The Xbox 360 wasn’t the most powerful console of its generation or the best-selling, but it was easily the most innovative. It was the first fully HD-capable console to hit the market, established what an online service should look like on a console, and its controller was so perfect that pretty much everyone has spent the last decade or so releasing only slight variations.
2005 | Neversoft
Red Dead Redemption may now be remembered as one of greatest video games of all time, but it actually wasn’t the first open-world western for the Xbox 360. That distinction goes to Gun, another tales of revenge set in late 1800s America. Like Red Dead Redemption, Gun features a large map full of bandits and wild animals, and tons of side activities like poker and bounty hunting.
Admittedly, the story isn’t quite as good as Red Dead Redemption, and as a launch title, it doesn’t look nearly as good either. Since it was released at the very beginning of the console cycle, Gun also showed up on the PS2, GameCube, and the original Xbox, but the Xbox 360 version is the only one in glorious HD.
24. Eternal Sonata
2007 | tri-Crescendo
A game set on the deathbed of Polish composer Frederic Chopin doesn’t sound like a must-play, but somehow it works. With only occasional interludes set in the “real world,” Eternal Sonata weaves a whimsical tale about saving the world and facing one’s own mortality.
Clocking in at only about 20 hours, this is also one of the shorter JRPGs around, but the excellent soundtrack (of course filled with Chopin pieces) and beautiful graphics more than make up for the game’s slight shortcomings.
23. Earth Defense Force 2017
2007 | Sandlot
There’s nothing fancy about Earth Defense Force 2017: it’s just you, a bunch of guns, and thousands of giant bugs across sprawling, fully-destructible cityscapes. It’s far from the best looking game on the Xbox 360, and the voice acting never won any awards either, but damn is it fun.
While the more recent sequels have added more depth to the series, EDF 2017 is still the perfect go-to game for a lazy Saturday afternoon of mindless action gaming. Even better, a friend can drop in for couch co-op and double the bug-blasting.
22. Blue Dragon
2007 | Mistwalker
Blue Dragon is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The storyline isn’t particularly memorable, the characters can be downright annoying, and some gamers have just moved on from traditional turn-based JRPGs.
But for those looking for a JRPG that feels more like the first few Final Fantasy games (and that was even written by the series’ creator), but with a few modern twists, they’ll be hard pressed to find a game better than Blue Dragon.
21. Project Gotham Racing 4
2007 | Bizarre Creations
The only racing series that Microsoft backs anymore is Forza, but it was actually the Project Gotham series that helped put the Xbox on the map, and the fourth game is easily the best, featuring dynamic weather, motorcycles, and a killer soundtrack of licensed songs. Forza Horizon may have incorporated some ideas from Project Gotham, like gaining bonus points for skilled driving, but it still doesn’t have the same handling and style that Project Gotham Racing 4 had. Or motorcycles.
Every now and then, a rumor surfaces online that Microsoft is looking to reboot the series or release a fifth entry, but unfortunately, that just doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now.
20. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
2011 | Relic Entertainment
Warhammer has never been the most accessible property, and even the video games based on the franchise have tended to lean toward more strategic and time-consuming gameplay. That’s why it was so refreshing to see a game that focused on a single space marine hacking and slashing through hordes of enemies. Admittedly, it wasn’t the most original concept or gameplay, but Warhammer just looked cooler, even if I didn’t really understand the wider universe.
Unfortunately, the game sold pretty poorly, and its publisher, THQ, went bankrupt soon after, so the chances of seeing a Space Marine sequel or even a remaster look extremely low right now. The closest you’ll get to dystopian science fiction Warhammer these days is 2016’s Space Hulk: Deathwing on PC.
2006 | Human Head Studios
Don’t confuse this Prey with the reboot from Bethesda, the two titles have almost nothing in common aside from a name. This Prey plays a lot more like Quake 4, but with the addition of portals that transport you all over a vast alien ship and Native American spirit walking to aid you when solving puzzles. Add in regular clips of a faux alien conspiracy radio show hosted by the late Art Bell and you have an innovative title that no one has matched more than ten years later.
