If there's one thing gamers love, it's top 10 lists.
I haven't done one of these in awhile and I was in the mood, so I figured I'd tackle the original Xbox.
Why start there?
I consider the big black beast to be a truly "dead" system—there sure aren't any more games coming down the pipe for it, and I've had ample opportunity to track down and try every game for the system that caught my eye. My Xbox has been packed up and in storage for months, and I'm feeling pretty good about calling this my definitive list.
One quick note: some of you may be wondering why a few great titles aren't on the list, so I'll say that I either didn't like them or they also appeared on another console. I haven't included anything that was a multi-console release—these are titles that make their home on the Xbox, and the Xbox alone. (...and no, the PC doesn't count.)
Without further ado, and in alphabetical order:
Arx Fatalis: A first-person RPG featuring real-time combat and an interesting magic system, this game was smaller and more focused than Morrowind, yet told a better story and was a lot more personable and exciting than King's Field. It probably wouldn't hold up very well today, but it struck a great balance and kept me captivated until I saved its underground kingdom.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay: I hated Pitch Black and I never bothered to see the sequel. Also, I'm hardly what you'd call a Vin Diesel fan. Yet despite the fact that this game had two strikes against it before I even put it in the console, it was impossible not to be impressed with the sophistication and quality of this title. I think I knew I was in for more than the average FPS after a surprise prison cell ambush that happens early on, and the game was full of clever moments like that all the way until the end.
Crimson Skies: The High Road to Revenge: Truly one of the best titles on the Xbox, I'm quite shocked that there hasn't been a sequel announced. I fell in love with the sky pirate motif almost instantly, and the game had tons of quality action for fans who can appreciate aerial combat.
Galleon: If this game hadn't hit retail as absurdly delayed as it did, I really feel like it would have been one of those history-making, genre-defining titles. The rough graphics were enough to turn most people away, but those who got past appearances were treated to some truly inspired design choices and an adventure that rivals any of its contemporaries. A title that was ahead of its time, yet so late that the industry had already left it behind.
Jade Empire: Bet you didn't guess this would be on here. I admit it, I'm a pretty devoted BioWare fan, and although Jade Empire isn't their best work, BioWare's ‘okay' stuff is miles and miles better than most developers can ever hope to achieve. I liked the Asian theme, the story was well-told for the most part, and although they shied away from it in their next game, Jade Empire gets props for giving players the option of pursuing a straight, gay, lesbian or FFM romantic encounter - or none at all.
Panzer Dragoon Orta: Although I personally think the best game in this unique, stylish series is Panzer Dragoon Zwei on the Sega Saturn, Orta is a fine shooter in its own right and well worth playing for anyone who can appreciate the tight, reflex-based gameplay and fantastic setting.
Shenmue II: Not only is this game one of the best for the Xbox, it's one of the best games I've ever played, hands down. It certainly has its share of problems, but Yu Suzuki was reaching for the stars when he put this together, and he came pretty damned close to hitting the mark. Ryo Hazuki's exploits while trying to track down the man who killed his father are a great mix of action, characterization, open-world exploration, and sheer storytelling. The final segment of this game (nothing but dialogue and a peaceful setting) was pure genius in a game full of brilliance.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: BioWare again, no surprise. What can I say? This game told a better tale and had more memorable characters than the last three Lucas films combined. Not only is it a solid RPG any way you slice it, it handles the Star Wars elements deftly and with more reverence than the man who actually created them.
Tork: Prehistoric Punk: I'd be willing to bet that this particular selection caught most of you by surprise. Haven't even heard of it? Released as a budget title late in the Xbox's lifecycle, there was no reason at all to suspect this game of being anything more than a cheap piece of shovelware, but it's actually a very tight, tuned platformer with quality production values and a great sense of style. The bosses were a little on the cheap side (okay, maybe a lot on the cheap side) but it still delivered a surprisingly quality experience.
Tron 2.0: Killer App: A superb FPS, this game managed to not only deliver absolutely solid action, it takes advantage of its source material (Disney's seminal 1982 film) better than just about any licensed game I can think of. Positioned as an actual sequel to the film, the level design was fantastic and capitalized on the unique neon visuals the movie is known for, and kept mission goals and enemy varieties completely in line with the themes established onscreen. This is the perfect example of how to make a licensed game correctly—it fits perfectly with its inspiration, yet would still be a great experience if you stripped all the Tron-ness out of it.
So there you have it, my top 10 Xbox list. Disagree with my choices? Have some suggestions of your own? Post a comment or send me an e-mail and let me know what you think.
(And BTW, anything mentioning Halo will be automatically vetoed—Bungie may be a bunch of really nice guys that have their shooting nailed down, but they can't design a level or tell a story to save their lives.)