The Top 50 underappreciated Xbox games
Microsoft's debut games console, the Xbox, made a big impact on gaming, but not all of its games got the attention they deserved...
Gah. One of those lists that's split over more than one page? It's okay, we hate them too. As regular readers know, we only split very long articles, and the split is as minimal as possible. Apologies, but it seems to make sense to break top 50s over two pages.
Here's the rest of our countdown...
25. Deus Ex: Invisible War
It may often be seen as the black sheep of the Deus Ex family, and as a sequel to the divine PC original, it was certainly lacking, but Invisible War was still a fine game in its own right, as long as you could just let it go, something most fans couldn’t manage. PC gamers in particular were livid about the game, and still are to this day.
It had a graphics engine that undeniably pushed the Xbox a little too far, but the Deus Ex staple of open-ended encounters and a rich, detailed world were kept in tact, and the story, which took place after both the original game and Human Revolution, was interesting, bringing back most of the original game's characters and story threads.
Ion Storm may have made some dubious decisions, with far too simplified RPG elements, inventory systems and the uniform ammo system, but even the worst Deus Ex game is better than most others, so if you've missed it, or avoided it due to the myriad of complaints, ignore them, and give it a try.
24. X2: Wolverine's Revenge
There really aren't many X-Men games that do the subject matter justice. Most end up as lame movie tie-in or wasted opportunities, but this often overlooked entry actually got a lot right.
Wolverine's Revenge focuses on the most popular X-Men mutant, and delved into the canuckle head's origins, seeing him travel to the Weapon X facility to cure the Shiva virus, a condition implanted in him during his incarceration as Weapon X.
The game was a third-person scrapper with heavy stealth elements, and this worked well for the character. As Wolverine wasn't on top form, he had to make use of his stealthy abilities and heightened senses to get the drop on foes, and this made for some truly challenging stealth play, and it also delivered a great videogame incarnation of Wolverine. Here he was more than just a flurry of adamantium claws, but was a predatory beast, using the most of his skills to best his foes. As it should be.
23. Blood Omen 2
This was the actual sequel to the original Legacy Of Kain: Blood Omen, and wasn't part of the Soul Reaver series as such, but instead ties the two stories together. In this, players controlled the Soul Reaver antagonist, the vampire Kain. Kain awakes after 200 years to find his army gone and the vampire-killing Sarafan in control. He has to brave the dangerous city of Meridian, home of the Sarafan Lord, to defeat his nemesis and retrieve the powerful Soul Reaver sword.
The game was very much a Tomb Raider-style adventure, only it utilised a slower paced melee combat that featured blocking and dodging. Kain could acquire and use a number of powers, and stealth was often his best option. There was a host of puzzling, as well as boss battles, and it was a really good addition to the series.
Sudeki was a great little RPG that many may have missed, as it didn't do all that well. Primarily a third person RPG, Sudeki features multiple main characters with unique skills and real-time combat. Depending on the character, combat could be either third person (melee), or first-person (ranged), and outside of battle puzzles had to be solved, also using character abilities.
It was a good looking game, very similar in many ways to the likes of Fable, and it boasted an anime aesthetic, with an interesting world and plot. The varied skills of the main party of characters kept changing things up, this stopped things becoming too repetitive.
21. Steel Battalion
There's a big reason that this game failed to make it as big as it should have, and that's the controller. Steel Battalion made use of a massive DIY controller that cost well over $200 - not a good way to attract the masses.
If you were lucky enough to own the game and the expensive controller you had what was, and arguably still is, the best mech game around. The controller really made the game, with a range of levers, buttons and lights that made controlling a mech very realistic. You really did feel like you were piloting a powerful, giant robot of death. The game was damn hard too, and was designed for the true mech fan.
Sadly, because of this niche target audience and massive price, it didn't sell very well, and so many will never get the chance to play it, which is a big shame.
20. Fusion Frenzy
One of the more interesting launch titles for the Xbox, Fusion Frenzy was a pure party game, designed to take advantage of the console's four way, local multiplayer capabilities. It featured a selection of characters, admittedly rather bland ones, that could compete in a number of mini game challenges.
The 20 or so mini games were varied and included some great modes such as various styles of racing games, sumo-style elimination bouts, rhythm games and much more, with a Power Stone-style battle rounding off each zone. This was all presented with some great sci-fi visuals.
Party games are often overlooked by many, especially those who prefer solo or online titles, but Fusion Frenzy was an excellent value title for a post-pub blast. It did get a sequel on 360, however.
19. Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs Death
As well as the earlier 2000AD Rogue Trooper title, Rebellion also released this Judge Dredd FPS, and like Rogue Trooper, this was actually pretty damn good, and was another clear sign that the devs knew what they were doing with the license, possessing a true love for the comic (which is more than can be said for the awful movies so far).
