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Hidden Gems For The Original Xbox

When the original Xbox launched on November 15, 2001, Microsoft was, for the first time in a while, the new kid in an already-established market. The software giant certainly had a strong pedigree in PC gaming, but home consoles? Uncharted territory. It was completely fair to wonder if an American-made machine could stand toe-to-toe with established players like Nintendo and Sony, or even hope to achieve what the faltering Sega Dreamcast had in terms of install base and name recognition.

What followed was the start of a legacy. Fueled by successful titles like Halo: Combat Evolved and Fable, impressive third-party exclusives like Ninja Gaiden, and a healthy dose of sleeper hits like the ones you'll find below, the first member of the Xbox family laid a solid foundation for later consoles like the Xbox 360 and Xbox One to build upon. If you played games on the original Xbox, you lived in the world of Gamertags and out-of-the-box broadband support. And if you still play games on the original Xbox, it is your duty to check out the hidden gems we've uncovered here.

Otogi: Myth of Demons was the predecessor to Dark Souls

Otogi: Myth of Demons is a hidden gem developed by none other than FromSoftware, now famous for the Souls series of games, as well as for Bloodborne. There are traces of Souls DNA found in Otogi, a hack-and-slash title about an assassin who disregards orders to kill his father, steals an ancient sword, unknowingly rips a hole between the human and demon realms, and is recruited to save the world from said demons and atone for his sins. There's fun to be had in the game's combat, but even more impressive is what Otogi: Myth of Demons was able to do in terms of building an environment that players can utterly destroy with both weapons and power-ups. And there's plenty to play here, too: Otogi shipped with nearly 30 levels, which for its time, was a whole lot of game.

Indigo Prophecy is an interactive film

You may recognize the development studio Quantic Dream as the minds behind titles such as Heavy RainBeyond: Two Souls, and the upcoming Detroit: Become Human. Interactive storytelling is their forte, and you'll find plenty of it in Indigo Prophecy, a game that fits more into the category of "playable movie" than it does any oft-used video game genre. In Indigo's story, New York City is experiencing a phenomenon: a rash of murders, seemingly committed at random by everyday people. The protagonists determine there are all-knowing, unseeable entities pulling the strings, and dive into a tale of branching story paths, selectable dialogue choices, and 24-esque camerawork. If you're looking for an engrossing experience brimming with narrative, Indigo Prophecy is a sure bet.

Brute Force never got the chance it deserved

Brute Force had all the trappings of a game destined to start a franchise: a world entrenched in futuristic sci-fi lore; unique, squad-based gameplay centered around a team of humans and aliens; and a tactical twist that asked players to consider their character choice when battling toward an objective. Unfortunately, the game didn't quite land as publisher Microsoft had hoped. While reviewers praised the fun gameplay and noted the AI combatants were actually intelligent compared to most games, Brute Force didn't reach the popular consciousness, and never grew into a running series. Still, it's an entertaining play-through: if not for the high of gunning down aliens in a distant star system, then for the nostalgia of experiencing a relic stuck in the original Xbox's past.

Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy brought telekenesis to the next level

Before gamers experienced the joy of telekinetically tossing an enemy aside in Mass Effect, there was Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. As you've probably guessed, the powers of the mind play heavy in this hidden gem, developed by the now-defunct Midway Games and released in 2004. The game's central character, Nick Scryer, starts his tale being rescued from the hands of a shadowy terrorist organization by a double-agent, and with time, earns new psychic abilities he can use to take down enemies and manipulate objects. Ragdoll physics are fairly commonplace in today's games, but at Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy's release, they were truly something to behold. And it can be argued that, to this day, there aren't many games using psychic powers to the extreme Psi-Ops managed. If you're able to track down a copy of this one, make sure it comes home with you.

Darkwatch brought some great influences together

The vampire-western genre is one video games didn't cover a lot back in the early 2000s, which made Darkwatch a breath of fresh air, or a cool drink of blood — whichever you prefer. This first-person shooter, the product of High Moon Studios (known for its contributions to the TransformersDestiny, and Call of Duty franchises), puts players behind the gun of one Jericho Cross, a gunfighting vampire-hunter-turned-vampire. Jericho must battle enemies both living and supernatural as he comes to grips with his affliction and the desire he still feels to hunt the very thing he's become. With an RPG-like "reputation" system, similar to those found in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Black & White, players can progress through the campaign, gradually becoming more good or more evil with every decision. And just as those stellar titles Darkwatch borrows from, the game's ending can be affected by those choices.

