Celebrating the Life and Legacy of the Xbox 360
Welcome back to Punished Hall of Fame, where we at The Punished Backlog induct the games (and, apparently, consoles) that have best exemplified what we love about this wonderful medium. In this edition, I spoke with Amanda Tien and David Silbert about how much we all love the Xbox 360, our favorite games for the system, and why we believe it’s worthy of our site’s Hall of Fame.
Sam: So we are inducting the Xbox 360 into the Punished Hall of Fame.
Sam: Everyone here loves the 360, but do any of us still actually have one at home?
Amanda: I have a nice little story about mine, actually. I had kept mine for a while. I’ve moved multiple times over the past few years, and I always make sure to keep my 360, even though it takes up precious space in my car and requires extra care when moving. I kept it until COVID, and when I made a big cross-country move, I told mutual aid groups that I follow that I had these two Xbox 360 systems (mine and my husband’s) and all these games, and basically said, “They’re free if you want them!” And a manager of a recovery home said, “Wow, these would be amazing for the people here who are trying not to fall back into addiction.” So he came by, picked up the systems and all the games, and he was crying and saying, “You guys are the best!” It really warmed my heart, and it was also impressive that this console is still useful and valuable 15 years after its launch. So no, I don’t have it, but I know it’s in a better place.
David: I’m sad that I’m going after that, because now I feel terrible about how I’m sitting on mine! In the words of Kei Isobe, it’s a paperweight at this point. I think it’s in my basement, because I think going from 360 to Xbox One and now Series X… I have a good place for my Xbox One, but that 360 is not seeing the light of day. It should go where it’ll actually see the light of day, to be honest.
Amanda: Keep it for your Punished Backlog museum!
David: There might end up being one! I would love having a game room with, like, glass walls and stuff like that.
Amanda: I found a Tupperware box during the move that has, in pristine condition, my original Game Boy Color and my Hotel Dusk cartridge. I was so excited to find these things, even though I know I won’t play that stuff anymore. So I’m pro keeping old gaming stuff somewhere.
Sam: I think my Xbox 360 is at my parents’ house? I actually did get the red ring of death with my first 360 a while back, because I bought a cheap refurbished version in like 2008. I always seem to do that: I have an original DS (not DS lite), an original 3DS (not 3DS XL), etc. Anyway, the Xbox worked well until a few years in, and I exchanged it for a Halo 3 special edition 360, which had a golden Master Chief visor disk slot. Every now and then my dad asks me, “Do you still use this?” and I have to remind him that I don’t live there anymore. But my dad, just like everyone’s dad, keeps all his old stuff, like instruction manuals for devices he no longer owns or random cords.
Memories of a Golden Age
Sam: So what’s the first thing you think of when you think of the Xbox 360? Any particular memories that come up?
David: I think of Halo 3. When it came out, I don’t remember if the PlayStation 3 was out yet, but I wasn’t old enough to play Halo yet, so I was creating presentations for my parents to convince them it wasn’t too violent.
David: There’s blood, but no gore! Here’s the link to the parents guide! Anyway, I got the 360 just for Halo 3, so that’s where most of my memories of the 360 come from. I remember playing it with all my friends, and even people who weren’t my friends in high school. You know, the “popular” kids? We all played on Xbox Live together; it was kind of galvanizing. Good times! Never had an online experience like that before. So that’s my biggest takeaway from the 360. I still think PS3 had better games overall, but I’ve still never had an online experience with games that has surpassed the times I had with the 360.
Sam: I have a similar memory. My senior year of high school, I got a bunch of friends together to play through Gears of War 2’s horde mode together. It was up to six players, but you could only have two players in a game locally, so the six of us split up in pairs of two at three different houses so we could actually do it. Horde-style modes weren’t that popular yet, so it was a fundamentally novel experience. Also, because only one person could chat on a headset at a time, we would have to relay the information to the guy next to us. It was also cool because we were nearing the end of our high school days and headed to college soon, and none of us went to the same college, so it was this last big gaming moment we’d have together like that. And I’m still good friends with all those guys, but it’s harder to recreate experiences like that. So when I think of the 360, I mostly think about the good times I had with friends, both online and offline.
Amanda: I got into the 360 pretty late, but I still remember the social experience of it. I remember playing Castle Crashers with my dormmates in college. And it was just such an easy game to pick up and figure out how to play. I think that’s something that the Xbox One struggled with, that getting rid of couch co-op kind of took those experiences away from people. The One generation was just like, “We’re done with that forever!” And I feel like the 360 gave so many opportunities to those kinds of social games.
