In December 2007, Microsoft launched the Xbox Originals platform. Part of Xbox Live Marketplace, it allows you to download Xbox 1 games for 1200 Microsoft Points (GBP 10.20 / EUR 12.00) apiece, with the likes of Halo, Psychonauts and Fahrenheit among the launch titles.
Microsoft has continued to introduce games to the service bit by bit, and we've been rounding them up in this ongoing reference guide, which offers a bit of context on each and a link back to our original review where possible, and sarcastic comments where not.
Most recent update: 11th February, for the launch of Black, Sid Meier's Pirates!, and Ninja Gaiden Black.
8/10 review published 13th March 2002. By John Bye.
Quite popular this one, apparently. It's lovely to look to look back at the understated way former editor John greeted its much trumpeted arrival, picking over its contents from the perspective of a hardened PC FPS player. Others would heap more specific celebration on its control scheme (although John was surprised at how easily he took to it), but much of his praise and criticism has stood the test of time. Spoilsport Kristan tells us he thinks the first one is worth a 9, but then he says a lot of things. Whatever the truth of the matter (and you apparently think it's 8.7, judging by our gamepage), Halo proved to be the main foundation upon which the Xbox empire was able to stand with conviction, and so it has proved again and again.
One of the funniest and most lovely games of 2005, and a game that so many of our panel of end-of-year experts felt the same about that it took our imaginary Game Of The Year gong in the face of strong competition. At the time, Kieron Gillen remarked: "Psychonauts isn't the game of the year. But there's part of me that's aware that in twenty years time, if you ask me about 2005, it very may well be." What a splendid sentiment. As to why, it very nearly achieved the unachievable goal of transferring the "everything is a joke" mentality of games like Day of the Tentacle into a platform setting, taking you to plenty of wonderful and hilarious places in the process. The Milkman Conspiracy, Lungfishopolis... Ahh. There have been very few like it before or since, and Brutal Legend has a lot to live up to.
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge
8/10 review published 31st October 2003. By Kristan Reed.
Alternative realities are nothing new, but it takes a brave developer to propose one where the USA doesn't exist. But then you can't take Crimson Skies too seriously - it stars Nathan Zachary and the flying Fortune Hunters, for a start, who might as well be opening for Tenacious D - and it's about dogfighting in made-up skies, and does the Starfighter thing of refusing to lock people out with complexity. Kristan felt that PC fans might reckon it a bit dumbed-down, but judging by its popularity on Xbox Live at the time, enough people got past that, and even without the online elements he described it as an "excellent, polished package that offers instant and constant entertainment from the moment it hits the disc tray". Well, there's no disc this time, but then you're probably not a physical goods guy.
But! It does make an appearance in the Xbox Cult Classics feature we did to celebrate five years of Xbox. "Famously," wrote Kristan, "this was Bill Gates' favourite Xbox game which is an instant kiss of death. It was also slammed by bewildered critics who didn't have time to mess around with a party game when there were so many sexier Xbox games out for launch. But actually, it was a far better compendium of four-player multiplayer games than most people were prepared to give it credit for, and it's no surprise that Microsoft has decided to follow it up on 360." And it was no surprise to those of us bewildered critics who thought it was a bit rubbish the first time to see Fuzion Frenzy 2 crash and burn. Apparently, your mileage may vary.
Burnout 3: Takedown
9/10 review published 14th September 2004. By Kristan Reed.
The first child of Criterion's partnership - and later marriage - with EA, Takedown was also the first Burnout game to appear on Xbox from day one, and the first to embrace Xbox Live. There were teething problems - Kristan complained about an over-complicated lobby system, and a lack of integration between single- and multi-player modes (a feature whose implementation would go on to become commonplace across Xbox Live titles) - but the wealth of content and the introduction of racing elements like the titular takedowns stirred him in all the right ways. Crash mode also said hello to the infamous Crashbreakers and Heartbreakers, which continue to divide opinion next to the relative purity of Burnout 2. Subsequent title Revenge is already available on Xbox 360, but, as a way into the series for people who have yet to bother with it, Takedown for a tenner ought to be extremely tempting.