Jet Set Radio Future jumped from the Dreamcast to the Xbox

When the Sega Dreamcast was discontinued in 2001, many of Sega's intellectual properties suddenly became homeless. One such property was Jet Set Radio, a cell-shaded skating game where players could zip through Tokyo and wreak havoc with free speech and spray paint. Jet Set Radio Future was the sequel to the aforementioned title, and while it shared much with its predecessor in terms of gameplay mechanics and art style, it made its one and only home on the original Xbox. If you enjoy grinding on buildings and barricades, and if you long to be a spray-paint-toting nuisance to an authoritarian regime, Jet Set Radio Future is the game you want to play. Not to mention: the game's underground soundtrack is almost worth the price of admission by itself.

Freedom Fighters took a different approach alternate history

If you love alternate history, and a good Saturday night consists of a Man in the High Castle binge followed by hours of Wolfenstein, there's a lot to like about Freedom Fighters. In this hidden gem, the tried-and-true boogeymen of Nazi Germany are replaced by an incredibly aggressive Soviet Union, which has occupied New York City and the home of the game's protagonist, Christopher Stone. The story takes off from there as Stone, an everyday plumber, joins the resistance movement against Mother Russia, squaring off against Soviet enemies with three squadmates and the homeland on the line. Freedom Fighters is a game eerily more relevant today than it was nearly a decade and a half ago, which makes it worth scouring eBay to find.

Hunter: The Reckoning was an adaptation of another hidden gem

You'll be forgiven for not knowing the source of Hunter: The Reckoning's universe: a table-top RPG first introduced to the world in 1999. The 2002 video game of the same name pulls the RPG's supernatural world into an action title, complete with four-player co-op, guns, crossbows, melee weapons, and magic spells. As one of four witnesses to the execution of a mass murderer, your already-bizarre situation takes a turn for the worse when evil forces locked deep inside the prison are awoken by the electric chair's switch. You and your three partners, with weapons and magic in tow, must fight back against these otherworldly threats and prevent them from doing harm to the rest of the prisoners. Hunter: The Reckoning delivers fun, uncomplicated gameplay, an interesting story, and unlimited ammunition to kill bad guys. What's not to like about that?

OutRun 2 brought back an arcade classic

The world waited a long time for a modern-day take on Sega's OutRun, a steering-wheel equipped arcade racing game released all the way back in 1986. That wait ended in 2003, when OutRun 2 reached the original Xbox and brought the thrills of this "choose your own path" racing game into full 3D. Fair warning: you should not play OutRun 2 if you're looking for the kind of simulation experience found in titles like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. To the contrary, OutRun 2 is all about speed, avoiding obstacles, and getting to the finish line however you damn well feel like it. The game boasts the Ferrari license, a score bar that fills when your girlfriend (who sits in the passenger seat) loves your driving, and 15 racetracks for your consideration. It's all about fun here, which makes OutRun 2 worth turning back the clock for.

Phantom Dust is great for a challenge

Phantom Dust, an action game that (believe it or not) is also a card game, is a testament to the open-mindedness of the original Xbox team in the early 2000s. Earth is in ruins in the game's post-apocalyptic setting, and to make matters worse, no one can remember why. Players control an unnamed protagonist with the power to control the earth's dust and bend it to his will. Naturally, he uses the dust to battle enemies, supplementing this ability with powers tied to "Skills," the equivalent of cards in a collectible card game. Battles are strategy-heavy affairs, and players who don't put some thought into their approach will find themselves starting the level over again, which may be welcome if you're the kind of gamer who enjoys a challenge. And here's another tip: if you own an Xbox One, you don't have to go digging around at yard sales to play Phantom Dust. Microsoft released a free remastered version for the Xbox One on May 16, 2017.

The Suffering will make you glad you suffered through it

There are two settings that usually spell "horror" for films and video games: penitentiaries and asylums. The Suffering takes place in the former — more specifically, at the fictional Abbot State Penitentiary, a prison so full of bad juju that it needs its own island. Players land the role of Torque, a death row inmate who awoke from a blackout, found his ex-wife and children dead, and felt the full wrath of the state as he was sent to Abbot for execution. But there's a catch — because there's always a catch. An earthquake strikes the area, and Torque suddenly finds himself stuck on an island with demons unleashed by the event, forced to battle (again) for his life. The Suffering was heralded by critics for its "morality" meter, a system that measures Torque's good versus his evil, as well as Torque's frequent dips into rage, which cause him to become a demon himself. Factor in the alternate endings based on where your morality meter winds up, and The Suffering is a grisly hidden gem for the original Xbox you shouldn't miss out on.