At its launch in 2013, backwards compatibility was not in the cards for the Xbox One. In the stiff competition of home consoles, getting to market first is seen as such an advantage that no amount of begging from fans to bring old games to new consoles will make a company slow down development. If the architecture is similar enough and it’s easy to do, sure, backwards compatibility is a great feature, but it’s not enough on its own to generate sales.
Imagine everyone’s surprise when Microsoft announced at 2015’s E3 conference that they were bringing an emulator to the Xbox One that would allow Xbox 360 games to be played on the current gen console.
Before we get your hopes up, not every game was ported over to the Xbox One. There are some notable holdouts, such as Grand Theft Auto: IV and Batman: Arkham City. Also, while many games have been ported over to the current generation, not all of them play as well as they do on the previous Xbox. Certain games suffer from framerate and stability issues to the point where you might as well hook up your old 360 again if you really had a hankering for some last-gen gaming.
On the other hand, some games actually benefit quite a bit from the Xbox One’s beefier specs. Games with unlocked frames, such as Call of Duty 2 or Shadow Complex, actually run noticeably smoother thanks to the Xbox One’s upgraded hardware.
If you’re a new gamer looking to fill in your library, or an older one who maybe wasn’t paying too much attention, here’s a few amazing Xbox 360 games you should totally pick up.
15 Dark Souls
There’s a reason why most third-person action adventure games nowadays are referred to as “Souls-likes.” The genre certainly existed well before Dark Souls came along, but it somehow seemed to refine the genre to its very essence. It managed to harken back to the heady days of Nintendo and Sega Genesis, when gaming was all about punishing new players and forcing them to learn from past mistakes just to make it another few minutes in.
Let there be no mistake: Dark Souls is hard. The game will kill you, over and over again, until the mere feat of surviving is something to be celebrated. Those with an online connection can summon help from other players, or ask recently deceased ghosts of players for a few helpful words carved on a soapstone, but by and large, the game is about trial and error.
Don’t let these words of caution fool you - despite the difficulty (or perhaps because of it), Dark Souls can be the purest, most thrilling game experience you’ve ever had.
14 Red Dead Redemption
2010’s game of the year was bound to make it on this list. Rockstar games took a bit of a departure from their Grand Theft Auto series and instead made a western themed sandbox adventure game. Because of its open world nature, some call it Grand Theft Auto with horses, but that sells Red Dead Redemption short. Being set in a desolate Wild West gives it a feel that no urban jungle can compare to. You can explore your surroundings on foot or on horseback, engage in shootouts with hill bandits, or even just gamble your life away in the local saloon.
But it was the plot that made Red Dead truly stand out. Taking a page right out of classic Western movies, you play as a former outlaw blackmailed by a nascent FBI to find and capture your former gang-mates. Along the way, you’ll save a town from bandits, hunt for outlaws, and even help in a Mexican rebellion.
If you’ve got a craving for more West World while they film season 2, this is definitely a game to scratch that itch.
13 Gears of War
Third of the third-person action games to cross our list, Gears of War is much different from our previous two entries. Whereas Red Dead Redemption and Dark Souls are all about exploration and story, Gears of War is all about testosterone, waist high walls, and fists bigger than your head. I can practically smell the dirty gym shorts from here.
Gears of War takes place on a fictional planet named Sera that just happens to be inhabited by humans (albeit with some bizarrely heroic proportions) as it defends itself from a subterranean horde bent on world domination and destruction. If that sounds like the plot of a cheesy Saturday morning cartoon then you’ve nailed it. This game is all about run and gun, balls to the wall action, and everything in it supports that ethos - including the comic book proportions of its characters.
The first Gears came out very early in the 360’s life, so it’s certainly possible you missed it. If you have, go pick it up now while it’s cheap before it becomes a classic game.
