The first Xbox gaming console was released by Microsoft in North America on Nov. 15, 2001, bringing competition to Sony’s PlayStation and a new line of steady revenue for the Redmond, Washington, company. And as the console, over its subsequent versions, turns 15, the company shared some data about its history.
There are over 222 million players on the gaming network, who have so far collectively logged over 100 billion hours of gaming, of which about 29 billion hours were spent on multiplayer games.
But what are these games that players have been spending so much time on? Here’s a list of 15 of the most popular Xbox games of all time (in no specific order, or so we think).
1. Forza Motorsport — The racing game has already inspired six titles in the original, as well as three titles of the related Forza Horizon series. The original, launched in 2005, is often considered Microsoft’s match for Sony’s Gran Turismo. Only, with those realistic physics, it is even better.
2. Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction — Luckily for Microsoft, game maker Pandemic split from EA Sports and set up shop with LucasArts to bring to virtual life the open world of destruction set in North Korea. What better thrill than to shoot down a helicopter from the sky? Leveling whole buildings.
3. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time — Ubisoft did a great job bringing the old 2D game to a 3D world with excellent art design and game mechanics. Along with the refreshing game-play, it also brought together multiple game genres in a love story. Bonus points for that.
4. Burnout 3: Takedown — In stark contrast to the realism of Forza, this game was all about high-octane racing that led to spectacular crashes, making it an instant hit with gamers who liked a touch of violence in their races. For Criterion Games, it was third time lucky.
5. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind — The first truly open-world RPG came with its share of bugs but that didn’t stop the game from being maddeningly huge and equally addictive. With a literally endless world, hundreds of quests and multiple ways of completing them, Bethesda gave us a very good reason to murder elves with a stolen wooden spoon: just because you wanted to.
6. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas — The first GTA title to appear on the Xbox, San Andreas was an instant hit, what with its ridiculous plotline and even more ridiculous stunts. Using an Uzi for a drive-by while cycling down the hood? Rockstar did well to get the over-the-top excesses out of the system before the relatively polite GTA 4 followed.
7. Jade Empire — One of the first games on the console that had different endings based on in-game choices players made, it was also the first BioWare game that was based on an original universe, created as a blend of Chinese myth and kung fu films.
8. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay — Vin Diesel notwithstanding, the film doesn’t hold a candle to the game. The sci-fi prison-break drama developed by Starbreeze packs brutal action and Diesel’s great voice acting make the game one of the best on the Xbox to this day.
9. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell — There was a plethora of Splinter Cell titles on the Xbox, and it is hard to pick the best among those. But if we had to pick, Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory would have to be the top two.
10. Psychonauts — Another of those games on the list that isn’t inherently violent, the game from Double Fine Productions is truly fine. The game-play is clever and the dialogue funny. It requires more brains than button-smashing to work your way through the levels, and the laughter it produces adds to the intellectual satisfaction.
11. Ninja Gaiden — Developed by Team Ninja, the game and its expansion, Ninja Gaiden Black, were both insanely difficult from the word go. But then again, what kind of ninja are you to expect things to be easy? The action with legendary moves is mind-blowing and the graphics are a thing of beauty.
12. Beyond Good and Evil — Not heavy on traditional action, this action-adventure by Ubisoft makes a camera the most important weapon in its storyline. It also stars a woman of color as an “activist” heroine. Massive conspiracies and cute chimera-type characters (with comical powers) make for a game-play that just can’t be put into a box.
13. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic — BioWare’s success of Jade Empire rests on the gargantuan shoulders of the Knights of the Old Republic. With the legions of fans, the "Star Wars" title could have done well without being very good but the game’s storyline was brilliant, full of twists and turns, and the game-play incorporated lightsabers and the Force. Only the original "Star Wars" films are better.
14. Halo — The first smash hit to come out of the Microsoft stable, the sci-fi first person shooter was everything the company could hope for, and then some. The game by Bungie Studios single-handedly made the Xbox a phenomenon in the first couple of years of its existence. Apart from the shooting and explosions, the game also featured excellent graphics, music and sound effects.
15. Halo 2 — Three years after Halo, its successor did what many wanted but few expected it could: it bettered the Halo experience. The game-play is improved, the story gets more complex and morally ambiguous, the weapons are bigger and badder, and the graphics are breathtaking. It cemented the place of the Halo franchise as one of the most enduring ones of all time.