Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The 5 Best And 5 Worst Xbox Launch Titles Ever

First impressions are important, especially for game consoles. If a platform holder wants to convince audiences that dropping $500 on an electronic plastic box is a worthwhile investment, especially on launch day, they need to show what sets their product apart from the competition. They need to demonstrate that gamers who own the previous incarnation should buy the newest model and are missing out if they buy a rival system.


A new console also needs a strong launch lineup to show off its power. When the OG Xbox hit the market, it needed to prove its mettle against the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube. Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 and Xbox One had to demonstrate they were superior to the PlayStation 3 and 4, respectively. To that end, each Xbox console relied on its launch titles for these tasks, and while some games successfully proved the merit of owning an Xbox console, others were good arguments of the opposite. And some launch titles were just plain bad, regardless of which console you bought them for.

Here are the five best and five worst Xbox launch titles ever.

Best - Condemned: Criminal Origins

Horror is a difficult genre to market, at least according to EA. Publishers such as Capcom have perfected the art of survival horror, but Resident Evil was cultivated over decades. Moreover, Resident Evil games were never launch titles. You can count the number of consoles christened with an unproven horror franchise on one hand, but Microsoft decided to launch the Xbox 360 with Condemned: Criminal Origins. The gamble paid off.


Condemned: Criminal Origins is a first-person psychological horror that takes place in a gritty, contemporary city where the already crime-ridden streets are experiencing an unprecedented uptick in, well, crime. And, the player has to figure out what's going on. The game's lighting and sound design put players on edge, and the game's well-paced story and terrifying (and rare) jump scares finish the job. If you ever searched the internet for the best scary moments in video games, odds are you discovered Criminal Origins' infamous locker scene and mannequin segment.

Add in some weighty combat that favors properly timed melee blocks and pummelings instead of twitch-based shooting (since ammo is rarer than gold in the game), and Condemned: Criminal Origins is a solid argument for both the Xbox 360 and horror games in general.


Worst - Shrek

On April 22, 2001, Shrek the movie premiered on the big screen, and audiences loved it. On Nov. 14, 2001, Shrek the video game launched on the Xbox and disgusted gamers in more ways than one.

Shrek for the Xbox is an ugly, ugly game. The game's characters look like they were spawned from a knockoff film that copies Shrek's art style instead of the actual Shrek movie. Even the game's in-game mechanics are ugly. Shrek is a beat-em-up, but you can't defeat enemies, and Shrek runs at speeds that far outpace the game's camera. And the missions are poorly worded so you never know what you're supposed to do.


To add even more stinky layers to the onion that is the Shrek video game, aside from the Magic Mirror and Shrek, the game is almost completely detached from its source material. Few of the game's settings or story beats are related to the movie. If the game's title screen didn't feature the oh-so tasteful image of Shrek cleaning out his ears, you'd probably assume you were playing some other game.

Best - Call of Duty 2

Today, Call of Duty is synonymous with killstreaks, regenerating health, and shotgun pistols. However, once upon a time, CoD focused primarily on replicating historically accurate battles, and Microsoft used this to help launch the Xbox 360.


While Call of Duty 2 wasn't the Xbox 360's only launch FPS, it was one of the console's most solid packages. Even though the graphics and animations aren't cutting edge anymore, they still hold up and gel with the sound design. In fact, sound is probably CoD2's biggest strength. The game combines fitting music, top-notch voice acting, brutal sound effects, and immersive battle chatter to create engrossing setpieces that surpass even today's shooters. Yes, that includes Call of Duty: WW2. Just compare that game's D-Day level with CoD2's version, and you will be surprised how much CoD2's soundscape builds a far more bleak atmosphere that captures the true essence of the second World War.

Thanks to superb sound and level design, immersion is the name of the game in CoD2. You truly feel as though you are trudging through the bloody muck and bombed-out rubble of a war-torn world. What a way to introduce the Xbox 360.


Worst - Ryse: Son of Rome

Ideally, console launch lineups should feature at least one title that shows off the device's graphical prowess. For the Xbox One, that game was Ryse: Son of Rome. Unfortunately Ryse demonstrates that good graphics aren't enough to hold up a game.


You cannot deny that Ryse looks and sounds impressive. The game sets the graphics bar very high, but that's to be expected when Crytek is at the helm. Gameplay, however, is another story. 90% of Ryse's campaign consists of fighting the same braindead enemies dolled up in different clothes, performing the same canned executions, and unlocking passive abilities. No new skills, just minor upgrades that don't change how you play the game And, even though you can brutally murder enemies in quick time events, the "QTEs" are actually hollow since executions plays out whether or not you press the correct buttons.

Regardless of your opinions regarding the story, Ryse's monotonous gameplay might bore you to tears before you can see it through to the end, which is Ryse's biggest sin. It's a hack 'n slash brawler that rarely changes or challenges. Render unto Crytek the things that are Crytek's, and unfortunately that includes Ryse: Son of Rome criticism.


Best - Dead or Alive 3

Dead or Alive is a fairly well-received fighting game franchise — with the occasional beach volleyball spin-off. However, the franchise has received criticism for its presentation of female characters. After all, when people talk about unrealistic depictions of women in video games, it's hard to not mention purple-haired ninjas in bikinis. Still, despite this issue, Microsoft went forward with its plan to welcome the Xbox with a Dead or Alive game to great success.


Even today, Dead or Alive 3 holds up as a fast and furious fighting game. The title's graphics still look impressive, which is no small feat given DOA3's — and the OG Xbox's — age. More importantly, the game's robust fighting system ensures that matches are fast without being unfair, and you can win matches just by button mashing if you are a fighting game neophyte.

