The Xbox 360 is a console that defined an entire generation of gamers. The console is approaching its 20th anniversary, and there are still plenty of games worth playing. GTA, Far Cry, Borderlands, Halo, Mass Effect, and BioShock are only a few of the franchises that made the Xbox 360 so memorable.
We have created a definitive list of the best Xbox 360 games so you can revisit some favorites, add some classics to your collection, or get an idea of where to start if you’re new to that platform.
Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 stands as the pinnacle of BioWare and EA’s ambitious space odyssey role-playing franchise. In the series’s “dark middle chapter,” Commander Shepard explores exotic planets, recruits daring crew members, and records more Citadel advertisements. The story starts with a bang, as the protagonist Shepard is brutally killed, only to be rebuilt by Cerberus — a sort of paramilitary organization with a strong political agenda.
The “Paragon/Renegade” system from the first game returns, and you find yourself making dozens upon dozens of decisions that can influence the rest of the plot. The gameplay has been cleaned up, and it feels much smoother and quicker than the original. Crew assignments feel more important than ever as you face bigger and more varied foes while exploring numerous alien environments. Plus, with Mass Effect: Andromeda in the wild, it’s as good a time as any to revisit the rest of the series.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Before its release in 2011, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim became one of the most hyped games of all time. Somehow, like the LeBron James of video games, it lived up to the hype. One of the most memorable fantasy RPG worlds ever created, Skyrim is filled with gorgeous scenery, from rushing rivers and lush pine forests to sky-scraping mountains and rolling meadows. You can explore your own way, or follow the path of the Dragonborn as you learn to speak the language of dragons, which have returned after lying dormant for thousands of years.
Read our full The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review
Praised by critics as one of the great games of its time, the original Portal combined brain-teasing puzzle elements with dark, incisive humor and an enjoyable story. Somehow, Portal 2 improved upon the original in every way possible. As in the first game, player-character Chell completes a series of devilish puzzles utilizing the iconic Handheld Portal Device, now with the goal of escaping a labyrinthian underground facility, Aperture Science. Hilarious new characters with superb voice acting and several new tricks help guide you at a perfect pace: The game never feels overly difficult, and each success ferries you through to more challenging puzzle chambers. The sequel also introduces a strong cooperative campaign that allows for two players to place four portals simultaneously, enabling developer Valve to explore some inspired puzzle design.
Read our full Portal 2 review
Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption is as close to perfect as it comes. The Wild West story places you in the shoes of John Marston, a former outlaw who is hellbent on finding his old cronies after a run-in with the FBI. The open-world gameplay from the Grand Theft Auto developer thrives on the rich story and a cast of memorable characters while offering a melange of remarkable activities built on the best western cliches around. The top-notch writing and voice acting in Red Dead Redemption lend a sense of authenticity to Mr. Marston and his contemporaries, and even though the game doesn’t hold up extremely well visually, it’s not hard to find yourself immersed completely in the wild, wild west.
It’s worth noting that the Game of the Year Edition is also a good buy since it includes the superb Undead Nightmare expansion DLC. And if you’ve packed away your Xbox 360 already, the game is fully backward compatible with the Xbox One — the perfect game to play to prepare yourself for the prequel Red Dead Redemption 2, which released in 2018.
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City may be the best comic book game ever concocted. The enthralling story pulls you in from the moment you hear Mark Hamill as the Joker, only to follow it up with superb puzzles and fighting mechanics that take advantage of a slew of iconic weapons from Batman’s arsenal. The follow-up to 2009’s Arkham Asylum finds the Dark Knight trapped in a section of Gotham City that’s been condemned, abandoned, and populated by prison inmates, including several iconic Batman villains, each with their own plans for the Bat to thwart. Arkham City follows the same “one-night game” blueprint, as Batman has been poisoned by the Joker and must find a way to cure himself before the end of the night. Arkham City is also host to the game’s brutal, combo-based combat system and Batman’s several gadgets (which help make traversing the dangerous city a little less stressful) only further its lasting appeal.