While the 2017 reboot is a great game in its own right, a direct sequel featuring an open world and bounty hunting missions was canceled in 2014, so it doesn’t look like we’ll be revisiting the original Prey any time soon.
2010 | Cavia
Nier was widely panned when it was first released, but other than the slightly lacking graphics, it’s not really clear why. Nier has one of the better, more mysterious stories of any Xbox 360 games, and the world nails a sorrowful tone that few others match as the titular main character searches for the cure to the Black Scrawl that’s ravaging his daughter.
If nothing else, it’s worth checking out Nier to see the genesis of some of the systems that were greatly improved in the excellent Nier: Automata.
17. Too Human
2008 | Silicon Knights
The gaming press loves to rag on titles with exceptionally long development cycles, and few games have taken longer to develop than Too Human. The title was originally announced for the first PlayStation back in 1999 as a cyberpunk game. Development then moved to the GameCube and Silicon Knights didn’t really talk about the game for five years until it resurfaced as an action RPG with a futuristic Norse setting.
Most of the criticism upon its 2008 released revolved around Too Human’s use of the right analog stick for combat, which is not nearly as bad as most reviewers made it out to be. The planned sequels could have even been really special, but Silicon Knights infamously made unauthorized use of Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 in developing the final version of the game and was ultimately sued out of existence.
16. Alpha Protocol
2010 | Obsidian Entertainment
Picture a secret agent thriller mixed with the RPG mechanics of Mass Effect. Then give it a shoestring budget to see what happens. Alpha Protocol has its problems. It’s a janky game and the gunplay is severely lacking, but it’s also one of the greatest spy stories ever told in gaming.
If you can look past its flaws, Alpha Protocol will hook you. It’s just too bad that Sega didn’t put more money in the game. Obsidian has expressed interest in a sequel (and has made some amazing games in the last few years), so the timing could be right to resurrect the title.
2010 | Cave
Microsoft has always had trouble attracting exclusives from Japanese developers, but somehow it became home to a sizable number of shoot ‘em ups. The best of the bunch is Deathsmiles, a horizontal horror shooter that lets you choose from four different anime girls, each playing very differently. While it doesn’t win any points for originality, the enemy design is unique, and the game is a blast in co-op.
Deathsmiles received a physical release in North America and even shipped with an Xbox faceplate. Its sequel, Deathsmiles II, is only downloadable from Xbox Live, but it’s also worth checking out if you dig the first game.
14. Dante’s Inferno
2010 | Visceral Games
Dante’s Inferno is what would happen if a remedial high school student wrote a book report based only on the cover of The Divine Comedy and late night Cinemax. It’s far from faithful to the source material: fighting unbaptized babies as they shoot out of Cleopatra’s nipples is either a high point or low point for video games, depending on how you look at it.
So while it may not have won any accolades from English professors, its God of War-inspired gameplay won over a lot of gamers who followed Dante into the depths of hell. I’d argue that some of the levels and enemies are even more creative than anything Kratos has faced.
The game’s ending heavily hinted at a sequel, and there are still two more parts of The Divine Comedy that EA could defile, but despite solid reviews and sales, it looks like this was effectively the end of Dante’s adventure.
13. Divinity II
2010 | Larian Studios
The Divinity series has been experimenting with the turn-based roots of the RPG genre to great acclaim these past few years, leaving this last-gen gem buried in the dust. Divinity II was Skyrim before Skyrim knew what it was. Featuring a vast world and wide open gameplay, the real hook of Divinity II was the ability to transform into a dragon. Even Skyrim didn’t add the ability to ride a dragon until its final DLC.
Add in crafting, tons of loot, and a deep conversation system that even includes the ability to read minds, and you have a forgotten RPG that’s still worth checking out today. It’s even backwards compatible on the Xbox One.