The FPS is a perfect fit for Judge Dredd, and the game brilliantly reproduced the comic book creation, with a colourful, but still dark Mega City One, tons of references to the comic, even some highly obscure ones, and some decent FPS play. And, it gave fans what they wanted, to go up against Dredd's arch enemy, Judge Death and his Dark Judges.
Although the boss fights were a little lacking, and could have been much more creative, this was a good, challenging FPS, and it's certainly the best Dredd game out there, not that there's a great deal of them.
18. Operation Flashpoint: Elite
The port of the PC military shooter (winch became ARMA after licensing disputes) was an impressive release on the Xbox, and it incorporated everything that made the PC original so good. It featured the vast, wide open islands, multiple story lines, and missions that could often be tackled in any way your saw fit. It also brought with it the game's punishing difficulty, thanks to the highly realistic setting and damage system.
You played as a number of soldiers, from an up-and-coming grunt, to tank and chopper pilots. Some of the best missions featured the game's covert ops sections, where you often had to traverse enemy territory under the cover of darkness and foliage. These were incredibly tense, and realistic, far more so than any of today's major military shooters. Multiplayer was also fantastic.
17. Kung Fu Chaos
Like Fusion Frenzy, Kung Fu Chaos was another party game, but this one focused on martial arts combat, and saw players utilise the various game characters to make a fictional kung fu movie. When a level was complete, you could even watch the movie back, and marvel at your sheer skill (or lack of it).
Visually it was cartoon thrills all the way, and the game was packed with parodies of famous martial arts movies and stars. The various movie set stages all featured specific styles, with various hazards that had to be avoided whilst fighting your way through, such as aliens, dinosaurs and other themes from Hollywood.
The game was fun when played solo, but this was all about the multiplayer, and even so early on in the Xbox's life, this was, and still is one of the best multiplayer games on the platform, and it had exploding pigs.
16. Conker: Live And Reloaded
This was essentially a HD remake of the N64 adult platformer classic, with hugely improved visuals, better audio and an interesting multiplayer component thrown in to make use of Xbox Live.
Like the N64 original, the main game was a cutesy solo platformer, but this was no kids game. As Conker, the drunken squirrel, you begin the game after a particularly heavy night in the local boozer, and have to get home to your shapely love interest. Unfortunately, this journey home isn't so straightforward, and the Panther King needed a new leg for his coffee table so he can drink milk without spilling it. Luckily for him, red squirrels are just the right size, and so he sets his sights on Conker. Yes, that's the story. Really.
What followed was a slick and challenging platformer that featured all sorts of adult humour, including some very literal toilet humour in the form of the Great Mighty Poo. Puzzles, violent melee combat, and plenty of parodies of famous movies like A Clockwork Orange, Terminator, The Matrix and Saving Private Ryan were featured, and the multiplayer was a class-based third person shooter that didn't get the attention it deserved, as it was actually pretty fun. A really solid game that didn't do all that well, probably due to the cute image mixed with adult content confusing parents everywhere.
And, as we can't resist, here's the Great Mighty Poo in action.
15. Thief: Deadly Shadows
Ion Storm's sequel to Deus Ex may have been questionable to many, but its effort in the Thief series was far better, even if it still failed to sell all that well, a curse the whole series has suffered.
Deadly Shadows utilised the enchained power of modern tech of the time to bring Garrett back to our screens in a city that contained masses of detail, albeit with smaller locations and missions, and a pointless, and thankfully optional, third-person view. These missions, however, were Thief, through-and-through, something the recent Thief from Eidos Montreal failed to reproduce. In fact, Deadly Shadows is a superior game to the latest outing in almost every way, and it captured not only the proper feel of the city, but protagonist Garrett, and the other factions that contributed to the series' unique feel, again, something the new game totally missed, and outright cut out. Oh, and it had the Shalebridge Cradle mission, which is one of the single most terrifying gaming experiences ever.
If you're looking for a true Thief game on console (and so can't play Thief I or II), dig Deadly Shadows out and ignore the new release.
14. Call Of Cthulu: Dark Corners Of The Earth
The works of H.P. Lovecraft aren't the usual subject for a console survival horror as many simply don't know enough about them for it to be commercially viable. However, long before the likes of Amnesia and Slender Man, Call Of Cthulu was scaring the pants of people and making the run away in terror.
Call Of Cthulu: Dark Corners Of The Earth was a horror FPS that included stealth elements as well as various unique features for the time, such as no visible HUD, adding to the immersion. The game's main character was also a mentally unstable detective, who had to investigate a strange town. On arrival, this town threw players into a fast-paced effort to escape foes by blocking pursuers with doors and finding escape routes. Eventually weapons and combat were introduced, and the traditional survival horror theme of limited resources was prevalent.