Read our full Batman: Arkham City review
Grand Theft Auto V
You know what to expect with Grand Theft Auto: Drug dealers, cars, and a colorful cast of characters. The series’s seventh full-length installment is no different, showcasing a fantastic script that’s centered around three complex characters in the stunning city of Los Santos. You can choose to lead the three protagonists through gripping story missions, explore a jam-packed world filled with a welcome sense of joyous nihilism, or even carry out elaborate heists with a little help from your friends in the game’s wild multiplayer mode.
A return to San Andreas County meant a return to the series’ trademark absurdity. Where Grand Theft Auto IV‘s Liberty City (and its storyline) felt gritty and slow-paced, GTA V puts its foot on the gas and never lets up. From harrowing car chases with Franklin to rampaging massacres as Trevor, the game provides numerous set-piece moments for its three playable characters to go along with its crass humor and massive open world. Its multiplayer mode Grand Theft Auto Online has also shown a surprising amount of resilience, still absurdly popular more than five years after its initial release.
Read our full Grand Theft Auto V review
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Over the years, Call of Duty has earned a sort of stigma: Annual releases with increasingly similar campaigns and multiplayer have soured many players on the brand. As the game that kicked off the trend, however, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, shows why so many fans have returned to series over and over, even as the formula grows stale. From its riveting opening sequence to its epic conclusion, this masterpiece hits all the right notes and introduces characters that personify Call of Duty.
Modern Warfare‘s three-act campaign is packed with memorable moments: Hunt down terrorist leaders in the Middle East, control the skies from an AC-130 gunship, and work to prevent a global holocaust — these might seem like cliches now, but they weren’t before the release of Modern Warfare. The game also popularized a customizable class-based multiplayer system that has gone on to become a de facto standard for the genre. If you don’t want to spring for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered on Xbox One, the original 2007 game is backward compatible, as well.
From the moment you begin playing this System Shock-inspired first-person shooter, Bioshock feels like a mystery wrapped in intrigue that you won’t want to stop playing for a single minute. The game’s brilliant sound design and (at the time) incredible graphics help build one of the most unique gaming environments out there. The underwater city of Rapture’s eerie, ’50s-inspired art style and the audio recorders scattered throughout the city create a real sense of history in the ruins of a utopian society that somehow took a terrible turn for the worse.
If you are the type who enjoys a leisurely gaming experience, skip Dark Souls. The game is one of the most ruthless titles of all time. The genre-defining action-RPG revels in killing you — over, and over, and over again — until you learn from your mistakes. Afterward, it kills you again for good measure. Full of epic, frustration-filled boss battles and find-your-own-way exploration aided only by short messages left by other players, Souls is equally punishing to all who dare to play it. The massive campaign is likely to bring players more pain than pleasure, but the thrill of defeating an enemy you once saw as invincible is tough to beat. Be careful, though, as you might spend three weeks in your basement trying to beat Dark Souls and still come out praising the sun.
Read our full Dark Souls review
Fallout 3 could have been a disaster. Picking up the scraps left over from developers Interplay and Black Isle Studios, Bethesda blended the apocalyptic world-building of the first two games with its own real-time, first-person gameplay to create a game similar, in many ways, to the company’s Elder Scrolls series. The result was a massive success, and the innovative “VATS” combat system helped to add a layer of strategy never before seen in first-person shooters.
In the years following its release, the spinoff Fallout: New Vegas received similar acclaim, as did the more recent Fallout 4, but it is Bethesda’s first entry that holds a special place in our hearts. War never changes, and thankfully, neither does Fallout 3.
Halo 2 raised the bar for first-person shooters, but Halo 3 perfected it. With the addition of four-player online co-op, its multiplayer suite is nearly unmatched in terms of overall quality, from its revolutionary ranked versus social multiplayer system to its armor customization choices. Moreover, the game still looks gorgeous in 1080p and features the introduction of Forge mode, which allows the player to customize the multiplayer maps to create unique game types. Blowing up aliens (and other players) is still rarely as fun.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Taking the reins of the long-dormant XCOM franchise and delivering a successful turn-based strategy game on a home console seems like a task that a developer wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy, but with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis somehow made a modern classic out of a beloved retro franchise about defending the Earth against alien invasion. The series’ legendary difficulty was kept intact in the soft-reboot, making smart use of a constant, looming “countdown” clock to keep players from getting too comfortable, even between missions. Setting your squad members up for a perfectly executed attack is extremely rewarding, but there are few things more heartbreaking than having to watch your soldiers permanently fall — especially if you named them after friends and family.