David: I think you bring up a good point, too: In addition to the big-budget games like Halo and Call of Duty, you had the advent the Xbox Live Marketplace and indies on consoles. Castle Crashers was definitely the big one. Braid was another one…
Sam: Geometry Wars!
David: Plus all the puzzle games like Zuma, Peggle, Hexic. Not all were social experiences, but the smaller $5-$10 games were a big part of the whole experience. Plus there were demos for everything! That was fun.
Amanda: Yeah, before you weren’t getting that kind of digital access to games. But even, like, Games With Gold was a big deal, back when the games they offered were actually good, not actual garbage that they’re shoveling out there. But the 360 definitely lived in between the power of physical stores and online shopping.
An Indie Revolution
Sam: That brings up an interesting point. When I think about the whole legacy of the Xbox 360, it feels like the biggest contribution it had was access to these small indie games. Because before that, it was shareware, or you’d have to know about it through word of mouth. But Xbox would highlight these kinds of games. They’d highlight Limbo, they’d highlight Super Meat Boy, they’d highlight Bionic Commando: Rearmed.
Also, I feel like AAA games have become more homogenized since the 360 generation. They all kind of feel the same now. They’re all third-person, over-the-shoulder action games with stealth mechanics, open worlds, and also crafting and RPG elements for some reason. I feel like 360 was a great place (and one of the last places) for AAA games that were creative and unique, and we’re not getting those same kinds of experiences as frequently now. Some examples: Crackdown, L.A. Noire, and Brutal Legend. What do you guys think of those kinds of games? We talked a lot about the important multiplayer experiences, but did you have any interesting single-player games from this console that you’d mention?
David: I think that’s a good point. This actually came up yesterday when I was playing Cuphead, which I know is not from the 360 generation, but I was thinking back to a recent Nintendo Direct where they highlighted lots of cool, unique games, and it made me think about how homogenous the AAA space can feel. I almost feel like indies have to pick up the slack there, where I’m looking at indies to see what’s new and innovative. Then you’ll hear [Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO] Jim Ryan say that PlayStation is mostly going to focus on big blockbusters for PS5, and that all the major investment is going into what you were saying: the huge, action-survival titles, with just the right amount of stealth and open-world freedom. But the 360 still had a lot of cool titles, like Mirror’s Edge (R.I.P.) and Dead Space. There were a lot of interesting games that publishers took a chance on, and they just didn’t sell well. It’s a bit of a bummer; I have to go to indies now to get those kinds of experiences.
Amanda: I think the fact that the Xbox One has been backwards compatible, and that Microsoft has continued to add more games to the One’s library, really speaks to how great those 360 games were. Like, I’m a HUGE Mass Effect fan. Those were the first games I really got into on my own on the 360. I literally bought them all for $5 at GameStop, and I remember sitting on the couch with my Cortana-flavored 360 and playing through all of them. And they were SO GOOD! I played through them all aggressively, and when I got the Xbox One, I brought those discs over. Obviously, I’m excited for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, but I still have the old discs. And the fact that, years and years later, it will still be possible to play those old discs on the newer consoles is pretty awesome.
Sam: So, in a nutshell, why is this console a Punished Hall of Famer?
David: Because it’s iconic! When I think of the 360, it had the red ring of death, but that didn’t fully define its legacy at the end of the day. I came into games in the prior generation, with the PS2 and GameCube, but I never actually owned an original Xbox, though I played Halo with friends. But the 360 was the first time that Microsoft and Xbox became mainstream, and I think a lot about that image—the sleek, white and green color scheme, very ergonomic controllers—and the system’s marketing with the flashy E3 presentations. The games were there, the online experiences were there, but the presentation of the console itself also added a lot.
Amanda: You’ll have to buckle up for this original comment I’m going to make: Remember those Xbox 360 avatars, kind of like the Miis? Obviously, those were why the 360 was great. You could customize your avatar, make them wear a skeleton costume! Seriously though, I agree totally on the controller, but the menus were just so easy and straightforward. Like, on the PS4 the menus boggle my mind.
David: The PS5’s UI is even worse! Like, I’m staring at it and I can’t believe this is somehow worse.
Amanda: We should go to the people waiting in line for PS5s and just yell, “Don’t do it! The menus still suck! Go back!”
