Backward-compatibility is the holy grail of video game console features. Every new console prompts the question: “What am I going to do with all the games I already bought?” Since Microsoft announced it would gradually bring the Xbox 360 library to Xbox One in 2015, the console’s library has expanded thanks to hundreds of last-gen titles (and a few original Xbox One games, too).
Although the list is long and continues to grow, due to licensing agreements and potential development complications, the list of backward-compatible games do not necessarily represent the essential Xbox 360 canon. There are some great games and some, err, not-so-great games. Here are some of the highlights you’ll want to keep in mind before unboxing your dust-ridden old console.
Note: We intentionally left off games that have been remastered for Xbox One, such as Bioshock and Halo 3, as we generally recommend picking up a remastered version designed for new hardware over a backward-compatible port.
‘Alan Wake‘ ($10)
One of the Xbox 360’s most memorable exclusives not named Gears of War or Halo, Alan Wake channels the work and legend of Stephen King, all the way down to its novelist protagonist. After eponymous Mr. Wake’s wife disappears, he scours a sleepy Pacific Northwest town for clues to her disappearance. He soon learns that the events of his latest novel are playing out before him, though he can’t recall ever writing the thing. A memorable action adventure with a solid story and an interesting, episodic structure, Alan Wake is a “thriller” in the truest sense of the word, which you don’t find too often in video games.
When Bayonetta launched in 2009, the comparisons to director Hideki Kamiya’s prior beat-’em-up franchise, Devil May Cry, came in droves. While the resemblance is undeniable, Bayonetta‘s precise combat and off-the-wall imagery break new ground. Though its story is nothing to write home about, Bayonetta’s bag of tricks, both visual and mechanical, stood out before and remains a pleasure to play now.
In terms of pure driving fun, nothing beats Burnout. The crash-happy arcade driving series hit its stride with Burnout 3: Takedown and Burnout Revenge, a pair of games that mixed racing and vehicular combat — ramming other racers until you destroy them — to great success. Revenge has flashier visuals as an Xbox 360-era game, and while they look a bit dated at this point, the experience is every bit as chaotic and fun as it was when it launched in 2005. You can also play Burnout 3: Takedown, an original Xbox game, on Xbox One.
Burnout, as a franchise, did not make the jump to current-generation consoles, which has been disappointing, but you should definitely check out Burnout Revenge, one of the best arcade racers of the 360 era, if you haven’t already.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the best game in the storied franchise, has been discussed endlessly since its launch on the original PlayStation in 1997. Not much more needs to be said about why you should play this masterpiece. Seriously though, if you haven’t played it, download it on your Xbox One, pronto.
‘Dead Space‘ ($20)
One of the most frightening games on Xbox 360, Dead Space picked up where Resident Evil had faltered (prior to Resident Evil 7), giving players a tense experience that required combat precision and forethought. Set on a spaceship in the year 2058, you play as Isaac Clarke, an engineer sent to investigate a distress signal. Naturally, things quickly go south when you learn the ship’s occupants have been killed and turned into Necromorphs — basically alien zombies that must be dismembered limb by limb. Everything in Dead Space — the atmosphere, weapons, enemy design, pacing, and scares — combine to create a sterling experience that still feels great to play today. A pair of sequels of steadily declining quality would follow. Sadly, Visceral Games, the EA studio behind the series, closed its doors in 2017.
‘Far Cry 2‘ ($10)
You could say that if you’ve played one Far Cry game, you’ve played them all. That’s mostly a fair statement, but not when it comes to Far Cry 2, the best entry in the long-running Ubisoft series. Set in modern-day Africa amid a civil war, you play as a mercenary in pursuit of an infamous arms dealer. All Far Cry games have large open maps, but Far Cry 2‘s is the most interesting and fun to explore, even 10 years later. The story is darker and more tonally consistent than the irreverent series is known for today. Not to mention, it has one of the coolest tactical maneuvers in the series — the ability to start and spread a fire that blazes towards the enemy, either distracting them or bringing them into view for easy pickings.
Yes, the game has some annoying glitches and is rough around the edges visually, but it’s well worth your time as one of the best open-world shooters of the 360 era. It also might change your opinion about the quality of subsequent entries in the franchise.
‘Portal 2‘ ($20)
Portal 2 is one of the best games ever made. Full stop.
The fleshed-out sequel to Valve’s experimental (and brilliant) puzzle game blends humor, inventive mechanics, and deviously designed puzzles to create a game unlike any other. Moreover, the game looks even better now than it did back in 2011 since the game runs in 4K on the Xbox One X. If you haven’t played it, we suggest starting with Portal: Still Alive (also brilliant and backward-compatible) before moving on to the main course.
‘Skate 3‘ ($20)
The best skateboarding game available on Xbox One is Skate 3, an Xbox 360 game that launched in 2010, which speaks to both Skate 3‘s quality and the decline of the genre. The Skate series leans more toward hardcore fans, as it embraces realism rather than the over-the-top arcade nature of the Tony Hawk franchise. With Skate 3, though, the developers at EA introduced an easy mode that lets players perform tricks easier, opening the extreme sports fun up to a more casual audience. Whether you’re big into skating or just nostalgic for Tony Hawk, Skate 3 remains a great time today. Plus, like Portal 2, Skate 3 has visual enhancements on the Xbox One X.
‘Fallout 3‘ ($10-plus)
Bethesda’s original re-imagining of the Fallout universe set the gold standard for open-world RPGs in its time and still conjures up fond memories for so many players, even to this day. Even though you can now tool around the much prettier Commonwealth wasteland in Fallout 4, the apocalyptic ruins of Washington D.C. have retained their own charm.
The follow-up, Fallout: New Vegas, is also backwards compatible on Xbox One. Developed by Obsidian with Bethesda’s blessing, New Vegas brought everything interesting about the Fallout 3 to a new setting, the Mojave desert in southern Nevada.
‘Halo: Reach’ ($13-plus)
The only Halo that hasn’t been remastered for a new generation, Halo: Reach remains the narrative peak of the series. A prequel to the original Halo trilogythat draws from the expanded canon of Halo novels, Reach follows a team of Spartan soldiers fighting a losing battle against the Covenant for control of the planet Reach. The fifth and final entry in the series made by developer Bungie, Reach stands apart from other Halo games by taking bigger risks in both its narrative and gameplay design, and introducing strong improvements, such as armor abilities.