Read our full XCOM: Enemy Unknown review
A perfect blend of over-the-top action, an astounding setting, and stealth that rivals the mighty Metal Gear Solid franchise, Dishonored is the ultimate “choose your own adventure” book. With numerous ways to complete the game’s missions, supernatural assassin Corvo Attano can sneak his way through buildings without being seen, engage every guard he sees in a swordfight, or even summon a swarm of rats to devour unsuspecting enemies before they have a chance to react. The game’s excellent stealth-action gameplay loop is baked into one of the most creative settings we have seen in years — the steampunk-inspired city of Dunwall — which is filled with enough surprises to make a second or third playthrough essential. The fun in Dishonored largely comes from player experimentation, with a variety of special ability combinations and creative non-lethal solutions. You can play through the entire game without killing a single person … if you’re creative enough.
Read our full Dishonored review
Platinum Games’ Hideki Kamiya might not be in the Devil May Cry business anymore, but the series’ spiritual successor, Bayonetta, is a faster, crazier precision brawler. A witch and martial arts master, Bayonetta doesn’t make the same corny jokes as Devil May Cry’s Dante, but this game shares DmC‘s penchant for the ridiculous. Bayonetta has guns strapped to her high heels, and a suit made out of her own hair that can be used to take down enormous bosses.
One of the most acclaimed indie games ever, Limbo puts you in control of a young boy in a bleak, black-and-white landscape. Throughout this relatively short 2D platformer, you’ll solve puzzles to make your way through a deadly world full of spike pits, spinning gears, and giant spiders. The game’s incredible sound direction lends to the eerie ambiance that pervades Limbo, and the game proves to be one of the best “pick up for five minutes” titles in existence. Limbo is a perfect escape from the busy, loud, HUD-filled games we are used to playing.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto III first brought players to New York City proxy Liberty City in 2001, but it wasn’t until the next generation and Grand Theft Auto IV that we were able to see the metropolis in its true gritty glory. Protagonist Niko Bellic is a complex character, haunted by the memories he made in Eastern Europe while simultaneously trying to begin a new life in the United States. He’s surrounded by the best supporting cast the series has ever seen, with standouts like Little Jacob and Brucie Kibbutz serving as foils for Bellic’s measured personality. Cousin Roman and his many quotes have become running jokes since the game’s release nearly a decade ago.
What makes Grand Theft Auto IV a classic isn’t its cast of characters or even the unprecedented level of freedom it gave to players, but its dark and pessimistic view of the fabled “American Dream.” You can do anything you want as you roam Liberty City, but you — and Bellic — have to be prepared to face the consequences.
Far Cry 3
Mixing exploration in a gorgeous tropical island with tight combat, emergent stealth moments, and some of the best “popcorn” scenes we have seen in a game to date, Far Cry 3 is a rollercoaster ride from the beginning of its fish-out-of-water story until the credits roll. The game reinvigorated the series, spawning three more games: Far Cry 4, Far Cry Primal, and the upcoming sequel Far Cry 5. There is something undeniably special about Far Cry 3, though, and its dark, dangerous, and incredibly fun world. Just hearing the “definition of insanity” monologue is enough to have us itching for some wind-surfing and big game hunting, following by a healthy dose of explosions.
Read our full Far Cry 3 review
The first Borderlands introduced us to the world of Pandora, a bandit-infested wasteland of a planet filled with secret vaults, guns, more guns, and even more guns. The sequel took everything that made Borderlands a smash hit and improved on it twofold. Borderlands 2 is bigger, badder, funnier, and more colorful, making it one of the premier cooperative gaming experiences out there. Borderlands 2 introduces new, more diverse guns, more legendary loot, and a new raid boss for the brave. The environments are varied and (thankfully) much more colorful than the original, and the Game of the Year Edition — which includes all the downloadable content, the best of which is Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep — is worth a look for just a few bucks more.