Sam: The Series X nailed that aspect. They’re like, “We’re just keep it all exactly the same.”
Amanda: Right! And that easiness started with the 360 being so easy to navigate. And there’s something about that moment of gaming where you don’t have a lot of time to play, and so you want to squeeze in just a bit of Destiny or play just a quest or two of an RPG. If you have to go through a weird menu and sit through 15 minutes before actually getting to a game, you’ve already lost most of that bit of time you had. I never had that problem with the 360. Everything just worked! It also just has a fun name too. “Xbox 360” just sounds cool!
Sam: The Xbox names just went downhill from there, too.
David: You make the Xbox One sound really epic, Amanda, by just calling it “the One.” I never thought about it that way, but it sounds badass!
Amanda: THE LAST ONE!
Sam: “The One” sounds like a fun club your friend tells you about, but then you find out it’s actually a cult.
Sam: What I love most about the Xbox 360 is that even though I don’t think any of its games are among my favorite titles of all time, I find it has the highest number of games that hold up of any previous generation. You can probably think of 40 or 50 Xbox 360 games that somebody who’s never played them before can pick up and play, and they’ll still feel good to play. As a recent example, I started Dishonored not too long ago…
Amanda: YES! YES! Was that really a 360 game?
Sam: It was! Though I’m playing the definitive edition on Xbox Series X though.
Amanda: The fact that a game that wild and complex could be on the 360 is incredible.
Sam: Right? But yeah, I’ve played some Dishonored recently, and before that I was playing Oblivion, these games that I just missed from that generation. You can still play those games now and enjoy the hell out of them, and that’s why the 360 was such a great console. There are dozens of games like that which will always prevail.
David: That’s another fond memory I have of the 360, by the way: playing Oblivion. Wasting away afternoons getting lost in that world, and then breaking up my time playing it with a palette cleanser like Puzzle Quest. You get the huge, massive RPG interspersed with small puzzle gameplay in between. That encapsulates everything about the 360 for me: big, awesome worlds, and then little indies that blow your mind in different ways.
Amanda: Also, the 360’s success coincided with the rise of Telltale Games (R.I.P.). I remember playing The Wolf Among Us, I think as part of Games With Gold, and it blew me away. It was just so cool and narratively different than anything else I was playing at the time. Also, chatting about Oblivion reminds me obviously of Skyrim! But that’s a great point, how there are like 40 or 50 games on the 360 that are just excellent.
Sam: And still good, too. It’s not like you can go back to the PS2/original Xbox generation and do that. There are a lot of older games that I, personally, can still go back to and enjoy the same way because I played those games back then, but there’s no way somebody could play Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance for the first time now and enjoy it quite the same way. Same goes for games like Super Monkey Ball; they don’t make those anymore. I know these games are still good, but not everybody might agree.
Sam: OK, time for the lightning round. I’m going to ask a few questions, and everyone answers as briefly as possible.
QUESTION 1: What’s the first game on the Xbox 360 that made you go “now THIS is next-gen”?
Sam: My answer is Gears of War. I hadn’t imagined at the time that games could look like that.
David: I’m going to say Gears of War, too. Not to steal your answer, but that’s it for me.
Amanda: I would say BioShock. That game made me so uncomfortable, I was so stressed! And the fact that I hadn’t been that stressed by a game before was truly special. So that’s my answer.
David: I kind of want to say BioShock too, now. Let the record show that I’m being indecisive. I have no answer.
QUESTION 2: What’s the most underrated/underappreciated game on the 360?
David (without hesitation): Mirror’s Edge.
Amanda: Come back to me, because most of the games I played were good, well-known games. I wasn’t playing “secret” games.
Sam: I was going to go with L.A. Noire, but I’m not sure it was actually underappreciated. I’ll actually pick the Geometry Wars games, since nobody talks about those anymore, but they’re really good.
Amanda: You know what was really good? I really enjoyed the Borderlands games. Honestly, there are some NPCs that have lines that to this day I will say out loud to myself. Anyway, a game that seems underappreciated now is Alan Wake.
QUESTION 3: What’s the genre that largely dominated your time with the console?
Sam: I haven’t talked at all about the 360’s sports games. When I was in college, I wanted to make sure I was playing games with friends in the dorms, so I played a ton of NBA 2K12, FIFA 10, and Madden NFL 11. So I probably spent the most actual time playing sports games, even if they weren’t necessarily the best on the console.