12 Fallout: New Vegas
We’re all about open-world action RPGs today. Made by Obsidian Entertainment, Fallout: New Vegas is the fourth major installment of the Fallout franchise, and my personal favourite. Where Fallout 3 was all about plot and characters and trying to make a radiated wasteland into a verdant paradise, New Vegas is all about killing everything your eyes can see.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of Fallout in New Vegas. There’s still Deathclaws and Pip-Boys and VATS, but there’s a very different feel to the game. Instead of weapons being balanced for challenge, they’re made to feel like real guns that can be improved to make the player feel more powerful. Crafting is greatly expanded so that knowledgeable players can get an edge on the desert’s dangerous denizens. And for the real simulation nuts there’s Hardcore Mode, where players will need to manage food, water, sleep and even bullet weight in order to survive.
The Ultimate Edition includes all the DLC, and you can run it on the Xbox One with just a single disc. You owe it to yourself to play this one.
How’d you like to be a bespectacled witch who uses guns, blades and high heels to dispatch angels and demons alike? Then I have good news for you! In Bayonetta, you can do all that and look damn fine doing it.
Bayonetta is brought to us from director Hideki Kamiya of Devil May Cry fame, and it shows. Much of what made his previous games great have found their way into Bayonetta, such as ludicrous over the top action, an end of level skill rating that tells you how well you did, and a story straight out of anime. What sets Bayonetta apart is one word: “sexiness.” Everything Bayonetta does - from walking down the sidewalk to cartwheel-kicking hordes of minions - is sexy.
Sex sells. Bayonetta is one of best selling action games Sega ever published.
10 Deus Ex: Human Revolution
I’m beginning to think the late 2000s were all about the action RPGs. When we get to a title that’s not, I think I’m going to have to sing a little song to commemorate the occasion.
In the meantime, we have Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the most mainstream the cyberpunk genre has ever gotten. You play as Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT officer turned million dollar man after an apparent terrorist attack left him critically injured. As you pursue the shadowy organization behind the attacks you upgrade your body with advanced augmentations, making you better at shooting, sneaking, hacking and slashing.
There’s also a Director’s Cut edition, which features improved enemy AI and better boss arenas. These improved battles allow stealth-oriented players to defeat bosses with the same ease as their more combat-centric brethren. If you’re looking to pick up this game, I strongly recommend the Director’s Cut, which you can play on your shiny new Xbox One.
The spiritual successor to System Shock, BioShock takes the player on a roller-coaster ride of action-horror spliced with biopunk (which is like cyberpunk but instead of circuits and lasers it’s all genes and pheromones). Along the way, you’ll get access to 1960s era weaponry and superhuman powers bestowed by a mysterious substance called “ADAM.”
The boss fights with the imposing Big Daddies —giant, gene-spliced people grafted into armoured atmospheric diving suits— are among the most memorable parts of the game. These iconic fights give way to the series’ trademark morality-based story, which gives the player a choice: do you sacrifice the weak to fuel your own growing power, or do you shepherd the needy and save the day? How you choose will speak volumes about you both as a player and a person.
8 Mass Effect 2
Phew! After all the excitement of a first-person shooter, it’s good to get back to the comfortable familiarity of a third-person action RPG.
Mass Effect 2 is better than most other RPGs, having won a slew of awards from media outlets and developer conferences. It was one of the most consistently high rated games across all platforms, and was particularly praised on the Xbox 360.
Play the game, and it’s not hard to see why it deserves all the accolades. Take the cover-based combat of Gears of War, add some futuristic, magical powers, and combine that with the plot of the best space opera of our generation, and you’ve got not even a fraction of what made Mass Effect 2 one of the best games ever made.
If you missed it, you need to grab a copy right this instant.
7 Call of Duty: Black Ops
I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of military-themed first-person shooters. It’s sort of a “been there, done that” realm of gaming that just holds little appeal now.
That said, I make a special exception for Black Ops.
The game follows the story of a CIA operative who’s been captured and being interrogated. His assailants are trying to get the location of a numbers station which is about to release a command to sleeper agents who will attack the US with chemical weapons. The story is told through a series of combat flashbacks where the player assumes the role of the protagonist and fights their way through such exotic locales as Cuba, Vietnam, and even the Arctic. It all plays out like a Tom Clancy novel on steroids, and I’m a big Tom Clancy fan.
There’s even a multiplayer that people still play — if you get a hankering to start murdering real people.
What’s this? Our first indie title? Well, you know it has to be good if it can rub shoulders with giants like Mass Effect 2 and Dark Souls.