8/10 review published 8th October 2004. By Kieron Gillen.
"We're very much in Journey over Destination territory," said Kieron, dancing around his idiom with gay abandon (and, if you look back, attempting to abandon a gay husband, who he picked up on a whim). Fable's sequel is likely to be billed as one of the Xbox 360 games of 2008, but in the meantime there's little to stop you going back and enjoying what Lionhead and Big Blue Box accomplished three years ago: not a truly non-linear action role-player, but a game where curious players could take a lot more from the world than merely hit-points and mana.
Although its inclusion in the Xbox Originals line-up was originally mooted, Fahrenheit seemed to have missed day one to judge by Microsoft's pre-launch press materials. As it turned out - and as we rather belatedly discovered when we went home and downloaded the dashboard update ourselves - it is indeed available, and that's good news. A heavily story-driven adventure game with action elements, it's almost rhythm-response in places, and slightly torturous mechanics rubbed a few people up the wrong way at the time of its release. We adored it though, delighting in its unorthodox camerawork and story-telling techniques, and among the Originals it stands out as one of the best suited to its new price point. If you didn't play it the first time, it's well worth considering.
Crash Bandicoot: Wrath of Cortex
Released for Xbox way back in April 2002, Wrath of Cortex struggled to recapture the form that made the very first Crash Bandicoot game so good (and it still is pretty moreish, amazingly), but that didn't stop it selling bundles, because nothing ever stops Crash selling in huge quantities. Whether it's worth ten of your Internet pounds today is debateable, but you don't need us to tell you that.
8/10 review published 22nd February 2006. By Kristan Reed.
Criterion may be best known for its smash-'em-up racing games (Burnout 3: Takedown, of course, is already on Xbox Originals), but in 2006 it tried something else: a first-person shooter with the bare-bones, high-intensity attitude of the developer's racing franchise, modelling the impact and outcome of every bullet with the attention to detail that bent wing-mirrors and crumpled bonnets on the road. The result was Black, an almost ceaseless onslaught of projectile death. Its visual impact has diminished slightly since we first saw it (back then it was quite staggering), but the underlying gameplay is still worth experiencing.
Ninja Gaiden Black
9/10 review published 16th March, 2004. By Tom Bramwell.
Rightly regarded as one of the best games on the original Xbox (and one of the hardest), Ninja Gaiden is a third-person hackandslash with a deep, complex battle system and incredibly shiny graphics, based around Ryu Hayabusa out of Dead Or Alive. Whatever you thought about Tecmo's beat-'em-up series, this is worth a look; an unrelentingly violent, grandiose collision of thoughtful mechanics and spectacular scale. Ninja Gaiden Black, the remixed follow-up released here, introduced Mission Mode (score-attack vignettes), the two Hurricane Pack download releases (new moves, more difficulty settings - high and low - and new enemies like explosive bats). Being able to say you've finished Ninja Gaiden Black is serious gamer credibility.
Sid Meier's Pirates!
7/10 review published 2nd August, 2005. By Tom Bramwell.
The "Sid Meier" bit could be misleading; this isn't the epic, turn-based empire-building of Civ nor the slow and steady economics of Railroads, but rather pirate's-life simulation where you set out to avenge the deaths of your family by drinking, bootlegging and mini-gaming it up and down the Spanish Main. Button-matching and reaction time tests dictate your success or failure in the games of love, life, and sword-fighting, while ship-to-ship combat is a top-down cannon battle with silky rigging graphics and the very real danger of losing that ship you've spent ages acquiring. You can lose yourself for days getting washed up on its silly shores, providing you can put up with the repetition.
For more on the Xbox Originals, check out the official website.