The Best Xbox 360 Games

Games Lists Xbox 360
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The Best Xbox 360 Games

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.

Alan Wake

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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

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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


Halo 3

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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

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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

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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


Fable II

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Spec Ops: The Line

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In Spec Ops: The Line the real cowards are the players, content to ignore real wars for false ones, spending their money on yearly installments of war games that aim to entertain rather than inform, to dull rather than comment on any aspect of reality. We tell ourselves we want to honor the troops, but what Spec Ops: The Line makes so clear is that our interest isn’t in any sort of reality at all. We just want an escape from the dangers of mundanity, no matter what the cost.—Richard Clark


Forza Motorsport 3

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The visually amazing Forza Motorsport 3 is an absurdly deep and complicated racing simulator, but it’s accessible enough for anybody to enjoy. Exactly precise enough for the craziest of car nuts, but more than tolerant of the interested neophyte, Forza Motorsport 3 never forgets that it’s a game, and that games should be fun.—Garrett Martin


Left 4 Dead

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It’s not just the chaos of a zombie swarm at full force that makes Left 4 Dead one of the best 360 exclusives, or the game’s unbearable tension, or how it forces your squad to cooperate without breaking the fourth wall. Left 4 Dead and its equally great sequel might be the best example yet of Valve’s “show, don’t tell” approach to storytelling. We learn a great deal about the survivors and how society reacted to the zombie outbreak simply by observing our surroundings or paying attention to the occasional lines of dialogue that initially seem tossed off. Top that off with a pitch-black sense of humor and a warm humanity that most games don’t even attempt and you have one of the best games ever made.—Garrett Martin


Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

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Beyond the glitz and flash, the slick neon aesthetic and driving electronic music, this 21st century rebuild of Pac-Man takes what was at the core of a timeless classic and expands it into something new and unforgettable. With its priority on speed, split-second timing, and leaderboard glory, it’s the definition of addictive. It’s also probably the most perfect version of Pac-Man ever created. —Garrett Martin


Rock Band 2

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I like to think that the almost self-consciously generic quality of [the Rock Band series’] title is a subtle attempt to further coax players to project themselves into the game’s fantasy. The designers at Harmonix bravely turned their backs on the cartoony animation style of the popular Guitar Hero series they originally developed and created a surrealistic, laser-lightshow visual style that looks like it could easily be an artsy ’80s music video. Also Rock Band deserves props for allowing legions of air drummers to pick up sticks for the first time. Seriously, who hasn’t fantasized about doing that thing where you start a song by hitting the sticks together four times?—Jason Killingsworth


Bioshock

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Even though Bioshock’s story would’ve made a wonderfully satisfying novel or Hollywood blockbuster, the interactive nature of gaming gives it substantially more impact. Instead of having the story spoonfed to you as you progress through the game, you’re responsible for finding reel-to-reel audio diaries scattered throughout Rapture—messages that have been recorded by various characters (some living, some dead). Playing back these recordings allows you to piece together what’s happened, like a detective or historian. As the puzzle slowly snaps together, goosebumps spread fast down your arms. The story resounds so powerfully, in part because a creeping realization can be creepier than any shrieking ghouly leaping out at you from a dark corner.—Jason Killingsworth


Assassin’s Creed II

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There have been a number of good Assassin’s Creed games (Assassin’s Creed IV is a particular highlight) but the second one was the first to fully realize the potential within its core concepts. With a charismatic lead character, the gorgeous Renaissance Italy setting and a breezy but thorough commitment to the increasingly arcane conspiracy theories and metacommentary that make up the game’s story, this should be the first Creed game you play if you want to get into this series.—Garrett Martin


Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

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It isn’t strange to think of the shooter genre as two periods of time, before and after Modern Warfare. After years of creating World War II-era games, Infinity Ward ventured into risky territory. There’s a lot that was ambitious about Call of Duty 4: a persistent progression system, the concept of “loadouts,” a new era and the changes that brings to every gun and instance of gameplay. What resulted was a game that still defines console shooters today, with a mix of Call of Duty’s excellent single-player experiences and the blueprint for multiplayer shooters to come.—Eric Van Allen


