The best thing about the best Xbox 360 games is that they aren’t restricted solely to the Xbox 360 anymore. Since last fall you’ve been able to download many of your Xbox 360 games onto your Xbox One, letting you enjoy the best games of the last generation on the technology of today. Of course the 360 isn’t dead yet—although the schedule gets lighter every year, companies are still releasing new games for it. So even if you haven’t moved on to the Xbox One or another newer console, it’s a safe bet you’ll be able to find new games on your 360 for at least a little while still, which is amazing for a console that’s already over a decade old. The 360 has one of the strongest software line-ups of any console ever made, and here, in no particular order, are 50 games that belong in any 360 collection.
Two notes on our methodology:
Only one game per franchise was allowed on the list. Sorry, Beatles: Rock Band and every other Halo.
We only considered games that would’ve been developed specifically for the Xbox 360 or a comparable console during its era, and not games that were intended for the Xbox One or Playstation 4 and ported down to the 360. That said, this isn’t a 360-exclusive list: this factors in every game released for the system, no matter what other hardware platforms it was also released on.
That said, here are the games you need for your Xbox 360, and again, in no particular order.
Remedy’s inspired homage to Twin Peaks and The Twilight Zone gets the pacing and presentation of a TV show just right. Its core metafictional concept (writer Alan Wake wars with his own inner darkness in a world created by his words) is bolstered by fantastic atmosphere, memorable secondary characters and the cliffhanger twists of a great TV mystery.—Garrett Martin
Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 isn’t content to merely put most videogames to shame. It challenges Hollywood itself, with better writing and acting than most recent sci-fi movies. It’s better than almost any other game at merging games and cinema, ending with a final showdown that’s a master-class in pacing and tension. And unlike most games or movies, you can immediately restart Mass Effect 2 and have a very different experience.—Garrett Martin
Commercially Halo 3 might be the most crucial of 360 games—when it came out in 2007 it more than doubled the system’s average weekly sales. The game that shored up the 360’s American beachhead also blew up the Xbox Live subscriber rolls, proving that players would pay for an online service and demonstrating how Xbox Live was easier to use and more reliable than the PlayStation 3’s alternative. Beyond the money, though, Halo 3 is a top-notch shooter with a thrilling set of multiplayer modes that thrived on the competitive scene.—Garrett Martin
Mirror’s Edge is a modern classic, one of the best games of its (or any other) era, and as much of an anomaly today as it was when it was released in 2008. With its emphasis on movement over combat and its sleek, futuristic cityscape, it doesn’t look, feel or play like any other big budget first-person game. It’s focused almost exclusively on forward motion, as you sprint through the city and pinball off walls and ledges while avoiding contact with violent security forces as much as possible. You can fight back, poorly, but the game never forces you to, always leaving open an escape route, even if you may not always be able to see it at first or enter the complicated button pattern required to exploit it. It rarely slows down, shuttling the player from level to level, each one offering a different perspective on the dystopian city where citizens are constantly under surveillance. The intentionally slim story is similarly rushed through, relayed through brief animated cut-scenes before and after every level. There are almost no wasted moments, and few distractions from the core tenants of running fast and climbing hard. The game is as elegantly designed as the city it’s set in, and it’s as fresh and exhilarating today as it was in 2008.—Garrett Martin
Crackdown was one of the first open-world games to feel truly open. It strips all the boring downtime out of the Grand Theft Auto template by turning our characters into superhumans who can soar through a massive city and toss cars around like beanbags. The agility orb hunts turn what could have been a monotonous, unfulfilling collect-a-thon into a compulsive treat by slightly upgrading our abilities with every orb. The sequel was a bummer, but the original Crackdown remains a must-play.—Garrett Martin
Early in Fable II you encounter a traveling salesman hawking a magical music box he claims will grant a single wish when played. Though you initially sneer at the notion, a mysterious hooded figure named Theresa encourages you to buy it, reminding you that you want to believe it’s real. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels carried the same implicit message: keep your sense of wonder intact, guard against heart-petrifying cynicism. Fable II is itself a magical music box, but the damn thing can’t stop granting wishes.—Jason Killingsworth
Super Meat Boy
It was more than a little cocky that Team Meat envisioned Super Meat Boy as the flagship for contemporary indie games and also somewhat the spiritual successor to the original Super Mario Bros., but the brutal 2D platformer has succeeded in both endeavors. Agonizingly difficult but never unfair, Super Meat Boy is also reminiscent of the original Donkey Kong, wherein a booby-trap-laden obstacle course is all that stands between you and the girl—before she’s moved to the next screen that’s even more dangerous.—David Wolinsky
Far Cry 2
Before there was Jason Brody or Ajay Ghale, there was just the player, and Africa. Far Cry 2 stood out from its progeny because of its lean approach to thematic and mechanical design. Its lightweight narrative nevertheless managed to speak volumes about the entire genre, thanks largely to the game’s repeated and brutal depictions of violence.—Patrick Lindsey
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
El Shaddai’s constantly evolving art style manages to surprise and delight right up to the end credits and its refined combat is elusive yet engaging. Where most games struggle to take us to a new world, El Shaddai takes us to several.—Jeffrey Matulef
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2
The first Geometry Wars launched the 360’s Xbox Live Arcade in 2005, proving that actual worthwhile games could be beamed straight into your game boxes through the internet. The sequel expands on everything great about the psychedelic dual-joystick shooter, multiplying the original’s various permutations of competitive thumb twiddling. I may not check the scoreboard that often anymore, but whenever I do I quickly lose an hour trying to best my friends.—Garrett Martin