Microsoft have announced that original Xbox games are are now going to be backwards compatible on the Xbox One. Those dusty old Xbox discs will work by downloading a digital copy of the game. Except when they won’t: the feature is entirely game specific and there is currently only one game supported. Despite this, Microsoft promises these are going to be the definitive and best versions of these games. The problem is, thanks to remasters this statement isn’t exactly true. As such let’s look back at the original Xbox games line up and ask – Are original Xbox games worth playing?
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge is currently the only original Xbox game with confirmed backwords compatibility. This Xbox exclusive 2003 arcade flight game features fast paced aerial combat and a swashbuckling alternate 1930s story line. It was also one of the first games to fully support Xbox Live. At the time the gameplay was an insane amount of fun, and in fairness it still holds up pretty well today. The game hopped between an interesting selection of islands, deserts and cities. Whilst these environments still look good they aren’t jaw dropping like they once were. The gameplay is still fantastic, but prepare to be frustrated by some of the later cave missions if you can get that far. Are original Xbox games worth playing? Absolutely yes.
Halo and Halo 2
Are Halo and Halo 2 still great games? Absolutely. Are they worth playing today? Absolutely. The thing is these games already run on Xbox One, thanks to the Halo: Anniversary Edition and Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Not only that, but they run much better thanks to improved graphics, online features and framerate. Check out a comparison here and here. These two are original Xbox games worth playing, but you owe it to yourself to experience the best version of them.
Project Gotham Racing 2
Project Gotham was the leading racing series on Xbox until Forza took over. It worked thanks to an accessible mix of arcade and simulation elements, a kudos system that rewarded bold driving and tracks based on real world cities. It’s still a lot of fun, in particular the varied objectives rather than continuous races (bring back the speed trap). Unfortunately games move quickly, and playing Project Gotham Racing 2 on a system that will soon have Forza Motorsport 7 in 4K doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Ninja Gaiden Black
Ninja Gaiden is a rock hard third person action game. It was followed up by a solid sequel and a disastrous third entry. The high speed fighting is still incredible and offers a nice alternative to the slower combat of games like Dark Souls. The setting and monsters are ridiculous yet interesting and the art style has aged gracefully. The camera controls remain problematic, especially in the narrow opening levels. This is definitely worth playing, but be warned it is still controller smashingly difficult.
In 2003 IO Interactive released this brilliant third person action game. In it you play as a plumber who watches the Soviets invade New York, only to rise to a leader of the revolution. The game played out in a memorable and damaged city, not unlike 2016’s The Division (in style, if not graphics). Other highlights included a fantastic squad control system and multiple objectives that could be completed in any order. The squad control system was reused for Kane and Lynch: Dead Men, but that game proved to be a disappointing mess on arrival. Does Freedom Fighters hold up? Well, we don’t know, as the Xbox version is not backwards compatible and the PC version has never made it to online services. It’s highly unlikely that the game is going to gain backwards compatibility or a remaster at this stage, leaving it as just a happy memory for now.
Fable will probably forever be tarnished as the game that promised too much and delivered too little. Recently it’s had something of a renaissance, with some fans calling it a masterpiece. Whilst we can’t fully agree, it’s still a fun game in its own right. Overall, Fable 2 is probably the better game (debatable, we know), but the Anniversary edition of Fable available on Steam is definitely the prettiest and the one you should play if you’re interested.
Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay
Escape From Butcher Bay outshone the mediocre Chronicles of Riddick to become the greatest movie tie-in ever made. You play as notorious criminal Richard B. Riddick: you’re a bad ass, you can see in the dark and you are the only person in the universe with a normal first name. Where the movie suffered with characters like Aereon, Zhylaw and Shirah, the game worked with a simple prison escape plot. Your not-so-cunning plan involves getting incarcerated in progressively higher security prison wings, then fight your way out. Among the best looking games on the Xbox, Riddick still plays well today – even if the controls are a little floaty. Sadly the game wasn’t made backwards compatible, to promote subsequent Xbox 360 port Assault on Dark Athena. This added a graphical overhaul and a disappointing sequel. The game is also on GOG, where resolutions up to 4K make it the best version.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
If there is one franchise that needs resurrecting – it is Splinter Cell. The last two entries in the series stumbled a little, but at its’ peak the series offered best in class graphics and fantastic set pieces. Chaos Theory is the best of the bunch, with a fantastic story, gorgeous graphics and never better stealth. It’s the best game on the original Xbox, and still looks and plays fantastically. Sadly, Chaos Theory shipped with a fantastic multiplayer component that has been forever shut down. In 2011 Sony released an HD trilogy pack of the games, but it offered nothing more than a resolution update. Alternatively the game is available on Steam, which has the best graphics but also very troublesome controls. If you haven’t played Chaos Theory, and you don’t own a Playstation this is one to check out.
The original Xbox produced some great games. Some of them seem to have been forgotten, such as Tony Hawks Pro Skater and Burnout. Others have been ported to more modern systems. For example Bioware classics Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire are now available on Steam and iOs. If you haven’t played them you are missing out on two great games and arguably the greatest Star Wars game ever (we still love you Tie Fighter).
Another Xbox classic was Psychonauts, a 3D platformer from Tim Schafer and Doublefine Adventure. You play as a young psychic cadet at a summer camp that goes wrong, forcing you to dive into the actual brains of the people around you. The levels are consistently surprising and brilliant, the dialogue is hilarious and the platforming is great. Sure, the game has it’s difficult parts (damn you Meat Circus) but it’s still an absolute blast. We recently revisited it in 4K on Steam, and the cartoon graphics have aged very well.
Definitely these are games to check out, but probably not on Xbox Originals. Even a very old computer will run them with ease, and they will probably run better and cost less money.
Are any original Xbox games worth playing?
It’s a little hard to know who Microsoft think this feature is going to appeal to. Certainly the Xbox had its fair share of brilliant games, but many of them have since been updated to better versions on newer platforms. Unless you have a Psychonauts disc lying around, it’s probably going to be cheaper to pick these up on Steam or GOG than the Xbox Marketplace. Surely we will see some of them appear in the Microsoft Games with Gold promotions, but with the exception of Crimson Skies and Chaos Theory it’s hard to see what there is left to get excited about.
Are any original Xbox games worth playing? Yes, but not many.