Following the release of Halo 3 and its spinoff Halo 3: ODST, it appeared that Bungie’s first-person shooting franchise had come to a close. But the studio still had one more story to tell, and Halo: Reach represents the culmination of all the passion and experience its developers had gained since beginning work on Halo a decade earlier. Ditching the Master Chief in favor of a group of Spartans tasked with defending the planet Reach against an immense alien force, the story is a tragedy where we already knew the ending, but it was the emotional and harrowing journey along the way that made the story so special.
Halo: Reach also happened to have one of the best multiplayer modes in the entire series, with new character abilities and weapons that offer a twist on the established formula. The Forge World region also allowed players to make their own fun, and it packed in the classic map “Blood Gulch” for some nostalgic fun.
Rock Band 3
Guitar Hero series may have ignited gamers’ passion in the rhythm and music genres, but Harmonix’s Rock Band turned it into a worldwide phenomenon. With the excellent guitar controls of its former series as the base, Harmonix added drums and vocals to create the ultimate party game, loaded with songs from a variety of musical styles to keep nearly everyone entertained.
Follow-up games added additional features, including a keyboard peripheral, but it was the original game that stands out in our memories the most. Rocking on the guitar while your friends butcher drums and vocals on Nirvana’s In Bloom never gets old, and the game’s great single-player mode made it almost as much fun to play alone in your room as it was in a group.
BioShock Infinite chose to (almost) completely abandon its famous setting, Rapture, which made the previous two games in the series famous. In place of a story warning of the dangers of Randian Objectivism was a tale of nationalism gone wrong, with a floating city on the brink of destruction at the hands of a crazed prophet. Your role in the story as indebted gambler Booker DeWitt isn’t made immediately clear, but over the 10 or so hours it takes to reach the ending, revelations not only change your perception of past events, but the universe itself.
It’s just icing on the cake that BioShock Infinite is also a tremendously creative first-person shooter, blending pseudo-scientific powers with traditional gunplay and the new “Skyhook” device, which allows Booker to quickly escape danger or even ambush enemies. By the time you reach the game’s fantastic conclusion, your heart will be pounding and you’ll want to experience the entire story again.
Read our full BioShock Infinite review
Gears of War 3
Gears of War 3 is the apex of Epic Games’ thrilling trio of cover-based shooters. Prepare to make sacrifices and uncover the past in the final chapter for Marcus Fenix and his crew. The harrowing campaign is both brutal and emotional, spanning a variety of beautiful environments and providing tons of epic set-piece moments. The game also features a robust multiplayer suite, with fantastically designed maps to support the unique, cover-based gameplay. Its longevity lies in its vast number of achievements and the expanded difficulty settings — not to mention the waves of enemies to slaughter in the updated Horde mode.
Read our full Gears of War 3 review
Call of Duty 2
In 2005, the Xbox 360’s first-party launch lineup wasn’t particularly impressive. Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo failed to make much of an impact, but Call of Duty 2 was absolutely a “must-buy.” The World War II shooter’s excellent single-player campaign put players in the shoes of Russian, American, and British soldiers in their battle against the Germans, complete with famous historical moments like the D-Day invasion.
Call of Duty 2’s multiplayer was where the game shined, however, with great gunplay and an emphasis on slow, methodical combat that we no longer see in more contemporary shooters. With no killstreaks or customized gear to worry about, all that stood between you and your opponent was your skill on the controller.
With the Resident Evil series losing some of its campy humor in favor of all-out, action-packed horror, Capcom had a void that needed to be filled, and Keiji Inafune’s Dead Rising was just what the doctor ordered. Heavily inspired by George Romero’s classic film Dawn of the Dead, the game places photojournalist Frank West in a shopping mall overrun with zombies — not mutated, zombie-like monsters, but honest-to-god zombies.
The main draw of Dead Rising isn’t just the enemies you’re fighting, however, but what you will be fighting them with. In addition to guns, baseball bats, and explosives, Frank can go after zombies with a chainsaw, cutting them into a fine bloody mist, and he has a good time doing it. This is one game where the protagonist is not scared of what’s in front of him, and his carefree attitude toward the apocalypse is one we only recently saw a return in Dead Rising 4.