Dark Souls

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It’s not the significant difficulty or repetitive structure that earns Dark Souls a spot on this list. Those are just symptoms of what makes the game great: its insistent coyness. Dark Souls gives the player almost no direction, forcing us to explore and figure out things on our own, with only cryptic and potentially untrustworthy messages from other real-life players to guide us. Instead of ponderous text or cut-scenes Dark Souls tells its story of degradation by showing instead of telling. Some say Dark Souls treats players with indifference or outright contempt, but in truth it respects us, our abilities and our intelligence more than most other games.—Garrett Martin


The Darkness

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Starbreeze had a knack for making great games out of bad licenses. With The Darkness they turned a laughable comic book into a Grand Guignol of a game that delicately weaved over-the-top gore with some of the quietest and most human moments found in any shooter. This is a game where, depending on what hardware you’re playing on, you could watch the entirety of To Kill a Mockingbird from your character’s perspective as he snuggled quietly with his girlfriend on the couch. Some of the designers behind The Darkness also worked on The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and Wolfenstein: The New Order, two other games on this list that mixed surprising character development with original ideas for first-person shooter set-pieces.—Garrett Martin

Deadly Premonition

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Few games proved as polarizing or perplexing as this action-horror title, essentially a mash note to Twin Peaks’ first season with Z-grade production values, deservedly sold with the bargain-bin price of $20. Alternately goofy and creepy, Deadly Premonition milks a lot of its scares from crappy animations, awkward dialog trees, and enemies that can only scream, “I don’t want to diiie!” Ultimately, its absolute clunkiness scored major points for being endearingly contrarian in an era obsessed with ultra-realistic graphics and sequels. In other words: it was experimental without being all arty about it.—David Wolinsky


Dishonored

Dishonored is about loyalty: loyalty to country, to honor, to friends. In inhabiting the protagonist Corvo’s many roles—as the princess’s Lord Protector, as revolutionary, as assassin—the player is encouraged to explore that theme from a variety of angles, both by shaping the plot through his actions and by reacting to its multiple twists. If all that sounds a bit heady for a game where you stab dozens of dudes in the neck, well, it is. But the genius of Dishonored is how subtly its fiction and mechanics work together to draw the player into its world.—J.P. Grant


Spelunky

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Spelunky recreates the sensation of arcade games, with the primacy of the leaderboard and simple rules buckling under brutal difficulty, but fragments the most crucial keys to success into an almost infinite kaleidoscope. Somehow it does that effortlessly, with a design free of unnecessary embellishments. Spelunky‘s randomness might seem to entirely dispatch of memorization and pattern recognition, but it merely multiples the instances in which both skills are needed. It expects you to call upon those memories with no advance warning. That makes Spelunky one of the few retro-flavored platformers of late to transcend its obvious inspirations.—Garrett Martin


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The word “epic” gets thrown around a lot these days. Screw up badly enough and it’s an epic fail. Scarf down a couple of cheeseburgers and it’s suddenly an epic feast. The word no longer has the punch it once had. Yet, there’s really no other adjective that so aptly describes The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game that’s epic in every sense of the word, from its immersive gameplay and jaw dropping visuals, to its sprawling storyline rooted in the real-world epics of Norse mythology. At the risk of fanboy-induced hyperbole, there really is nothing that comes close to approaching Skyrim as a game whose scope, design and presentation sets a new bar for the action-RPG genre.—Adam Volk


Metro 2033

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Metro 2033 was a game where you played as a soldier trying to survive the deadly Russian metro after a devastating nuclear attack sent Moscow’s survivors underground, many of them breaking off into political factions that tried to kill or enslave each other when they weren’t fighting bloodthirsty monsters. On the whole, Metro 2033 actually wasn’t that special outside of its spooky, sad story…until you turned the difficulty up to “Ranger,” which gave both you and your armed opponents the ability to one-shot each other. It was a great option that made every firefight incredibly tense and tactical, a quality more first-person shooters need to have.—Javy Gwaltney