Amanda: For me, it was definitely single-player RPGs like Mass Effect. I spent a lot of time in college hiding from roommates and just playing the Mass Effect games. They thought I was asleep all morning, but I was actually playing Mass Effect.
David: First-person shooters, followed by third-person shooters. Tons of Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, Gears of War, all that jazz.
QUESTION 4: What’s your least favorite game on the Xbox 360?
Sam: David definitely knows my answer for this one already.
Amanda: Wait, can you see if you can actually guess this one for Sam?
David, stammering for a second: Uh… Bioshock Infinite!
Sam: YUP! That game is garbage. Absolute trash.
Amanda: I brought this up in the Punished Backlog Slack the other day (R.I.P.), but I HATE Far Cry 3. All those kids were so awful, and it just really frustrated me. So much of the gameplay, voice acting, and story motivations were just bad. And coming from BioWare games where the characters and writing are so good, that just made it worse.
David: None of these games are actually bad, because if they were I just wouldn’t have kept playing them. But I have a three-way tie between Mercenaries 2, Far Cry 2 (I love Far Cry 3), and Modern Warfare 2, particularly the multiplayer. MW2’s multiplayer gave me so many rage quit moments. Far Cry 2 is just too weird. And Mercenaries 2 was flat-out dumb. Just Cause 2 without the fun.
Sam: I think it’s cool that we all named games that some people definitely love.
Top 15 Xbox 360 Games, According to TPB
Sam: Let’s make the list: the best 15 Xbox 360 games. I want to do this draft style—all our names have been put into a list randomizer, and we each draft one game at a time until we have a list of 15. Amanda, you have the first pick!
Amanda: Wow! Let’s go with Mass Effect 2. I wrote in one of my notes for this conversation, “Will it be annoying to list all three Mass Effect games? Will that take up too much space???” In lieu of taking up the whole list with all three of them, I picked ME2, since it’s pretty much the best one by a mile. It has all the great character relationships and mechanics from the first one, but doesn’t fall into any of the pitfalls of the third one. Just a beautiful, perfect game.
Sam: OK, I have the number two pick, and I’m going to go with Fallout 3. It’s the game that introduced me to big, open-world RPGs. I used to never play games like that, but Fallout 3’s intriguing story setting and worldbuilding brought me in.
Sam: David, you’re up next.
David: For the record, I would have picked Mass Effect 2! But for my first pick, I’m going with Halo 3, because I just love playing around with Forge mode and all the hours playing with my friends. I cherish all my memories with this game.
Sam: Amanda, it’s you again. Picking Mass Effect 1?
Amanda: Haha! No, I’m going to say Dishonored. I think the combination of stealth and action is excellent. The levels are beautiful, and the way you can travel through them in so many ways is really freeing.
Sam: Now I’m going to take Gears of War 2. I think it’s the best one in the series, at least in terms of its story. I think it was Tim Rogers (previously of Kotaku) who said that the Gears of War games are much more influential than most people realize, since they forced developers to think about slowing everything down, and having the player always take a moment before shooting, moving, or reloading became more common after it. I think Gears of War 2 reflects those philosophies the best.
David: My next pick is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (NOT Modern Warfare 2). This game took Call of Duty into the modern era, and every shooter takes from COD4 now, particularly when it comes to multiplayer progression systems. It’s one of the first shooters to introduce RPG mechanics, and it was the beginning of damn near every AAA game having something like that. It probably influenced loot boxes, for better or for worse, but at the time it was a revolutionary, great game.
Sam: Yeah, at the time there was really nothing like it.
Amanda: Back to me! I will throw Castle Crashers in the mix. It really did a good job of being accessible to most players, and proved to a lot of people that great games don’t always need to come from the big studios. Just super easy for four people to play and have fun. The animations are hilarious, and the fact that you can just pop in and out so easily is really special.
Sam: I’m going to pick something in a genre we haven’t discussed yet, and that is the original Forza Horizon. I didn’t play this game until 2016, when it was available on Games With Gold, and I used to think realistic car racing games were stupid and took all the fun out of racing experiences (I was more of a Mario Kart and F-Zero kind of guy). But the way Forza Horizon balances realistic mechanics with a big open world, actually fun car types, great radio stations… it blew me away, and ever since then I’ve been in love with the series. Obviously, Forza Horizon 4 is the best in the franchise, but the first one holds a special place in my heart.