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
Assassin’s Creed II fixed many of the original historical action-stealth game’s flaws — its poor pacing, repetitive structures, and boring characters — but it was 2010’s Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood that stands as the best Assassin’s Creed game of the Xbox 360 generation. Further developing Ezio into a veteran assassin attempting to take down the corrupt Borgia family, the game’s story reaches a thrilling climax unlike anything else in the series, and great characters like Leonardo da Vinci provide plenty of humor as the story moves forward.
Where Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood broke new ground, however, is its Brotherhood system, which allows Ezio to call recruits for assistance during missions, or send them out on their own adventures to gain loot and experience. Signaling for an assassin to drop from the sky and murder an unsuspecting target is always a thrill, and it’s a feature that has been abandoned in more recent games.
Read our full Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood review
Ubisoft’s Rayman series had fallen into relative obscurity, with the spinoff Rabbids starring in several games while the limbless hero was left sitting on the sidelines. That changed with Rayman Origins, an inventive 2D platformer that built on the simplicity of the earlier games, but with a gorgeous cartoony visual style and some of the best level design the genre has ever seen.
The game was made even better by a whimsical soundtrack, hilarious enemy designs, cooperative play, and its emphasis on perfect execution and continued momentum is something we haven’t seen outside of the Sonic the Hedgehog series. A sequel, Rayman Legends, is also available for Xbox One, adding special musical stages on top of the established Origins formula.
Read our full Rayman Origins review
Saints Row: The Third
The Saints Row series leaned into its sillier elements with its second game, but it was Saints Row: The Third that sent the series off the deep end in a truly glorious way. With the Third Street Saints now living their lives as celebrities, their endorsements have caught the eye of a nefarious organization known as the Syndicate, setting the stage for a war that will determine the fate of Steelport.
Saints Row: The Third is goofier than its predecessors, with ridiculous open-world mayhem to rival the Grand Theft Auto series and cooperative play to make things even more hectic. There is no other game on the market that allows you to pummel your enemies into submission using an adult toy — perhaps that is for the best.
Read our full Saints Row: The Third review
Mark of the Ninja
Developer Klei has long been known for its gorgeous Saturday-morning-cartoon art style and eclectic mix of genres, and it was at the absolute top of its game with the 2D stealth platformer Mark of the Ninja. Blending the platforming of classics like Ninja Gaiden with the hardcore stealth of Splinter Cell, the game requires extreme precision if you want to complete it, with only a tiny window of time available before enemies spot you and blow you to smithereens.
While we haven’t received a sequel to Klei’s masterpiece yet, the game has inspired its share of imitators, including the three Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games. Those lack Mark of the Ninja’s gorgeous visuals, however, which is what ties the whole game together.
A surreal puzzle game with a twist, the object of Braid may be to save a damsel in distress while navigating six story-book worlds, but the clever puzzle design and mature story render it more enjoyable than your average Mario knockoff. The music and watercolor-like world you inhabit are bewitching, and the increasingly sophisticated use of time manipulation is brilliant, to say the least.
At a time when Activision’s Tony Hawk series was at the height of its popularity, Electronic Arts had the guts to challenge it with a skateboarding game of its own. Skate ditched many of the arcade elements found in its competitors, instead focusing on a realistic and relentlessly challenging version of the sport, complete with great skating personalities like Rob Dyrdek.
As with any skateboarding game worth its salt, Skate included a killer soundtrack of hardcore punk and hip-hop tracks, with artists like Bad Brains, Agent Orange, Black Flag, Dead Prez, and Rick Ross blaring in your ears as you attempted a sick kickflip that ultimately ended in a faceplant on the pavement.
Electronic Arts and Dice went head-to-head with Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 in 2011 with Battlefield 3, and the game managed to show a generation of first-person shooter fans what they had been missing. Blending environmental destruction with vehicular combat and enormous maps — even on the aging Xbox 360 — Battlefield 3 delivered a multiplayer experience that was bigger, louder, and more engaging than anything in Modern Warfare 3, and its “only in Battlefield” moments are still impressive six years later.
But the Battlefield 3 campaign shouldn’t be knocked, either. Taking a more realistic approach to modern combat and America’s role in the Middle East, the short story mode is nonetheless a roller coaster ride, and it ends with a bittersweet moment we weren’t expecting from a normally bombastic franchise.