The atmosphere was great, and constantly dark and foreboding, and the Lovecraftian horror fit the genre perfectly, offering something a whole lot more interesting than already done to death zombies or simple ghosts. A great FPS survival horror, and one that deserved more attention than it got.
13. Cold Fear
The GameCube, and eventually the PS2 had a major gaming advantage over the Xbox in that they both got a copy of the excellent Resident Evil 4. The Xbox never got this, but it did have a good alternative in the form of Cold Fear.
This mostly ignored survival horror featured the same third-person style as Resident Evil 4, along with some impressive graphics and effects, such as the constant rocking of the boat the game initially took place on. It featured many of the tropes already laid out by Resident Evil, and although it was admittedly not as good a game as the Capcom series, it was a perfectly fine option for those without a GameCube or PS2.
12. Shenmue II
Initially a Dreamcast exclusive, Sega ported the second Shenmue game to the Xbox, and included a mini movie showing the events of the first entry. Unlike the Dreamcast original, this port featured a full English vocal track.
Shenmue II was already a superb game, and the Xbox version tweaked it using the power of the system, and gave it the potential to reach a larger audience. It could have even given the series a platform to continue on following the demise of the Dreamcast. Alas, this wasn't to be, and despite the quality of the game, it didn't sell, and Shenmue ended up in limbo, where it still resides today.
11. Jet Set Radio Future
Jet Set Radio (also called Jet Grind Radio) was another Dreamcast title that made the jump from Sega's machine to the Xbox, and this was a very good jump indeed. Jet Set Radio Future featured the same cel-shaded action as the Dreamcast original, along with a great soundtrack, but it was designed to be bigger and better, with a new story, new artwork and more open levels and multiple mission objectives. It featured user-created graffiti tags too, and multiplayer, a constant theme of Xbox ports, where developers wanted to make the most of the excellent Xbox Live service.
Many insist that this isn't as good as the Dreamcast original, and we'd agree, but it's still a great title, and one of the best, and most unique Xbox games. Understand, understand, the concept of love.
10. Phantasy Star Online: Episodes I & II
Yes, it's yet another Dreamcast title ported to the Xbox, and it's also the first online RPG that worked on a console. Sega's Phantasy Star Online was a fantastic online RPG. It wasn't an MMO as we know them now, but instead was smaller in scale, allowing up to four people to team up in instanced dungeon crawling. Combat was real time, instead of queued up attacks, and it featured a host of weapons, magic and loot to collect and upgrade. It could be played solo, but to get the most out of the game, this was online all the way.
A large and loyal community grew with the game, and many Dreamcast owners purchased an Xbox just to carry on playing their beloved title. Still, it failed to do anywhere near as well as it did on Dreamcast, despite the larger user base for the Microsoft console. Sega may have killed it off in recent years with a reluctance to forgo a subscription model, but in its day, this was a brilliant, if simple MMORPG.
9. Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath
Surely the best outing of the Oddworld series, Stranger's Wrath was a peculiar stealthy title that featured all sorts of clever, trap-based FPS combat and third-person platforming.
As the titular bounty hunter, the Stranger, players had to utilise all sorts of living creatures as ammo on his special crossbow. Creatures could be used to lure foes, attack them, stun them and more, with the goal of capturing foes alive for bounties, which the Stranger could claim at the nearest township.
Set in the Oddworld universe the game was every bit as quirky as any of Abe's adventures, and it was a truly unique title that looked as good as it played. Sadly, it was missed by most. A HD version has since been re-released digitally, though, so if you missed it on the original Xbox, make sure to check it out.
8. Mercenaries: Playground Of Destruction
This game did make it to a sequel, but its second outing was nowhere near as good as the original. This was an open-world sandbox title in the style of a militarised GTA. Players picked one of three mercenaries to play as and were sent into a fictional DMZ war zone between North and South Korea to tackle a large number of missions and side quests.
All sorts of weapons and vehicles could be found, and using the game's black market, a wide selection of air strikes and support could be called in, with devastating results (it wasn’t called Playground Of Destruction for nothing). There were a number of mission-giving factions, including the Allied Nations, South Korea, and Russian Mafia, and missions were varied and well implemented into the large open warzone.
The main focus of the game was to locate and either capture or kill the deck of 52, the major officers and commanders of the game's antagonist, the North Korean army, and unlike the sequel, it never devolved into QTE events or cheap tricks. It as pure action all the way, and it was brilliant.
7. Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter
Starring Henry Rollins as the voice of Mace Griffin, this was a sci-fi FPS that put players in the shoes of Mace, an intergalactic bounty hunter on a mission to clear his name of a crime he didn't commit. It sounds cheesy, and it was, but the gameplay more than made up for it.