To top it off, Dead or Alive 3 features plenty of extra modes and unlockable costumes to keep players entertained. The end result is a stellar title that helped introduce a new console to many gamers, including fighting game aficionados. You couldn't have asked for a better welcoming party.

Worst - Fighter Within

Since the Kinect was supposed to register player movements and translate them into game controls, Microsoft tried to push the device as the next big leap in controllers. Microsoft was so confident about the Kinect that it bundled the device with every Xbox One. Players didn't like this strategy, and not just because the Kinect inflated Xbox One prices. To get a sense of why else the Kinect bombed, look no further than Fighter Within.


Fighter Within was designed to convince gamers that the Kinect was the future of gaming, but it did the opposite. The game's most powerful opponent was its menu since the Kinect wasn't as responsive as advertised. Navigating the menu to start a fight was a challenge, and actual combat wasn't much better. If Fighter Within wasn't properly recognizing certain gestures for certain moves, it was conflating similar gestures. So if you tried to grab an opponent, for example, the Kinect sometimes confused the grabbing motion for a jab. And even if you managed to win fights, Fighter Within's bad story made you wish you hadn't.

Fighter Within created an air-tight case against the Kinect. The game demonstrated that the Kinect wasn't up to the task of registering simple movements — and that packaging Kinects in with each Xbox One was a bad idea.


Best - Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3

When the Xbox hit American store shelves in late 2001, audiences got a taste of things to come with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2X. While European gamers didn't receive the Xbox until March 2002, they got the better deal since their staggered console launch netted them the superior skating game, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3.


Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 is one of if not the best in the franchise since it, if you will pardon the pun, skates the line between realism and video game logic. It maintains the arcadey, points-driven sessions where players pull off stunts and defy gravity for the sake of putting their name on a leaderboard and unlocking new areas and skaters. But the game also iterates on the previous Pro Skater entries with an improved, robust tricks system that lets skilled players maintain one sick and elongated combo throughout each two-minute session for massive points.

In a sense, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 distills the mindset of a skater and turns it into video game form. The developers probably wouldn't have been able to do so unless they practiced their craft with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2 — and 2X.


Worst - NBA Live 14

In the olden days, gamers looked forward to new sports games, since each subsequent entry usually introduced gameplay tweaks and new modes. Today, audiences are a little more cynical and skeptical since sports titles have become a hotbed of controversy — and digital gambling dens. NBA Live 14 may not have featured in-game gambling, but it could be considered the canary in the coal mine for modern sports games.


When NBA Live 14 launched alongside the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, audiences immediately noticed the game neither felt nor looked like a next-gen upgrade. The graphics were rough, and character animations were mannequin-esque. Even worse, the ball physics — a key factor in any basketball game — were wonky and unreliable.

No matter which mode you played in NBA Live 14, you were in for a disappointing time. If you traversed the single-player career mode, you bore witness to braindead AI and an illogical story. And if you logged in for some online multiplayer, you were hit by 90 pounds of internet lag.

However, NBA Live 14's saving grace was its ESPN integration, which let players recreate recent sports highlights. Given the game's other issues, however, players were better off saving their money and catching the action on YouTube.


Best - Halo: Combat Evolved

You all saw this coming. Many gamers hail Halo: Combat Evolved as a must-play game that put the original Xbox on the map and changed the course of FPS games for years to come. However, it's important to explain why Halo is the masterpiece almost everyone seems to think it is.


Halo: Combat Evolved was one big FPS experiment, and each of its design elements ties back to its experimental nature. The game features big, open environments with enemies aplenty. It's easy to die in Halo, so a novel regenerating health system prevents an artificial need to seek out medkits, all while keeping the game moving at a brisk pace. Plus, the game implements a two-weapon limit so players have to experiment and adapt their strategies to the weapons available.

However, Halo's biggest strengths are its presentation and multiplayer. The game's cutscenes are shot with cinematic flair, and the multiplayer is classic deathmatch goodness. The multiplayer mode was an afterthought, but the team behind it developed the quintessential deathmatch mode that became the blueprint for future FPS multiplayer games.


Unlike other franchises introduced with the Xbox but later dropped, such as Blinx: The Time Sweeper, Halo has survived every Xbox console. That is the mark of a truly impressive launch title.

Worst - Call of Duty: Ghosts

The problem with video game reviews is audiences and critics don't always agree. Occasionally, reviewers and gamers are in complete agreement (e.g., The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt), but it isn't unheard of or even uncommon for opinions to clash. Call of Duty: Ghosts is one such example.


Despite glowing reviews from critics, many gamers hate Call of Duty: Ghosts with the passion of a thousand guns. The single-player campaign, for instance, is often criticized as being contrived and blazingly nonsensical, despite its Academy Award-winning writer Stephen Gaghan. Moreover, for many gamers, the campaign commits the ultimate gaming sin of being boring.

CoD: Ghosts' multiplayer doesn't fare better. Maps are criticized as too big and poorly designed. Many multiplayer maps, especially the infamous Stonehaven, favors sniper rifles, which puts every other weapon at a huge disadvantage. And, even though Ghosts tries to mix things up with a Zombies-like mode called Extinction, this game mode doesn't offer any variety. You play the same map with the same objectives over and over again, and if you want new maps, you have to pay $15. Not $15 for new maps, $15 per map.


Call of Duty: Ghosts was not the welcome the Xbox One (or PlayStation 4) deserved.