My first machine of the generation was the Gamecube and I soon picked up a PS2 due to the ridiculous number of games on it that I couldn't not play. The Xbox came along later as a hand-me-down. If not for that generosity, I probably would never have bought one and I would have subsequently missed out on some great games. The original Xbox was famous for having superior versions of many multiplatform titles that sported better graphics or extra content. It was the first machine to embrace online play properly, offer DLC and include a HDD, the latter of which was a masterful move in hindsight and helped us all get away from expensive, unreliable and restrictive memory cards. It had consolised versions of many PC games that didn't appear on the PS2 or Gamecube and it even allowed the user to rip CD's to HDD and use their music as a custom soundtrack in games that supported the feature (e.g Project Gotham and GTA San Andreas). It's well-known that MS sold the Xbox at a loss as part of an aggressive strategy to barge their way into the console market by force and fill a gap left by Sega and it worked. The Xbox 360 used the foundations laid by its predecessor to take the market by storm and embarass Sony in the early years of the 360 vs PS3 battle. With the current Xbox One doing okay and the 360 already being recognised as one of gaming's all-time greats, the original Xbox is often unfairly forgotten by the masses, most of which ironically owned PS2's back in the day while MS's first machine was paving the way for later success.
It was the exclusive titles that really impressed me with the Xbox however. The PGR series played like a dream and was true car porn with a splendid blend of both arcade and realistic traits. Halo was a very different FPS with impressive AI, stunning outdoor environments and a superb weapon set. Doom 3 scared the shit out of me, Dead or Alive 3 introduced me to one of my favourite fighting game series' and I loved the continuation of Sega's franchises (at the sad expense of the Dreamcast of course...). These are just a few of the games that really wowed me. There were many more and countless others that I didn't actually ever own or play. The Xbox is worthy of a place in anybody's gaming set-up and with the 360 doing a poor job of backwards-compatibility, it's even more essential to keep one around. Just get somebody to help you lift the damn thing if you ever need to re-arrange your gaming set-up!
So it's Bon Voyage to my Xbox. If I had the room or time for it then it would stay for sure but unfortunately, I can feel my game time winding down somewhat with other things on my mind so this is the first of potentially numerous casualties. It's perhaps fitting that I sign off with a Top Five Xbox games then to celebrate the ol' breezeblock...
1. Project Gotham Racing 2
Of all the games that could well have made me do a last minute British government style U-turn and keep my Xbox, PGR 2 was probably The One. Playing this today, you'd be hard-pressed to believe that this was a 2003 release. The visuals are still beautiful, the frame-rate absolutely perfect and the cars handle better than anything in any racing game ever. Add in a really cool soundtrack, fantastic circuit design and the ever-present 'Kudos' system and you had a very special game. The car selection is really good too and as a car nut in real life, I appreciated the range of machinery represented in PGR 2. This game wins for defying the process of ageing. Prettier and more comprehensive driving games have come and gone since but I bet that none are as fun as the second PGR installment. The first one is also well worth playing by the way.
2. Toejam & Earl III: Mission to Earth
A lot of people hated on this game for 'ruining' the legacy of the Mega Drive predecessors with stereotype characters and 'black' humour and that's a shame because there's a really enjoyable platformer here if you can ignore the moans and just accept T&E III for what it is: a damn funky game. For me, this game had a sort-of 90's platformer feel to it which is why I liked it so much. The music was just brilliantly catchy and I personally loved the humour and characters. The crazy enemies deserve a mention for being unlike any enemy in any platformer but if you've played the original games, I'm sure you will be familiar with the mad dentists, deadly shoppers and lethal hula girls. Additionally, this is another Xbox game with great graphics that has aged very well. The only weakness in my opinion was awful present-based power up system which often left the player with no way of defeating some enemies or reaching certain places within a stage. Nevertheless, this is another title I will miss.
3. Doom 3
Yes, it's not a fast-paced blasterfest like the original PC games and yes it has since been superceded by a PS3 collection with more content and some positive tweaks but back in the day, Doom 3 was a stunning game in several ways. First up, the visuals are incredible and believable. These combined with atmospheric lighting and an almost unbearable tension to form an absorbing game world that you felt like you were inside. The classic weapons were all there but this was more like a survival horror than a balls-out action game and though many whinged about that, I seriously liked it. Doom 3 was far more atmospheric and scary than a lot of dedicated horror games. Playing it in the dark with headphones was also one hell (no pun intended) of an experience.
What is there that hasn't already been said about Bungie's landmark FPS? Not a lot I'd wager. It brought some annoying trends to the console FPS world (regenerating health, a two weapon capacity) but also some great stuff. Vehicles were a rarity in FPS' at the time and Halo had some fun things to boot about such as the iconic Warthog and the entertaining Banshee. Weapons such as the brutal Needler and sticky grenades made their debut and quickly became firm favourites. For me though, the highlight were outdoor areas and being able to follow the lay of the land with your eyes as it curved upwards along its titular halo shape, stretching into the clouds and directly overhead to give the player a fantastic sense of scale. The enemy AI was intelligent too and would work together to try and bring you down. It wasn't all good though: I absolutely detested 'The Flood', couldn't stand the copy-paste level design that crept in during the game's second half and the sequel had nowhere near the same impact. Having said all that, the good bits are enough to make me remember Halo as a top Xbox title so that speaks for game's quality.
5. Dead or Alive 3
It's not my favourite DOA installment any more but I owe a debt to the third game for getting me into the series in the first place. I missed the original game (like many did, I suspect) and didn't pick up the sequel on PS2 but DOA3 was there to show me a different fighting game to the likes of Tekken and Street Fighter. Here was a fighting game that focused on lightning fast martial arts and countermoves rather than projectiles or rigid, limited combos. The character roster wasn't as expansive or interesting as those in rival games, the plot was (and still is in later games) a load of rubbish and content was basic but the gameplay carried DOA3. It also helped that the graphics and music were both superb for the time. Overall, it was a refreshingly fun fighter that had a lot of depth there if you wanted to practice the strict timing for counters or memorise the exhaustive combo strings. Oh and it starred pretty, bouncy ladies as well - a series trademark that was perhaps a little more in check back in the days of Dead or Alive 3 than it is today...
Panzer Dragoon Orta, Max Payne 1 + 2, Tecmo Classic Arcade, Black, Crimson Skies, Thief.