Read our full Battlefield 3 review
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
The Xbox 360 gave players the chance to experience graphics more lifelike than anything they had seen before, and most of the system’s launch games took advantage of this technology to its fullest extent. Then there was Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. Originally included as a bonus game in Project Gotham Racing 2, the retro-inspired shoot-‘em-up game was simple, challenging, and addictive. It helped usher in a new wave of small-scale games on the Xbox Live Arcade platform when there was still a distinction between these titles and larger AAA games, and its popularity eventually led to two excellent sequels. Retro-style games are all the rage these days because Geometry Wars’ beautiful polygonal explosions helped pave the way.
L.A. Noire has developer Rockstar on the box, but the third-person shooting and thievery made famous in the Grand Theft Auto series play a very small part in this period piece. Largely an investigation and dialogue-driven adventure game, L.A. Noire’s post-war America is dark, depressing, and morally ambiguous, with the police force occasionally taking action that brings them down to the level of the criminals they’re trying to lock away.
Where L.A. Noire shines is in its complicated rock-paper-scissors interviewing system, which makes use of performance-capture faces that allow the player to pick up on visual cues to determine if a suspect is lying or telling the truth. Correctly determining when someone is trying to mislead you and pointing to the evidence in your notebook is incredibly fulfilling, and calling them out on a lie only to walk back your accusation and apologize two seconds later allows for some brilliant, unintended comedy.
Read our full L.A. Noire review here
Splinter Cell Blacklist
The Splinter Cell series has undergone its share of makeovers since it began in 2002, gradually changing from no-frills espionage into the character-driven revenge tale we saw in Splinter Cell Conviction. With Splinter Cell Blacklist, Ubisoft Toronto managed to create the best of both worlds, with a stealth-action gameplay loop that allowed for players of all types to enjoy Sam Fisher’s latest journey. From no-kill “ghost” runs to all-out assaults, there is no wrong way to play Blacklist, and its campaign is infinitely replayable as a result.
Blacklist also saw the return of cooperative missions, as well as the unique Spies versus Mercs competitive multiplayer mode, which is as addictive and chaotic as ever. No piece of the game feels like an afterthought — instead, they work harmoniously to create one of the most complete games we ever played, and one that is desperately in need of a sequel.
Read our full Splinter Cell Blacklist review
Assassin’s Creed II
The Assassin’s Creed series has had so many ups and downs over the years. Thankfully, if you ever forget why you’ve been returning to the franchise all these years later, Assassin’s Creed II will help you rekindle your love affair with the series. Enter the Animus to fly across rooftops and take down villainous Templars as Ezio Auditore, another ancestor of Desmond (one of the main characters from the first game). Assassin’s Creed II is arguably the crown jewel of the franchise, with iconic cities painstakingly re-created and excellent subplots featuring Leonardo Da Vinci. Though later entries would certainly improve on some of its systems, ACII remains the tightest entry in the series with the best balance between crazy sci-fi and secret history. After all, Ubisoft did decide to build an entire trilogy around Ezio.
Capcom expanded on the action elements introduced in Resident Evil 4 in the game’s sequel, resulting in a game that, while well-designed, lacked the horror that made its earlier games great. Visceral Games was there to fill that void, however, with Dead Space. The science-fiction horror game had all the tension of Resident Evil, and its Necromorphs were far removed from the zombies we had seen populating so many other games in the genre.
What made Dead Space stand out from the pack, however, was its violence. Gruesome and unrelenting, failure to complete a section of the game — sometimes just by making a small mistake — would result in an animation showing protagonist Isaac killed in a gloriously over-the-top fashion. It encouraged skillful play, if only so you wouldn’t have to watch your head get ripped from its body again.
The Walking Dead: A Telltale Series
Telltale Games earned a reputation over the last generation for its excellent story-based adventure games, covering franchises like Borderlands and Batman with great success, but it was The Walking Dead that helped elevate the studio to superstardom. The grim, emotional tale of Lee Everett and the young girl Clementine helped to separate the game from the other action-packed zombie games on the market, and Telltale had the guts to kill one of its leads in the finale, even as the second season continued the storyline.
