Have you heard the news? Xbox Live is turning 10 years old! To show our love for the best online gaming service on console, we’re taking count of the best Xbox Live games of the past ten years. Here’s the list and don’t hesitate to chime in with your favorite Xbox Live memories. Even that one time when some 12 year old pwn’d you in Madden...
2002 - Mech Assault
No doubt, the first few years were lean on Xbox Live. However, rising out of the ashes of online play on the Sega Dreamcast, Xbox Live truly brought solid online gaming to consoles. There were several games in the initial batch and Mech Assault was the best of the bunch. Despite the small community on the service, Mech Assault brought Xbox fans together in ways that console gamers had never seen before. Even well into the life cycle of the first Xbox, nerds were still battling their mechs with this future hall-of-fame game. Younger gamers may have missed this hallmark title, but here at Crave we’re paying our respects to a landmark game worth remembrance.
2003 - Crimson Skies
While Mech Assault broke new ground for console games, Crimson Skies delivered the premiere non-FPS experience on Xbox Live. This Xbox exclusive brought an Indiana Jones-like ethos to the sky, as gamers battled with soup’d up biplanes. I spent hours in this online melting pot that had 50-year-old former pilots battling it out with 8-year-old goofballs. I can fondly remember some bratty little kid screaming in my headset for no apparent reason... just because he could. Sure, the novelty of obnoxious kids flooding our favorite games would wear thin incredibly quickly, but despite the immaturity of some of its users, Crimson Skies was a fantastic genre-buster that defined Xbox Live for years to come. I have been chomping at the bit for a sequel, but someone at Microsoft has a sick sense of humor.
2004 - Halo 2
This list could easily consist of every Halo game ever released. With a global community in the millions, Halo truly is the defining series of Xbox Live. It all started when Bungie went live with Halo 2. While shooters like CounterStrike had thrived on Xbox Live, Halo 2 was exactly what the community wanted. With a huge fan base already playing intense multiplayer action offline with Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2 insured that gamers could find a proper match anytime without a friend to be found. Gamers who used to rule their dorm floors were now getting tea-bagged by British nannies taking a break from folding laundry. Halo 2 was a landmark game that propelled Xbox Live into the stratosphere and put all other consoles on notice that online was the future of gaming.
2005 - Geometry Wars
With the launch of a new console in 2005, a lot of original Xbox games were overshadowed by their prettier next gen cousins. Launching at $60 a pop, there were a ton of Xbox Live enabled contenders for the Xbox 360. However, it was the little game that launched for $5 that stole the hearts of critics and changed the landscape for all of the new consoles. Despite valiant efforts from Forza Motorsport, Project Gotham 3, and Perfect Dark Zero, Geometry Wars brought old school shooter stylings back to the forefront. This throwaway game that could have been forgotten quickly became proof that downloadable games could be major league quality without having to carry a hefty price tag. Especially considering the dearth of new Xbox 360 games released through the beginning of 2006, Geo Wars showed that the future didn’t have to be on disc and didn’t have to cost more than a DVD.
2006 - Gears of War
As was mentioned in 2005, 2006 was not a great year for the Xbox. Once the post-coital glow rubbed off after the launch of the new console, the Xbox 360 wasn’t exactly flooded with great new games. While Elder Scrolls was epic in scale, remember how shitty Full Auto and how awful Bomberman: Act Zero were? Fortunately, online gamers were thrown a big fat bone in 2006 with the release of Gears of War. One of the biggest hype-trains talked about pre-launch, Gears delivered the best shooter experience gamers could ask for. With an emphasis on cover systems and small teamplay, Gears was a mega-hit and assured shooter fans a whole new trilogy to glue themselves to in the next generation. It also convinced the hardcore Halo 2 fans that it was time to turn in their original Xboxs because the Xbox 360 had justified its price tag.
2007 - Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare/Rock Band
With the new console cycle in full swing, there were a ton of really good games out in 2007. It would be unfair to pick just one, so I’d like to recognize Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Rock Band. While Call of Duty 2 had been a massive hit at the launch of the Xbox 360, lack of online play kept the series off this list so far. Call of Duty 3 did have online play but that game was just not very good. COD4 was Activitision’s declaration of war on all shooters and locked in a whole new audience for the next five years.
Rock Band, on the other hand, was something far different on the service and dynamically changed all gaming for the next two years. While gaming had long been seen as a boy’s hobby to be enjoyed quietly alone in mom’s basement, Rock Band brought gaming back to parties. Grown adults (and kids alike) created their own fake bands to play fake instruments and sing their balls off. Rock Band crossed gender lines, age groups, and even made the Beatles get back together (eventually). Plus, the game had so much downloadable content that gamers could almost never play the same setlist twice. Rock Band would eventually overstay it’s welcome; however, it cannot be denied its place as one of the greatest Xbox Live games.
2008 - Left 4 Dead
By 2008, many of the console exclusives had evaporated and the best games were playable on multiple platforms. Left 4 Dead was a fantastic Xbox exclusive team-based shooter that reinvigorated the zombie genre and proved that shooters don’t have to be about killing your friends. With a heavy emphasis on team play, Left 4 Dead requires all players to really make effective use of their headsets when playing. While headsets were in full use in 2003 and 2004, a lot of gamers had relied on the mute button, except when playing with the closest of friends. The heavy team play of Left 4 Dead got everyone to open up (for better or worse), while broadening the scope of what a modern shooter could provide.
2009 - Borderlands
Another team-based shooter earns top honors on this list as Borderlands rules the roost. This long delayed shooter could be played exactly the same way with four players as it could with one. Furthermore, with tons of outstanding DLC, Borderlands has come to embody what the modern console game looks like. (I would have loved to include my personal favorite Halo Wars on this list but the lack of studio support for this game kept the replay value very low)
2010 - Halo: Reach
By now the hardcore Halo fans are probably pretty pissed that only one Halo game is on this list. Sorry folks, Halo 3 just paled in comparison to COD 4 and Rock Band. With a couple bumps in the road in 2008 & 2009, Halo came back in full force in 2010. With upgraded multiplayer, a new Firefight mode, and a hefty expansion to Forge mode, Halo: Reach brought Halo 3 gamers into the modern era. By 2010 there wasn’t a lot of innovation in the Xbox Live space, but smartly enough, Microsoft hadn’t given up on the franchise that served as inspiration for their wonderful service.
2011 - Portal 2/Forza Motorsport 4
Getting closer to today, picking the best of Xbox live is like apples and oranges. There’s a ton to choose from and we all have our different tastes. For that reason, I’ve picked two fantastic games from 2011 that justified keeping your XBL account active for another 12 months. Early in the year Portal 2 brought fun back to two player co-op. While the game had a core single player experience, smart gamers knew that playing through co-op was where the extra fun was at.
Forza Motorsport has always been a fantastic series on Xbox Live and a great benchmark on modern graphics. While the graphics and gameplay have been continually awesome, the use of the Kinect control scheme made this experience even more interesting. While not every mainstream game benefitted from show-horned Kinect functionality, the controller free driving in Forza 4 is pretty intuitive.
2012 - Minecraft
This one was no contest. Minecraft has owned XBL for months now and shows no sign of relenting. With continual updates and endless possible worlds, Minecraft is a cultural phenomenon that gaming hasn’t seen in years. The success of a PC game that is months out-of-date on console in an era of up-to-date satisfaction is astounding and shows the ingenuity of this game. The future still looks bright on Xbox Live with the likes of fantastic games like Minecraft!
Alex Keen is a contributor to Crave Gaming. You can follow him on Twitter @dbldn.