Everyone has that one console that has been integral to the growth of their gaming identity and though the N64 was my first personal console, the Xbox 360 was when I first had disposable income. I had the opportunity to explore the medium like never before. It was great. There were so many influential games that were released during that time and that helped me to better understand what it means to be a great game.
Like all my lists, I have limited it to one entry per series, which is great because this list could have been the top 50 games on the system. Microsoft’s sophomore console initially had its issues and it was a breeding ground for poor industry practices that persist to this day but many franchises were born or evolved during this time too. There are no perfect consoles but the 360 generation (PS3 included) is unmatched when it comes to how many quality games were released. With that let’s unmask the first entry on the list.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
The Arkham series was born during the 360’s generation. Though the series has had many highs and lows since Arkham Asylum’s release in 2009, there hasn’t been a game in the series that has matched the perfect fun house feeling of the first. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum and Batman must rescue the Asylum’s staff while taking control back. All the while, Batman must face off against some of his most infamous villains, while the Joker jeers from the sidelines.
Though the combat is beginning to feel limited in its age; the aesthetic, writing, voice acting, and predator sections make the game feel as fresh as it did back in the day. I only wish the newer games could feel as focused as this original entry. As it is, if you haven’t experienced the first entry in the Arkham series, it still is a treat to play and if you need more convincing, check out my recent revisit of the game for more details!
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Assassin’s Creed was experiencing a renaissance of its own with the Ezio trilogy of games. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is the 3rd game in the series but the second in Ezio’s story and polishes everything that Assassin’s Creed 2 introduced. You play as a more seasoned Ezio, who is much more comfortable in his role as an assassin, as he works to liberate Rome. Along the way, you can build you own assassin army and send them on their own missions to build your coffers back home.
Easily, my favorite parts of these games are the collectables that lead to better armor and Brotherhood has some of my all time favorites. There are shop quests, building quests, Uplay rewards, and flag collectables that all work towards unlocking new armor pieces. But easily the best unlockable is the Armor of Brutus which can only be unlocked after the player has beaten all the Romulus Lairs. If you want to feel like Indiana Jones, then you should definitely check them out.
Gears of War 2
Gears of War 2 had the tricky situation of following up one of the surprise hits of the 360’s launch. It not only did that but made many of the original’s features better. The game picks up a little after the events of the first Gears of War. Marcus is set on finding a way to stop the Locusts while Dom tags along and searches for his wife. The lore of the Gears universe has always been more interesting than the actual plot of the games. The idea that a subterranean race is running away from their corroding home so they brought the conflict to the surface and now are in a war for survival with humanity is incredibly engaging. There’s mystery to the enemy’s origins and a sense of survival for humanity. Gears 2 did a great job at making it feel like it was humanity’s last stand.
The gameplay can be really fast, especially for a third person shooter, and the weapons all feel distinct and unique. Gears of War 2 was also the introduction of the series’s horde mode and helped to establish a multi-year trend of games creating PvE modes. It’s a great game and I wish I still had a way to play it regularly. Maybe I’ll buy an Xbox just to relive the golden age of Gears.
Call of Duty 4
This won’t be popular. Call of Duty 4 remains my favorite Call of Duty for its classic maps, in both its multiplayer and campaign; its revolutionary multiplayer; and its simplicity. I could not tell you what the campaign is about. None of the Call of Duty plots have ever stayed in my brain but we never play them for the story, do we? We play for the fast paced action. The reason why COD 4 is listed instead of MW2 or Black Ops is because it was one of the last Call of Duty’s to be a game. What I mean is that as the series aged, people took it more and more serious and wanted the game to remain the same but different.
The multiplayer rarely felt as innovative or fun to play with friends as it used to. It just started to feel sweaty, whether that is my age talking or genuine complaint, I’m not sure. The campaigns meanwhile slowly became more and more outlandish with more and more forgettable characters. It became so bad they had to bring Captain Price back and we were all supposed to celebrate like it was a revolutionary act but in reality Activision just won’t let its developers create intriguing characters or stories. Cod 4 still remains a fun time during its campaign and, if you can find a match, it has one of the most well defined multiplayer experiences that anyone can pick up and play.
Left for Dead 2
There are few sequels that make their predecessors completely obsolete but Left for Dead 2 does that and then some. Not only did it launch with a whole new set of campaigns and a new multiplayer mode but it would eventually include the original game’s campaigns and maps for free. The campaigns can be quick but the AI director helps to make each playthrough feel fresh and infinitely replayable. Valve even added a katana; no zombie game is complete without a katana
The game stays fresh despite its age and still has a dedicated community of players on the PC. Left for Dead 2 even got a new update the other month! It’s wild that a game from 2009 would still receive new official content from its developer after being ignored for years but here we are. Maybe we’ll see some sequel news one day?