The game was split into two sections. The on-foot FPS sections were rock solid, and very difficult in places. There was a collection of satisfying weapons and interesting locations, and it looked great. Accompanying these were the space combat sections where Mace would pilot his ship, taking down enemy fighters before docking with his intended target and proceeding on foot. All of this flowed seamlessly together, with no loading between the ship and on-foot sections.
It was one of the best FPS tiles on the platform, and some would even argue it was better than Halo. You may or may not agree with this, but regardless, this is an FPS that should have been more popular.
6. Jade Empire
It's hard to imagine a BioWare RPG being less than a system seller, but Jade Empire was an experiment that didn't quite work out as well as other BioWare projects, despite being a great game all the same.
Set in a fantasy far east world, the game was similar in style to the Knights Of The Old Republic games, but ditched the point and click-style combat for real time martial arts and magical attacks. You could pick from a number of different martial artists, each of whom specialised in certain styles. Along the way other combat styles could be learned, each of which granted whole new attacks and move sets.
It was a visually beautiful RPG, with some amazing environments, and the eastern-style was very unique for the genre, replacing the usual magic or mana with Chi and other eastern themes.
We've covered this on its own elsewhere on the site, and it's a game that's criminally overlooked. Namco's Breakdown was flawed, sure, but it was also an ambitious and brilliant FPS that featured a hand-to-hand combat system that actually worked, and a slow-burning, but interesting story with twists and turns keeping things interesting throughout.
Interactions with everything from drinks cans and ration bars, to guns and vehicles were realistic, and once you got used to the combat system and acquired some of protagonist, Derrick Cole's super powers, you really did feel like a superhuman, able to take down foes whole squads of soldiers failed to scratch. Great stuff.
4. Beyond Good And Evil
Okay, regulars of the site will be all too familiar with our love for the Ubisoft classic, Beyond Good And Evil, and although we prefer to keep lists unique for platforms where possible, this is one game that deserves to be mentioned whenever relevant. It was multi-platform, and we included it on PS2, but the Xbox also got this amazing adventure, and it was every bit as good, if not better than the others.
Jade's adventure against an invading alien force, armed only with her staff and camera is simply unforgettable, and it's so good we just can't understand why it flopped so badly. It's available in HD form now via Xbox Live Arcade, and rumours of the sequel are constantly flying around.
3. The Punisher
The Batman: Arkham games have become known as the best comic book adaptations in gaming, and that's perfectly correct, they're brilliant. But anther excellent comic book hero game that nailed the subject matter was Marvel's The Punisher from THQ and Volition.
A third-person shooter and torture simulator, the game accurately portrayed Frank Castle's anti-hero, and didn't skimp on his trademark violence and disdain of the criminal underworld. It also included plenty of Marvel cameos, including Iron Man and Nick Fury, as well as a selection of super villains like the Kingpin and Bullseye.
It was a rare example of a nigh-on perfect comic book adaptation, and the many missions spanned a decent selection of locations, including the Ryker's Island prison and Stark Towers. And, Frank is voiced by Thomas Jane, the only decent movie Punisher.
Created by Tim Shafer, Psychonauts was a simply brilliant 3D platformer that took place in the minds of various disturbed individuals as protagonist, Ratz, explored their psyches in order to train as a Psychonaut, a psychic spy.
It featured the trademark humour Shafer's studio is known for, along with striking visuals and some fine platforming play. The range of psychic powers acquired opens up a host of possibilities, such as telekinesis, clairvoyance and pyrokinesis, and these were used in both combat, and to solve the game's many puzzles.
It was a truly unique take on the overpopulated genre, and so it's so unfortunate that it failed to do well on its initial release. Like a few of the titles on this list, however, it's now available digitally, so be sure to check it out.
1. Phantom Dust
We're willing to bet you've probably never heard of this, which isn't surprising as it had hardly any hype at all at release, and so didn't sell. It should have, though, as it was fantastic.
Phantom Dust mixed together third-person combat with card collecting, and it did so superbly. You could pick from over 300 different power cards, and form of a deck of attacks and skills which you could use against your opponent in frantic battles. There were over 100 single player missions, and many locations featured destructible environments.
As well as the extensive solo content, the game also boasted a great multiplayer mode via Xbox Live, and it supported DLC, adding even more card skills. It was all set in an anime-style post apocalyptic world with impressive visuals and addictive gameplay. It's developed quite the cult following, but has so far failed to muster up a sequel, and despite both fans and the game's producer,
Yukio Futatsugi, wanting another outing, Microsoft has so far demonstrated little interest.
That's our list, and you may or may not agree with some of our picks. Which games would you place in your own selection? Let us know in the comments as always.
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