Braid is an action platformer where you quest to save the abducted princess by jumping on your enemies and squishing them. So far it sounds a lot like a certain Italian plumber, but wait, there’s more. Next add time manipulation abilities, allowing the player to rewind time as far as they like - even after death. Now Braid sounds like Mario crossed with Prince of Persia.
Now add a haunting soundtrack, a gorgeous hand-painted world, and a story so compelling you’d think it was directed by Christopher Nolan.
Braid is another game that you’re doing a disservice to yourself for missing. Go pick it up.
5 Borderlands 2
I was a big fan of the original Borderlands. It was a quirky, first-person, sci-fi loot-em-up with a lot of style, and that drew me into playing it for hundreds of hours.
The sequel to Borderlands is all that and so much more.
You start off marooned in an icy waste with nothing but your wits and your gun to help you survive Pandora’s numerous deadly inhabitants, all while being taunted by a wisecracking villain oozing sarcasm with every word. Eventually, you team up with an inept robot, a one-armed big-game hunter, and the heroes of the original Borderlands to take down your tormentor in a final battle both hilarious and poignant.
It also won a ton of awards and has a billion DLCs that just add even more ridiculous characters for you to interact with, including what maybe the best DLC of all time, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep. Even just writing about it makes me want to spend another 1000 hours in this game, and you will too.
4 Fable 2
I have this weird quirk that in any game that gives me the option of playing as a fat guy, I take it. It’s just not a path many games provide you, so whenever it comes up, I can’t help but go down the road less traveled.
Fable 2 gives you a lot more than just the option to gorge yourself on pies until you’re the fattest hero in the land. The entire game is riddled with moral choices, and each one will display a physical consequence on the player. Good and pure players will cart around with blond hair, blue eyes, and a halo, like some kind of Arian angel. Start murdering innocents and eating puppies and you’ll grow horns and a tail.
If a deep and rich world of very British high fantasy is your thing, this game is for you.
3 Worms 2: Armageddon
Worms is an extremely old game from the MS-DOS era where you play against an opponent (either real or AI controlled) with a team of artillery-toting worms. That’s right - your soldiers are all earthworms armed to the teeth. Along with this ridiculous premise is a plethora of ludicrous cartoon voices to taunt and gripe while bullets are flying and bombs are dropping. Top it all off with weapons like Street Fighter’s Dragon Punch and the deadly Exploding Sheep, and you have a pretty good idea of why this game is a fond enough memory to warrant you purchasing it to play today.
While Worms is mostly designed to be played against a real opponent sitting across from you on the couch, Worms 2: Armageddon features a full single player campaign. Y’know, just in case you’re a game playing hermit-like some of us.
2 Portal: Still Alive
Portal was a 2007 short puzzle game that took the world by complete surprise. Portal: Still Alive is the Xbox Live Arcade version of the game and is considered to be the best version of Portal made.
Being released shortly after the Xbox 360, it’s totally possible you haven’t already played this game. If you haven’t, here’s a short synopsis: you play as a laboratory captive trying to escape from a homicidal AI using a gun that lets you teleport around via portals. As you’re solving nefarious obstacles standing between you and freedom, the acerbic AI both taunts and instructs you in level progression - at times offering you cake, while at others offering you a slow and painful death.
As with most games on this list, Portal has won more awards than I care to mention, so I highly recommend you give it a go.
Our last title to be featured is yet another indie title from Xbox Arcade: Torchlight. Brought to you by some of the guys who made Diablo and Diablo II, and featuring the designer of Fate, Torchlight is a tremendous loot-based dungeon crawler.
Unlike its demonic focused precursors, Torchlight is a bright and vibrant world, full of colourful effects and smooth animations. As you delve deeper and deeper into the various dungeons that dot the landscape, you’ll find yet more powerful tools to dive ever onward into the jaws of evil.
There’s a ton of replayability as well, with each level being procedurally generated, 3 separate character classes to choose from, and the ability to pass on an item to a new character whenever you complete the game.
Torchlight is probably the best dungeon crawler to be found on the 360, and it looks just as good on the Xbox One. Go pick it up, and you'll be glad you did.