Portal 2

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Portal 2 is a superbly crafted, joyous experience, a loving tribute to creative design, problem solving, and the remarkable flexibility of the human mind. Its puzzles are clever and for the most part immaculately constructed, and Erik Wolpaw, Jay Pinkerton and Chet Faliszek’s script earns the game a place alongside the very funniest of all time. I’d say that by any possible metric, Portal 2 was absolutely necessary.—Kirk Hamilton


Mark of the Ninja

Mark of the Ninja made me feel competent and clever. In spite of my sloppy thick dough thumbs, it turned me into a meticulous, thoughtful person, pulling from reserves of patience I didn’t know I had. It is a real feat to make the player feel powerful and capable, even as the game repeatedly stalls her progress. As a platformer Mark of the Ninja has a palpable snap, but most of its real thrills are intellectual. In short, playing it feels cool as hell.—Jenn Frank


Fallout 3

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We’re used to the style now, but, in 2008, Bethesda Game Studios’ enormous worlds and free-form character development felt incredibly novel. Fallout 3’s post-apocalyptic take on East Coast America was packed with stories to uncover, each providing the player opportunity to refine their character’s personality through moral and martial choice. The blend of tactical decision-making and reflexive first-person shooting that Bethesda managed to concoct for Fallout 3’s time-slowing V.A.T.S. system helped make the game’s most violent moments pretty memorable, too. —Reid McCarter


Gears of War 2

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The testosterone-drenched Gears defines the 360 the way Halo defined the original Xbox, and the second installment of the gory shooter is its peak. Horde mode wasn’t the first wave-based, squad multiplayer, but it set the standard for that now extremely common game type.—Garrett Martin


Orange Box

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This might be a cheat: Valve’s Orange Box is five games in one. The collection includes Half-Life 2 and its two episodic follow-ups, multiplayer favorite Team Fortress 2 and the mold-breaking Portal. So that’s one of the most beloved team shooters ever made, an engrossing single-player shooter that’s routinely held up as one of the greatest ever made, and then a peerless puzzle game that almost instantly became an iconic classic, all on a single disc. Yeah, if you own an Xbox 360, you should probably have this thing on your shelf.—Garrett Martin

Rayman Legends

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Playfulness is the main constant running through the large amount of varied content within Rayman Legends. Critics often try to avoid the word “fun” because it’s so subjective, but the only other game in recent memory that has so thoroughly embodied the most basic, universal and objective meaning of the word is Rayman Origins—much of which returns as unlockable bonuses within the already superior Legends. Revisiting classic gaming concepts with a timeless sense of humor that everybody can enjoy, Rayman Legends is a videogame without pretense, and that might be the most crucial decision its designers made without even realizing it.—Garrett Martin


Red Dead Redemption

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You can dismissively call it Grand Theft Auto: Old West if you like, but that’d be missing the finer points of this game’s achievements. Its expansive open world never failed to impress or offer something to do outside of the main quest, and its vastly improved gunplay and combat mechanics with period-accurate weapons made this one of the harder games to pry away from.—David Wolinsky


Ultra Street Fighter IV

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Street Fighter remains the gold standard for fighting games, and Ultra Street Fighter IV is the best version for the Xbox 360. The final update on Street Fighter IV sees one of the largest rosters in the history of the series, along with a number of slight tweaks and smart adjustments to the already strong Street Fighter IV engine. With this year’s Street Fighter V underwhelming on the newer consoles, Ultra Street Fighter IV remains my Street Fighter of choice.—Garrett Martin


Viva Pinata

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This adorable little curiosity is like a videogame safari but with pinatas and gardening. As you tend to your garden, living pinatas in the shape of various a animal species will come live there, eventually mating and producing offspring if you make the right moves. The right gardening moves. You literally garden in hopes of making pinatas do it. It’s a weird game, and more complex than you’d imagine, but it was a key release in the early days of the Xbox 360, and still holds up well today, a decade after release.—Garrett Martin


