just ooze personality, and I honestly wish we’d get a sequel. I never had so much fun in the series as I did with Blood Dragon and it shows that drastic experimentation can work in the series and in games in general. This remains most fans’ favorite in the series.
Reboots are usually good for a game franchise as it allows new ideas and advance the series to new heights, but sometimes it’s not successful. Medal of Honor was a hyped-up generic military shooter where you play as Tier 1 specialists in the Afghani war, and it was a bug-ridden mess. The game was also ugly, stale, and just felt like a total Call of Duty rip-off. This was easily the worst game in the entire series.
Rising Sun was riding on the success of Frontline and its newfound glory with console gamers, but what we got was an ugly rushed mess of a game. Rising Sun tried to show us the frontline in Japan, but what we had was just some dated gameplay and some of the worst level design the series has ever seen. I don’t know what happened within a year, but the development rush is obvious here.
The first game in the series to try and reboot it with little success. Using next-generation hardware, the game looked impressive but used a weird multiplayer map style layout and open-ended objectives that just led to the generic level design and frustrating gameplay. The guns were highly inaccurate, and it was ridiculously difficult and plain boring. It’s clear that this series just can’t hit the reboot stride correctly.
Warfighter was a slightly more successful game with the new modern warfare formula with a much more entertaining campaign and better visuals, but overall it still felt generic and pointless in a bloated military shooter scene.
Best Version: PC
9. Medal of Honor: Vanguard – 2007
Vanguard is a much-forgotten game in the series as by the time this came around Modern Warfare was already out and the next generation of consoles was in full swing and no one cared. Using an old engine and gameplay, Vanguard was the last in the series to use the typical Medal of Honor WWII formula. The game wasn’t awful just super generic, boring, and just standard affair that we have seen before.
Frontline was the first game in the series on consoles, and this game is one I have fond memories of. I remember the opening scene just blew my mind and was incredibly cinematic for the time. Sadly, there was no multiplayer, but at the time I didn’t care. It still wasn’t the best game in the series, and it was clear the less powerful consoles held the series back some, but it was a good start.
Best Version: Xbox
7. Medal of Honor: Heroes – 2006
A strange game stuck in a weird time. The next-generation consoles were already here and Heroes stuck to a gameplay style designed for handhelds and the Wii. It was a decent game and felt good on each console it was on, but this was as generic as WWII shooters come. Even the production values were lacking on a dated engine and gameplay.
Best Version: Wii
6. Medal of Honor: European Assault – 2005
European Assault was not so much overlooked but overstepped. Everyone was starting to wane with the WWII shooters and European Assault was a mildly generic form of the genre that played well but didn’t add anything terribly new to wow anyone.
Heroes 2 was a rushed sequel, but somehow improved upon the first game and continued to use the dated engine and gameplay style of its predecessor. This and Vanguard were the last of their kind and were washed away with the new generation of consoles and graphics that just made everyone forget about these games.
Best Version: Wii
4. Medal of Honor – 1999
The original isn’t always the best, but it was really impressive on the PS1 back in the day and helped pave the way for modern FPS games to this day. It was a little clunky and basic, but did its job well and is still fun to play to this day.
3. Medal of Honor: Underground – 2000
It was a much-improved game over the first one, but was released right when the next generation of consoles was out and was kind of overlooked by the PS2, Dreamcast, and GameCube. It looked amazing on the PS1 and added a totally new campaign, but everyone was mostly over this generation of consoles by now.
Best Version: PS1
2. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault – 2002
The game that made Medal of Honor was it was released just before its console debut. It looked fantastic on the PC and was followed by two expansion packs. AA remains many players’ favorite game in the series for its PC-specific greatness such as solid controls, visuals, and scope.
My personal favorite game in the series due to the sheer cinematic quality and visual flair of the game. It was the last PC exclusive game in the series but felt and played amazingly well with a fantastic campaign and fun multiplayer. Medal of Honor, sadly, reached its peak early on, but it did it well and with a bang.