2010 | Black Rock Studios
The last console generation produced some fantastic arcade racers… and then they just stopped all of a sudden. While Burnout Paradise is still lauded as the peak of the genre, Split/Second was arguably an even better game. It’s certainly bigger and crazier. The object of each race isn’t just to win but to perform stunts to build up a “power play” meter. Triggering the meter could mean dropping explosives on an opponent, opening up a shortcut, or completely changing the track.
It was awesome, it was creative, and even though it sounds complex, it worked remarkably well. And for creating such a great game, Black Rock Studios was promptly rewarded with closure notice from publisher Disney Interactive. Oh well. Maybe one day we’ll get a sequel or spiritual successor.
11. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
2012 | 38 Studios
So much of Kingdoms of Amalur felt so right. The backstory of the world was crafted by respected fantasy novelist R.A. Salvatore. Legendary comic book creator Todd McFarlane was responsible for the art direction. And even though the developer, founded by MLB pitcher Curt Schilling, was new, it managed to create an RPG with smooth action gameplay rarely seen in the genre. It seemed like Amalur had all the pieces to be the next big thing.
Unfortunately, it came out just a few weeks after release that 38 Studios was not the best-run company, and it promptly defaulted on a loan from the state of Rhode Island, spurring a scandal there and even an SEC investigation. Bankruptcy wiped out 38 Studios, and no publishers have shown interest in resurrecting the once-promising Amalur property.
2010 | Raven Software
The Xbox 360 was a crowded platform for first-person shooters, and with juggernauts like Halo and Call of Duty around, it was hard for any other titles to get much attention. Singularity didn’t add any revolutionary features. It’s just an extremely solid FPS with an awesome time traveling story involving Soviet technology and mutants, and as the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Metro series have proved, mutants and Soviets are an amazing premise for a game.
Raven Software hasn’t followed up Singularity with a sequel or even developed another game on its own since 2010. Instead, the developer has been assisting with Call of Duty titles for years now, so someone at Activision clearly recognized the talent behind this game.
9. Beautiful Katamari
2007 | Bandai Namco
The fourth entry in the Katamari series received a slightly less enthusiastic reception due to the departure of series creator Keita Takahashi. The thing is, unless you read about that beforehand, you’d hardly notice his lack of influence. You’re still rolling up everything into a giant ball. The King of All Cosmos is still super weird and flamboyant. It’s still the bright, awesome, creative Katamari that we all know and love, but this time it’s in HD and even adds online multiplayer.
Originally developed for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the PS3 version was canceled before release, but most of Beautiful Katamari’s levels eventually made their way to the PS3-exclusive Katamari Forever.
8. The Saboteur
2009 | Pandemic Studios
World War II and open-world games were a dime a dozen on the Xbox 360. But somehow Pandemic took two of the most saturated genres and crafted something original with The Saboteur. Rather than focusing on the war itself, you play as an Irish racecar mechanic aiding the resistance in Nazi-occupied France. And while the gameplay isn’t revolutionary, the game has style for days. Nazi-controlled areas are mostly black and white, but completing missions and aiding the resistance slowly brings color back to the world.
While not a AAA title, The Saboteur is a really solid B+ game worth checking out. It was the type of game that Pandemic excelled at, but unfortunately, that wasn’t quite good enough for EA, and the studio was shuttered after releasing this game.
7. Shadows of the Damned
2011 | Grasshopper Manufacture
If you haven’t yet experienced the wonderful madness of a Suda 51 game, you need to stop whatever you’re doing right now and track down one of his titles. While Suda isn’t afraid to experiment, Shadows of the Damned is arguably his best and most accessible work thanks to input from Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami.
Shadows of the Damned plays a lot like Resident Evil 4. You shoot a bunch of demons and eventually face the lord of Hell himself, but with Suda’s trademark weirdness (your sidekick is a talking skull), and a bunch of penis jokes.