Ditching the gritty, realistic look becoming increasingly popular by 2012, The Walking Dead’s comic-like art style helped make it feel like one of author Robert Kirkman’s books come to life, and its simple gameplay mechanics mean that it’s playable by gamers of all skill levels.
Read our full The Walking Dead review
DmC: Devil May Cry
Creating an alternate, rebooted universe with a new version of Dante was a bold move for Ninja Theory, but it paid off completely in DmC: Devil May Cry. The stylish action game features the same frenetic combat and grotesque enemy design as the original four titles, but its grounded characters and macabre tone was more in line with contemporary design trends than we had seen before. Dante is still a smartass, but his emotions no longer feel exaggerated, and the supporting cast around him fits the story perfectly.
Though DmC drops the action to 30 frames per second instead of the usual 60, you can hardly tell in the heat of combat. Most of Dante’s classic moves, including the “Stinger,” make their return, and his skills are put to the test in each of the game’s glorious boss battles.
Read our full DmC: Devil May Cry review
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and when 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot was first announced, its similarities to the Uncharted series were apparent — ironically, Uncharted received much of the same comparison to earlier Tomb Raider games when it was introduced. Crystal Dynamics didn’t just copy Nathan Drake’s adventures, but instead, used them as the starting point for a harrowing, depressing, and exhilarating action-adventure, filled with a degree of character development for protagonist Lara Croft that we simply hadn’t seen before.
With a large focus on stealth, puzzles, and environmental platforming, Tomb Raider isn’t as adrenaline-fueled as Drake’s excursions but it doesn’t need to be. Even its quietest moments are opportunities for you to take in its breathtaking world, and it’s one we weren’t ready to leave by the time the credits rolled.
Read our full Tomb Raider review
The Forza Motorsport series has a dedicated bunch of fans eager to race on the latest and greatest tracks with new supercars, but the games don’t have much appeal to non-gearheads. With Playground Games’ Forza Horizon, that changed in a big way. Throwing you into the mountains of Colorado with dozens of races and challenges to complete, the game is a true open-world racer, allowing you make your own fun instead of forcing you down a narrow progression system.
The spectacle moments in Forza Horizon are among the best on the Xbox 360, at one point tasking you with racing an airplane to the finish line, with its trail swooping and twirling in the sky above you as you slam the pedal to the metal. Forza Horizon doesn’t try to be “Forza, but in an open world,” but instead exists as its own entity — it’s both relaxing and exhilarating, and it’s a perfect game for those new to racing simulators.
Read our full Forza Horizon review
This generation’s Trials Fusion may have introduced freestyle tricks and additional challenges to the established motorcycle-platforming formula, but it was the Xbox 360’s Trials Evolution that saw the series at its peak. With a lineup of courses that tested your endurance as well as your mastery of the game’s sensitive controls, there is something here for just about any type of player, and the “Trials Trophy: campaign mode makes the game incredibly fun solo.
But it is when you throw another player into the mix that Evolution begins to shine. Racing against an opponent and taunting them as they fail at an objective that you managed to clear is one of the best feelings in the world, and managing to take first place in the legendary “Gigatrack” will award you bragging rights for at least a few weeks.
Read our full Trials Evolution review
Remedy Games developed a reputation for moody, atmospheric action games with an emphasis on sympathetic characters not found elsewhere in the genre, and its long-delayed Alan Wake is perhaps the best example of this. Starring a thriller author who discovers his own novel — one he can’t recall — while searching for his missing wife, Wake must uncover the truth all while being hunted by mysterious spectral creatures. With the use of traditional weapons as well as a flashlight capable of destroying the creatures, the game’s twist on third-person shooter hasn’t been replicated since, and its horrifying setting remains one of Remedy’s best creations.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
After decades of an ever-expanding Castlevania universe, Konami decided to reboot the series, and it tasked Spanish studio Mercury Steam with delivering a new take on the Belmonts and Dracula’s eternal battle. The result was Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, a game that teased its more sinister themes throughout an engaging action-adventure game that, while spooky and incredibly entertaining, felt like a Castlevania in name only.
That changed, however, when players saw the ending, which completely changed how the rest of the game was viewed. A final twist concerning Dracula and the game’s main character, Gabriel Belmont, was the perfect conclusion to Mercury Steam’s masterpiece, and it’s one that couldn’t be topped in either of the game’s sequels.