Limbo

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In the shadows, something is moving.—Kirk Hamilton


Saints Row IV

A little gaming literacy goes a long way in getting the most out of Saints Row IV. It manages to riff off of classic games like Metal Gear, Streets of Rage and even the old Atari tank-battle title Combat in clever and endearing ways. Saints Row IV is incredibly aware that it is a Video Game, capital V, capital G; it explicitly embraces the bizarre, juvenile and often incomprehensible logic of the medium, and revels in it. Here’s a toybox, Volition says, go smash some stuff together. Can do, Boss.—J.P. Grant


Bastion

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Bastion finds itself on that ever-so-small list of games that left me short of breath and covered in goosebumps as the narrative conclusion drew nigh. What gives Bastion its potency isn’t its (admittedly simple) story or its (admittedly simple) gameplay, but its masterful synthesis of the two. Most games struggle to blend story and gameplay, as though one were water and the other oil. But Bastion, through a conscious and deliberate distilling of narration of play, through playing to the strengths of both words and games, brings the two into a much tighter relationship of worldbuilding. More than anything, Bastion is about piecing together a world that no longer exists. And it does so through its playing and its telling.—Brendan Keogh


The Walking Dead

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Telltale’s The Walking Dead is one of the best licensed games of all time because of the way it re-creates the pacing and feel of the comic series. It’s heavy on character interaction and suspense, like the comic and show, and light on puzzles and item hunting. Action sequences are spread out; this is not Left 4 Dead or Dead Island but a character-driven game with action elements only added in when completely necessary. Think of The Walking Dead as Maniac Mansion and a poor man’s version of Heavy Rain put into a blender containing 10 or 15 issues of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s comic—a nice mix, especially for the episode price of $4.99.—Keith Veronese


XCOM: Enemy Unknown

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This faithful remake of the classic early ‘90s strategy game makes tactics accessible to console gamers. Clever strategy is crucial during the turn-based battles, but you’ll have to be just as smart running the bureaucratic side of XCOM and planning what new facilities to build and trying to balance the concerns of numerous panic-stricken nations. It will infiltrate your brain and keep you up at night.—Garrett Martin


Braid

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This time-warping 2D sidescroller uses a gorgeous hand-drawn style, playfully references 8-bit NES classic Super Mario Bros. and contains wistful, impressionistic prose capable of putting a lump in your throat.—Paste Staff

Fez

Here’s the thing about Fez: all that platforming? It is just the surface. It’s tightly structured and for the most part you can brute force your way through it. The secret puzzles you stumble across in various rooms, the ones that lead you to the anticubes, are the real meat of the game. Sometimes they require you to look a little bit outside of the world, or look at it through a different lens, to solve them. Some require a knowledge of videogames, of the Xbox, of technology that comes from outside of Fez, but they’re not just “gamer” shibboleths. It’s these moments where Fez really shines; but they’re also shibboleths of a different kind, one that creates a challenge not of manual dexterity like so many other retro-looking platformers. Instead, the challenge is mental, and maybe even cultural: where Fez’s retro tendencies, its very self-aware nature of being a game, of technology, become the language of what you do.—Brian Taylor


Hydro Thunder Hurricane

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Xbox Live’s annual Summer of Arcade promotion was partially responsible for making “indie games” mainstream. Over the years Braid, Limbo, Bastion and other games were initially released under that umbrella. Hydro Thunder Hurricane was also a Summer of Arcade game, and it couldn’t be any more different than those three. It’s a score-chasing sequel to a popular old arcade game, where the only goal is to pilot your boat through obstacle courses as quickly and accurately as possible. It shares one crucial trait with the Limbos and Bastions of the world: it’s laser-focused on what it’s trying to do, resulting in a game as elegantly designed as any artsy puzzler.—Garrett Martin