6. DJ Hero
2009 | FreeStyleGames
In the late 2000s, Activision could release anything with plastic instruments included in the package and it would sell a million copies. Then, the company got greedy and started releasing way too many spin-offs that no one wanted and the whole genre died a slow, undignified death. It’s the reason why virtually no gaming stores will take old guitar controllers for trade anymore.
Anyway, in the midst of flooding the market with some truly lackluster game, FreeStyleGames created an innovative music game that used a turntable for a controller and featured a ridiculously rocking soundtrack of more than 90 original mixes of well-known songs. In another era, this could have been the start of a long-running franchise, but since the bottom fell out of the rhythm game market around this time, we’ll have to settle for just DJ Hero and its equally groovy sequel.
5. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows
2008 | Treyarch
The gaming press is currently swooning over Insomniac’s upcoming comic-inspired open-world Spider-Man game, but it’s still not clear if it will live up to this underrated open-world gem from a decade ago. Web of Shadows features fully upgradable combat, the ability to switch between the classic Spider-Man suit and the black suit at will, different paths depending on player choice, and an awesome original story focusing on the symbiotes that draws in characters from every corner of the Marvel Universe.
Somehow, many reviewers hated this game, which pushed Activision to refocus the series on more linear titles like Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time, with mixed results. Few comic fans who have played Web of Shadows dislike it though, so it’s worth checking out while waiting for Insomniac’s game.
4. Tales of Vesperia
2008 | Bandai Namco
While the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series continue to get most of the hype, Bandai Namco has been quietly building one of the best JRPG series ever with its Tales franchise. Almost all of the Tales games are worth playing, but Vesperia is arguably the best. The main storyline is typical JRPG fare. A quest to save a neighborhood quickly turns into a quest to save the world. The cast is extremely charming, and the action-oriented battle system, which plays more like a fighting game than a traditional RPG, puts everything else in the genre to shame.
An enhanced port of Tales of Vesperia with two new playable characters and full voice acting was released on the PS3 only in Japan, but Bandai Namco announced at E3 that it will finally be coming to the Xbox One, PS4, and Switch worldwide later this year.
3. Spec Ops: The Line
2012 | Yager Development
Shooters have become so routine that most gamers barely even think about what they’re doing when they play them. Point the weapon at the bad guy. Shoot. Move on to the next bad guy. Continue until the credits roll. While the core gameplay of Spec Ops: The Line doesn’t stray from that formula, the story, full of symbolism and influenced by works like Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, is unlike anything else in the shooter genre.
Spec Ops is a game that explores the real effects of war, and the impact that playing these types of games has on us. It’s not something that many gamers want to think about, which is exactly what makes it so important to experience.
2. Lost Odyssey
2008 | Mistwalker
In terms of gameplay, Lost Odyssey is a pretty traditional JRPG. The combat is turn-based, but the Aim Ring System, which uses equipable rings to change various combat effects is kind of unique. Of course, combat always takes a backseat to story in these types of games, and luckily Lost Odyssey has one of the best stories of the genre.
Playing as an immortal who has already lived 1,000 years is an unforgettable experience, and while the main story’s exploration of immortality is interesting enough, what really sets the game apart is the visual novel interludes that flesh out Kaim’s life over the previous millennium.
1. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
2010 | Ninja Theory
There is just so much to like about Enslaved, from the post-apocalyptic future ruled by angry mechs to Andy Serkis’s amazing performance as main character Monkey. While the storyline is influenced by the 16th-century Chinese novel, Journey to the West, it’s not afraid to explore its own ideas, including one of the most memorable and bittersweet endings in gaming.
While sales for the title were strong, they weren’t quite good enough to justify a potential sequel. Ninja Theory has delivered some strikingly innovative games since then, including Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, but few gamers would complain if its first project since being acquired by Microsoft was an Enslaved sequel, or even a remaster.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor. Read all of his work here.