The original Xbox game Fable was hyped by Microsoft and developer Lionhead as one of the most ambitious role-playing games of all time, with an unprecedented level of world interaction and player choice, but the game failed to live up to fans’ expectations. This wasn’t the case with Fable II, which expanded on gameplay systems as well as the fantasy world of Albion. With a significantly larger world to explore, deeper choices, and the same knack for the goofy, chicken-filled charm of the original game, it remains the series’ high point.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Developer Starbreeze is best known for its intense first-person shooters such as The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, so the emotional adventure game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons came out of left field. But that didn’t mean the unique tale was any less impressive — its miss of exploration, which has the player control both brothers simultaneously, with simple and effective storytelling is something we rarely seen in video games, and its gorgeous art style underlined the game’s pathos with its simplicity.
Read our full Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons review
DJ Hero 2
The music game craze has certainly died down in recent years, but during the Xbox 360’s heyday, it didn’t get much better than DJ Hero 2. The game built on what made its predecessor so great, including its unique turntable controller and room for player creativity, and its setlist includes hits from artists like The Jackson 5, Busta Rhymes, Damian Marley, Rihanna, The Crystal Method, and even Donna Summer. For those more interested in serving as MC for a DJ Hero 2 party, there’s even an option to rap and sing along to the in-game tracks.
Read our full DJ Hero 2 review
Fight Night Champion
Electronic Arts introduced story modes into its Madden and FIFA series this generation, but its Fight Night series was a pioneer a half-decade earlier with the massively underrated Fight Night Champion. After former Olympic boxer, Andre Bishop is framed by police for a crime he didn’t commit, he must work through the boxing ranks to gain back control of his life, beginning with a bare-knuckle fight against neo-Nazis in prison.
The game’s narrative even affects the gameplay in key areas, with Bishop’s broken hand being unusable for the later rounds of a fight, for instance, and the simplified punching controls make it easier to execute strategies than in previous games. No longer allowing players to rely on one or two haymakers to win a round, you must make efficient use of your jabs and hooks if you want to knock your opponent to the map, but you can just as easily get put on your back if you tire yourself out too early.
Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter
Before near-future science-fiction became the gaming industry’s latest trend, Ubisoft broke new ground with Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. Taking place over just a few days, the game finds Captain Scott Mitchell and his team fighting off an enormous coup in Mexico City. Outnumbered and racing against time to keep the entire country from falling apart, Mitchell must make use of squad tactics and advanced military weaponry to stay alive.
Unlike the most recent Ghost Recon games, which have largely automated your squad’s tactics so you can focus on shooting, Advanced Warfighter makes you stop and think before every engagement. Failing to position your team correctly before a fight can lead to a quick death, but it just makes victories feel that much more monumental.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
Developers had tried and failed for years to adapt the South Park animated series into something worth playing, with racing games, shooters, and even dance games among the botched attempts. But it was Obsidian that finally realized the secret to a good South Park game is embracing the show’s simple animation, and with South Park: The Stick of Truth, the studio perfectly captured the look of the show, complete with all the gross humor we have come to expect.
The Stick of Truth is more than just a faithful adaptation, however. It’s a wonderful role-playing game, with old-school turn-based combat and classes inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien, mixed with plenty of crazy elements you’ll only find in a South Park game. A sequel, The Fractured but Whole, was released in 2017, with a free copy of The Stick of Truth available to all players.
Read our full South Park: The Stick of Truth review
Rare works best when it’s allowed to think outside the box and create something completely new and that is exactly what the studio did with Viva Piñata. Essentially a life simulation game, the colorful and (mostly) family-friendly title tasks players with raising a collection of living piñatas who must be protected from predators as the colony grows. Rare cleverly simplified the formula to allow it to be playable by all age groups, without eliminating the essence of the genre.
Viva Piñata saw Rare at its weirdest, and not just because of the goofy character designs and whimsical music. To create more piñatas, you have the option to make two creatures breed, resulting in a sequence reminiscent of 1970s adult films, complete with smooth jazz. It’s bizarre, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s everything we want from Rare.