Dance Central

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Dance Central and its sequels remain the exception to the Kinect rule. Harmonix’s dance series shows that motion controls don’t have to be untrustworthy or unfulfilling, and despite their physical requirements they remain the perfect games to demo the Kinect for both dedicated players and a wider audience curious by this still relatively new, still relatively weird camera peripheral.—Garrett Martin


Vanquish

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The greatest bad-good ‘80s action movie that never got made, Vanquish unapologetically dishes out enormous robots, kneepads with jetpacks on them, and a short running time of roughly five hours. There’s no multiplayer and virtually no reason to go back and play after you’ve finished up the first time, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more thrilling ride while it lasts anywhere else.—David Wolinsky


Grand Theft Auto IV

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GTA IV is the best of the series because it combined the new level of detail made possible by systems like the Xbox 360 with somebody who is, on the surface, the most likable protagonist in any of these games. Although Niko Bellic is a little too eager to dive back into a life of crime, his hope to start a new life in America and disgust over his past life in Eastern Europe make you care about the guy. It’s still an overly cynical, bloated mess of a game, but you pretty much have to play at least one GTA to have a good view of the videogame industry, and this is the one to target.—Garrett Martin


Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

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Set in a futuristic New York City reduced to jungle ruins and inhabited by bloodthirsty mechs…, Enslaved is easily one of the more gripping and visually impressive games of [its day], not to mention one of the more dramatically compelling. It’s the latter that truly sets Enslaved apart, as the characters of Trip and Monkey are brought to life with top-notch voice acting, realistic facial animations and a stirring script from Hollywood scribe Alex Garland. It is one of the finer game narratives in recent memory.—Adam Volk


DJ Hero

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Not all the mixes in DJ Hero are explosive. Some are merely fantastic. But hoo boy, every once in a while, you’ll stumble upon a combination—like Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” + Daft Punk’s “Da Funk”—that gets the crowd bouncing around so crazy, you’d think the frequency-modulation dial on your turntable cranked up the temperature on a hot plate beneath the dance floor.—Jason Killingsworth


Just Cause 2

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Most games try to convince you that everything you do really matters; Just Cause 2 takes the opposite approach. Its commitment to unrealism deflates any notion of consequences. The takeaway: Why not go nuts? That’s how you find yourself attaching a moped to the back of your truck to swing it around as an impromptu wrecking ball, or leaping off the nose of a jetliner to reach an aerial sex club held in place by two blimps. You could say that the events of Just Cause 2 make no sense, but that’s not quite right. Like any vivid dream, everything makes perfect sense in the moment; it’s only when you wake up that it seems insane. And with an enormous world that could take more than 100 hours to explore, Just Cause 2 makes it dangerously easy to hit the snooze button.—John Teti


Batman: Arkham Asylum

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It’s still hard to believe how perfectly Rocksteady, a relatively unknown British developer in 2009, nailed what it feels like to be the Caped Crusader. The original Arkham adventure not only presented the best setting and story of the three games to date, but also established the series’ formula—alternately stalking henchmen from the shadows and beating up mobs of them, both aided by the requisite array of gadgets. A tap of the shoulder button triggers “Detective Mode,” outlining the environment in blue and highlighting objects and people Batman can interact with. Detective Mode’s x-ray vision allows you track enemy movements through walls and plot your strategies for taking the thugs down—a process that’s even more satisfying in the Invisible Predator challenges, which force you to vary your tactics. The most satisfying feeling comes from watching your enemies’ terror grow as their numbers dwindle.—J.P. Grant


Burnout Paradise

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Burnout Paradise unlocked the racing game, placing the traditional tracks and races in an open-world structure. You could tool around the city, just enjoying that feeling of speed and the tight handling of your car, and then, when you felt like, jump into a challenge. You probably remember the crashes the most, though: spectacular and dramatic, they were the game’s most visible signature. Burnout Paradise was a driving game that even people who didn’t like driving games could love.—Garrett Martin

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