The first I had heard about Portal 2 was in the hallways of my high school when a group of kids were dancing around exciting that the “cake game” was getting a sequel. I wasn’t familiar with Portal at the time but I watched the announcement trailer and was immediately intrigued. I went off in search of The Orange Box so that I could play the original game and then returned to GameStop later in the week to preorder the game.
Portal 2 combines all of my favorite things: Excellent writing, memorable characters and unique gameplay. You play as Chell, as she attempts to escape Aperture Science (again) but this time in a full length action packed game. The first portal was more of a tech demo in some aspects so it didn’t have time to flesh out its world that much but Portal 2 helps to add depth to the world and some of gamings most cherished characters. I can’t imagine the series can innovate more than it already has, but I hope one day Valve can find a way to bring us back to Aperture Science.
Halo 3 might be the game I have the most time recorded in; it was the first game I bought for the 360 and the first online game I ever experienced. Halo 3 is the culmination of six years of industry evolution and storytelling. The plot focuses on tying a (loose) bow on the Covenant and Human war and sees Master Chief and the Arbiter return once more to remove the lying Prophets from their levitating chairs. It has the best campaigns of the original trilogy and has the most varied sandbox to play around in.
I had so much fun before I even had Xbox Live exploring every level until I thought I knew every nook and cranny. Of course, I would learn years later that I still had a lot to learn about the levels but you can read about that experience during my LASO revisit. Halo 3 has one of the only multiplayers that I can still return to in my aging youth. I don’t have time anymore to keep up with the kids but I can get down for some Swat on Guardian any day of the week.
Fallout: New Vegas
Another potential controversial entry on the list, Fallout: New Vegas is the best first person Fallout released so far. The story is simple. You start out as a courier shot dead in some backwater town but are saved by a shady cowboy robot and a kind doctor. Your sole mission in the beginning is to find the man who shot you but it becomes so much more as you unravel the reason for your attempted assassination. By the end, you could even take over the New Vegas Strip for your own devices, at least from a plot perspective.
My favorite parts of this game are the things that it has that Fallout 3 doesn’t have. The first being more ways to navigate the different quest lines. The options feel a lot more open to interpretation compared to 3 and there are a lot more quests. Fallout 3 you could easily beat and only play a handful of side quests; New Vegas hits you with a new quest every few feet. It also has the best reason to explore locations, legendary weapons. These weapons are unique and powerful but you can only find them if you completely explore a given location. Finding the weapons made me want to explore the entire Mojave wasteland and any reason to explore an open world is usually a great addition.
The entire Dead Space series started and ended during the 360 generation but that just makes it all the more special. The original Dead Space was a masterfully done example of survival horror from beginning to end. Isaac and crew arrive on the derelict mining ship USG Ishimura, where they become stranded and have to deal with a strange alien infestation. The game takes a lot of inspiration from horror series like Alien and Resident Evil for its enemy and combat design.
I am extremely picky when it comes to my survival horror games. The genre is one of my favorite but they often are lacking in one of two categories: the premise or the fear. Luckily for a generation of gamers, Dead Space had checked both boxes for two of its three games. In fact, I was so young and innocent when the game originally released that I was too scared to finish the second chapter for weeks! I would love to see an addition to the series but it’s looking more and more that it might be finished forever but at least we have Dead Space. Glen Schofield is working on a new project though so hopefully that will bring me the Dead Space vibes that I have been craving for the past 8 years.
I love Bioshock. Actually, I love the entire series. It’s one of the only franchises where I believe every entry is a quality release. However, the original Bioshock is the closest to perfect of the three games in the series (so far). From the fun gameplay, to the elements of horror and mystery, to the absolutely bonkers twist at the end of the game, Bioshock seems to hit every beat that is required for a hit video game. My biggest regret is that it took me until Bioshock 2’s release for me to even consider picking it up.
Walking through the halls of Rapture captured my imagination. I loved the art deco style of the buildings, the objectivism propaganda, and the environmental story telling of the city and its inhabitants. It felt like such a well crafted world and there are few games that are able to achieve such a feat. I just wish 2K would announce anything concrete about the series. There have been whispers for years but I guess we just have to keep waiting a little while longer.