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.
‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘ ($14-plus)
This cyberpunk prequel/reboot to Ion Storm’s innovative action-RPG Deus Ex: Human Revolution brought the franchise into the 21st century, connecting the wild world of cyborg conspiracy theories to our own. Players control Adam Jensen, a corporate security expert, who uncovers a global conspiracy while investigating an attack on his company that forced him to replace most of his body with robotic prosthetics. We’re also big fans of the current-gen follow-up, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which came out in August 2016.
‘Red Dead Redemption’ ($20-plus)
Red Dead Redemption is an epic, open-world adventure from Grand Theft Auto series developer Rockstar that effectively brings its distinct brand of open-world chaos to the Old West. Players take on the role of outlaw-turned-federal agent John Marston, chasing bounties on notorious criminals and exploring new territory in the American Southwest. Everything about this game, from a carefully crafted story to its procedurally generated scor,e was carefully crafted to build a world that players still love. Though its visuals haven’t aged as well as other games — everything just seems a little too brown at this point — the smooth gunplay and authentic environment still lend the game’s story and ambiance quite a bit of credence. Xbox One X users can explore the Wild West in 4K. A prequel, Red Dead Redemption 2, launches October 26 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Borderlands brought an unforeseen, yet addictive mash-up of gameplay elements when it first launched in 2009. Combining the basic mechanics of a first-person shooter with gear hunting and talent trees usually reserved for role-playing games, Gearbox Software’s first original game burst onto the scene with aplomb. It didn’t hurt that Borderlands was incisively funny in a way that many games have tried to replicate, with varying degrees of success. The game still provides one of the best local co-op experiences in recent memory, bolstered by a four-class setup and a proficiency system that renders it ideal for cooperative play.
‘Super Meat Boy’ ($15)
Team Meat’s fast, demanding platformer might seem like the kind of game that would suffer from emulation-related latency issues, but Super Meat Boy feels snappy on Xbox One. And unlike the newly released PS4 and Vita versions, the Xbox 360 emulation still features the game’s excellent original soundtrack, making it the best way to play the game on a current-gen console.
One of the games that paved the way for indie development on consoles, Jonathan Blow’s time-travel-centric puzzler is still a master class in video game design and storytelling. Plus, its ageless watercolor-like art style looks just good, no matter where you play it.
‘Assassin’s Creed II’ ($15-plus)
The Assassin’s Creed series has had many ups and downs over the years. If you ever forget why you’ve been returning to the franchise all these years, ACII will help you rekindle your love affair with the series.
Assassin’s Creed II is the crown jewel of the franchise. Though later entries would certainly improve on some of its systems, ACII remains the tightest entry in the series, with the best balance between crazy sci-fi and secret history. (After all, Ubisoft did decide to build an entire trilogy around the game’s Florentine ancestor, Ezio Auditore.)
‘Gears of War 3′ ($13-plus)
One of our retroactive favorites in the Xbox 360 library, the climax of the Gears of War saga sees Marcus Fenix and his squad make one last desperate attempt to save the last remnants of human civilization from the Locust horde.
It’s very simple, really: The Gears of War series comprises four of the console’s best games, and Gears of War 3 perfected its particularly frantic brand of cover-based shooting. All four Gears of War games are backward-compatible on Xbox One in case you want to play the story all the way through, but if you’re just looking for a quick fix, then Gears 3 is the game you’re looking for. Xbox One X users can play Gears of War 3 in 4K.
Fable II hits all the right notes in all the right places. The 2004 follow-up to Lionhead Studios’ action RPG for the original Xbox feels at once whimsical and grand, with an enchanting storyline that involves multiple acts and several memorable companions — including your dog. Blending the smooth combat of Fable with a much deeper in-game economy (where you can even purchase homes and get married) made Fable II one of the deepest — and most charming — single-player experiences out there. Whether you want to save the world or simply just play your lute in the street for hours, Fable II has you covered.
‘Mirror’s Edge‘ ($15-plus)
Mirror’s Edge is likely one of the coolest games you’ll play. Its high-octane, parkour-style gameplay puts you in the (metaphorical) driver’s seat as Faith, a well-coordinated foot messenger who spends much of her time evading the oppressive government to deliver secure information. The story concept is well-worn, but the gameplay itself is fresh and, really, there’s nothing like it. You’ll fly through corridors and across rooftops at a dead sprint, looking for bits of bright color to guide your acrobatic endeavors (and save your skin). The game’s first-person perspective also lends a sense of realism and intensity to the proceedings, one that makes you feel like you’re actually jumping over mile-high chasms and shimmying across razor-thin ledges. Mirror’s Edge has visual enhancements on Xbox One X.
‘The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings‘ ($14-plus)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt introduced many gamers to the story of Geralt of Rivia, an old-fashioned monster hunter in a fantasy world replete with political strife and magical beings. If you liked Wild Hunt as much as we did — it was our 2015 game of the year — you should definitely go back and play its predecessor, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. The second game in the series follows Geralt through swamps and mountains as he searches for an assassin who killed his king and left him holding the metaphorical bloody sword. As in Wild Hunt, players prepare for every battle by collecting herbs and rare substances to create potions and oils for your blades, and utilizing magical Witcher signs to decimate your enemies. The series’ second installment is a little more complicated than its latest entry, sure, but if you stick with it, The Witcher 2 unfurls into a compelling fantasy/political thriller. If you have an Xbox One X, Assassins of Kings has visual enhancements.
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