15 Best Xbox 360 Games Ever

As the Xbox 360 stores shut down, we look back at the best games from the best Xbox console.

Xbox 360 Best Games
Photo: Xbox Game Studios, EA, Valve

While Microsoft’s current console strategy almost seems directionless, there was a time when the Redmond-based company was on the verge of conquering the North American console market. The Xbox 360 kicked off the seventh generation of consoles in 2005, launching a full year ahead of the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii with a solid lineup of exclusives, an easy-to-use dashboard that was arguably still better than what most systems have today, and an online infrastructure years ahead of its competitors. 

And it just got better from there, as the Xbox 360 kept up a steady stream of exclusives across multiple genres, popularized digital distribution with console gamers and greatly expanded the system’s capabilities with the revolutionary Kinect camera. This was the best time to be an Xbox gamer, though it’s a distant memory at this point. The Xbox 360 hasn’t seen a new game in years, and at the end of July, its online store will close for good. As we prepare to say goodbye to Microsoft’s best console, it’s time to look back at the best Xbox 360 games.

Forza Horizon

15. Forza Horizon

For all of Xbox’s problems, the consoles actually have been home to a lot of great exclusive racing games over the years, starting all the way back in 2001 when Project Gotham Racing launched with the original Xbox. Forza Horizon seemed like a culmination of everything Microsoft and Playground Games learned about the genre, combining the more arcadey aspects of the Project Gotham series with some sim customization aspects of the Forza Motorsport games.

Then as a bonus, they added in a cool festival vibe with a fantastic soundtrack and a massive always-online open map of Colorado. Later Forza Horizon games are definitely better and just kept adding more great features. But the first game is still worth going back to for its solid racing and a huge amount of content.

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Lost Odyssey

14. Lost Odyssey

Just how good was Microsoft during the Xbox 360 era? They managed to secure an exclusive RPG that many still say is superior to the last few Final Fantasy games. That was no accident either. Lost Odyssey was co-written by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, who also brought along series composer Nobuo Uematsu to handle the music.

Admittedly, Lost Odyssey‘s turn-based combat is a love-it-or-hate-it affair. If you grew up on games like this during the PS1 era, it’s a fantastic throwback. What will keep you going no matter what, though, is the deep story about an immortal man who must deal with his reemerging memories while trying to save the world in the midst of a magic-industrial revolution. 

Rock Band 2

13. Rock Band 2

Some will say Rock Band 3 deserves this spot. Here’s the thing: the third Rock Band is a great game in its own right (and of course you can import most of the songs from the first two games), but it just added too much unnecessary fluff. The game didn’t need keyboards. Rock Band 2 was the perfect party game with just guitars, drums, and vocals. And with artists ranging from Devo and Elvis Costello to Nirvana and Tenacious D, it had the best on-disc soundtrack of any game in the series.

But perhaps most importantly (and I admit, this is rather obscure, but still a really good, reason), only Rock Band 2 for the Xbox 360 supported the stage kit peripheral: a ridiculously awesome little add-on that put on strobe lights and pumped out fog while you played each song.

Gears of War 2

12. Gears of War 2

The first Gears of War was a system seller thanks to its cutting-edge graphics and then-innovative cover shooter gameplay. However, its sequel is what made it Xbox’s second biggest franchise after Halo. The stakes were higher than ever as the COG army took the fight directly to the Locust, with all the obligatory improvements that go along with a big-budget sequel.

But what really gave the game legs was not just the traditional competitive multiplayer, but the new cooperative Horde mode. Even after 15 years and multiple sequels, the Gears of War franchise still hasn’t quite topped this epic installment.

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11. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

The Call of Duty franchise really came into its own during the Xbox 360 era, growing from a really good World War II shooter into the sales chart-topping juggernaut it still is today. Admittedly, it’s really hard to pick the best game in the series to appear on the console. The multiplayer of the first Modern Warfare game was revolutionary, and the first two Black Ops games are really strong packages all around.

However, Modern Warfare 2 is still arguably the high point of the franchise thanks to its campaign full of twists and turns that feel straight out of a blockbuster Hollywood action film and a multiplayer suite that includes some of the very best options and maps of any game in the series. It’s still hard to top getting a 25-kill streak and ending the match by dropping a nuke on the opposing team.

Batman: Arkham City

10. Batman: Arkham City

It’s kind of weird to think about it now, but before the Arkham series came along, there was a question about whether anyone could even make a great 3D Batman game. Plenty of developers had tried, and while there had even been some fantastic 2D efforts, nothing was particularly memorable. Arkham Asylum proved good 3D Batman games were possible, and the sequel, Arkham City established that they could hang among the all-time greats.

This is the open-world Gotham City you always dreamed of exploring, where the Dark Knight can effortlessly glide between buildings, stalk criminals from the shadows, or beat up supervillains with expert-level martial arts. And it’s all wrapped in masterful writing and voice acting from many of the people who worked on the beloved Batman: The Animated Series.

The Orange Box

9. The Orange Box

Valve’s output has been so sparse over the last decade that it’s hard to believe the developer once launched a package of five full games in one day. And it still holds up as one of the greatest releases of all time. While much of The Orange Box is made up of previously released games (Half-Life 2 and its two follow-up episodes) Team Fortress 2 and the original Portal made their debuts with this collection.

Unfortunately, the console version of Team Fortress 2 never received the same updates the PC version did (though you might even be able to find people playing it on Xbox 360 today). Still, all five titles remain hugely influential. Pretty much every FPS of the last two decades has tried to emulate Half-Life 2 to some degree, and the original Portal remains one of the funniest and most creative games ever made.

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8. BioShock

With more and most big-budget games designed with wide commercial appeal in mind more than artistic vision, it’s hard to imagine a game like BioShock coming from a triple-A publisher nowadays. This is a title that unapologetically adopts style and themes from the early 20th Century that aren’t exactly going to appeal to the mainstream and its tough choices about whether to save or harvest each Little Sister isn’t exactly something the marketing department is going to embrace.

But because the game is so fearless in its vision (and thanks to combat mechanics that still hold), BioShock is just as great now as it was when it was released in 2007. If anything, its message about the dangers of falling for the utopian ideals of business tycoons is more relevant than ever.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

7. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim has been re-released so many times over the years that it’s easy to forget that it first came out for the Xbox 360 in 2011. Obviously, this isn’t the best version of the game. The visuals pale in comparison to the Anniversary Edition, and it lacks any of the more recent Creation Club content (though the Dawnguard, Dragonborn, and Hearthfire add-ons all saw release on the Xbox 360).

But if you can get past all that, what remains is one of the all-time great open-world RPGs. The massive province of Skyrim is here in all of its glory, with all of its secrets and almost endless customization to be the wizard, warrior, or whatever of your dreams. You could still do a lot worse than playing the Xbox 360 version of Skyrim right now.

Portal 2

6. Portal 2

The first Portal was almost more of a proof of concept of how the portals could be used to solve puzzles, albeit a fantastic one that became the fan favorite of many gamers who played it as part of The Orange Box. Portal 2 took the core concept of the portal gun and added a whole host of brand new ideas like repulsion gel and tractor beams for some of the most creative puzzles ever seen in a video game.

But what really puts Portal 2 in a class of its own is the hilarious writing. This is a game that features career-best performances from the likes of J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant with some of the sharpest dialogue ever put into a game. And who could forget the return of GLaDOS only for her to be stuck in a potato who tags along for part of your journey?

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Fallout: New Vegas

5. Fallout: New Vegas

Released only two years after the landmark Fallout 3, New Vegas was initially criticized for being too similar to its predecessor. The myriad of usual glitches that came with the Gamebryo engine didn’t help either. But more than a decade after release, and with the benefit of a little extra polish, I can confidently say the critics got it wrong. New Vegas is the pinnacle of the Fallout franchise.

The setting is fantastic, full of memorable characters like Mr. House, The King, and Benny, plus it features the series’ sharpest writing. Most importantly, this is a game that values role-playing above all else. You’ll have to make some really difficult choices about which faction to side with as the battle for Hoover Dam approaches. And your decisions do matter here, as each ending is radically different for the future of the Mojave Wasteland.

Grand Theft Auto IV

4. Grand Theft Auto IV

Yes, Grand Theft Auto V is also on the Xbox 360, and it is a tremendous game (though definitely not best experienced on an older console). But even if GTA V added more features and has a much larger world, I still contend that Grand Theft Auto IV is the better game. After the series got pretty absurd with San Andreas, GTA IV was a welcome return to a more grounded world. There are so many little details that make the game feel more realistic, like needing to stop to pay tolls, that aren’t anywhere else in the series.

But what really sets GTA IV apart is the story of Niko Bellic, a European immigrant trying to escape his dark past and find the American Dream. This outsider perspective allows Rockstar to satirize 21st-century American culture better than any other title to date.

The Mass Effect Trilogy 

3. The Mass Effect Trilogy 

Maybe it’s bending the rules a bit, but the Mass Effect games are so interconnected that it’s impossible to just pick one for a list like this. Sure, the first game’s gameplay is a little rough (yet perfectly serviceable), but the next two games made massive leaps forward in terms of combat and exploration. While ostensibly RPGs, these are titles that are just as appealing to action and shooter fans.

But what really makes this trilogy so beloved is the world-building. Much like Star Wars, BioWare crafted a universe that truly feels lived in. There’s so much rich galactic history to uncover here, even for the most minor of planets and alien races. Even now, it’s still easy to get lost in Mass Effect’s Milky Way for dozens of hours.

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Red Dead Redemption

2. Red Dead Redemption

Rockstar could have just made Red Dead Redemption as “Grand Theft Auto with horses,” and it would have been a great game. But it’s the thought and detail put into each moment in Red Dead Redemption that actually elevates it above Rockstar’s other open-world franchise. It never feels like you’re just going from mission to mission. You instead feel as if you’ve discovered a new part of a living world, whether that means encountering a bobcat in the wild or a public hanging in a town. This is a world that goes on whether or not you’re a part of it.

And of course, that’s one of Red Dead Redemption’s many themes. Progress marches on, whether or not you’re ready for it. It’s this deep storytelling that makes it such a fantastic bookend for the GTA series. If Grand Theft Auto examines the decline of modern America, Red Dead Redemption is a send-up of its messy, oft-romanticized, but still troubling origins.

Halo 3

1. Halo 3

Halo 3 is a great game even now. It features one of the best campaigns in the series, fulfilling the trilogy’s promise to “finish the fight” against the Covenant once and for all, and it’s an absolute blast to play with three friends. But to really appreciate its greatness, you kind of had to be there when it was released back in 2007 when the multiplayer servers were still online and lobbies were always full.

While Halo 3 was far from the first FPS to hit Xbox Live and take advantage of the Xbox 360’s new features, it was the first to truly become a phenomenon. When it came out, odds were most of your friends list was online and ready to go. Gamers across the country could form parties to take on strangers from around the world in rounds of Slayer and Capture the Flag. And yes, everything you’ve heard about how brutally toxic those voice chats were is completely true. But damn, was it ever fun. There may never again be a multiplayer experience quite like Halo 3 in its heyday, and there is no better example of why the Xbox 360 was such a special console.