David: All right, so… I’m adding Grand Theft Auto IV. I’ve got to provide some context to this: I just went through saying how I had to convince my parents to let me have Halo 3 despite its violence. GTA IV, I didn’t have a lot to support my case! I probably shouldn’t have played it when it did.
I have never played the PS2 GTA games, so I can’t appreciate the series as a whole, but you definitely appreciate the first GTA you play a little differently. Like, I could never appreciate GTA V the way I appreciate GTA IV. And Sam, I really do love New York. If I didn’t live in Boston, I’d live in New York (the next GTA game should be in Boston, by the way!). So driving around New York, immigrant story, listening to the JNR radio station while flying through the city streets—that alone is enough for this game to make the list. And also, it has a good narrative and great missions. What’s not to love?
Amanda: OK, so I’m torn on what to say next, so… I’m torn between a few titles, but I’ll say BioShock. It was one of the earlier big titles, and it did a lot to establish the 360 having a great library. The music is great, the world is great, the story is great, super creepy, and it really showed how different a game could look on the 360 compared to the generation before.
Sam: I feel a little weird putting this game on the list, but I can’t deny how much I loved playing it, even though there are a lot of problematic elements to it. But I’m going to put in Red Dead Redemption. It’s one of the only big, open world games that actually has a good, well-written ending! It’s thematically consistent the whole way through, though some of the characters don’t hold up too well (there’s literally a drunken Irish man whose name is Irish, and that’s not even the worst of it!). But some of the vistas were stunning, the missions were often pretty damn exciting, and the world felt pretty immersive. It’s a cool game, I still think it’s cool, and I honestly think it’s still better than Red Dead Redemption 2.
(Sam and Amanda yell at each other incomprehensibly for a few seconds before fizzling out so we can continue making this list.)
David: So, I have a favorite games list that’s 200 games long, so when making lists like these, there’s no mistake-making to be had. And next on my list is Mass Effect 3, actually (Amanda celebrates). We do have to honor the whole Mass Effect trilogy after all!
People might not have loved the ending, but I thought it was good! Like, I know Mass Effect 2 was better, since you could play that game on its own without the other two and still appreciate the story. But ME3 pulls more from the first two games. Like, seeing characters come back from ME1 who weren’t prevalent in ME2 was pretty gratifying. Plus, the whole war room where you see what populations are supporting Shepard. I just thought it was all good! I don’t know if any ending could have really been satisfying after all that. Same thing with Telltale: It wasn’t possible at the time to fully nail an ending, but you could still play the game in a way that’s custom-fitted to your preferences, and I thought ME3 did a good job of that.
Amanda: Agreed! Controversial opinion: The ending was done well, all things considered. Mass Effect as a trilogy was an epic the way The Odyssey is an epic: It has to come to an end, and it has to with a grand finale. So I agree, the ending was fine. I’m just cheering that ME 3 is on here, two out of three!
Sam: Well, you do have your last pick now…
Amanda: So I was thinking about that, and I COULD be *that person* and throw Mass Effect 1 on there. But the combat is so infuriating that I’m not sure. Now I’m trying to remember some other 360 games… by the way, we completely forgot that Dark Souls came out for 360!
David: I have a feeling Dark Souls isn’t making this list… (Somewhere, fellow TPB writers Kei and Eric groan.)
Amanda: Yeah, I’m not going to put it on there. But I’ll put Skyrim on there. Also, didn’t Rock Band come out this generation? Even though I played it more on Wii, there was a period of like five years where anytime you went to a party and someone had Rock Band, people would play it. Anyway, in terms of games that really hold their own and continue to have a big impact, Skyrim deserves to be here, and that’s what I’m going with.
Sam: You know, Rock Band 2 was on my shortlist. Even though I haven’t played that one specifically in over a decade, just the overall concept of Rock Band was incredible. But I’m actually going to do something a little different here and pick Portal 2. I actually played it on PC, but the coolest thing about the Portal games to me is that they took the most popular genre at the time (first-person shooters) and made it non-violent and creativity-focused. Like, the Portal games had you solve tough puzzles, but also were just fun to play around in as you tried to figure out just what you were able to do. That, I think, is something that could not have happened in earlier generations. Some games are iterative, but Portal and Portal 2 were truly innovative. I give the edge to Portal 2 because of the memes, to be honest.
David: OK, now I have the final pick! I’m a straight shooter, like Dr. Fauci (#getyourvaccine), and I’m just going to go with my gut. It’s funny, I kept my cards close to my chest when we were talking about a certain game previously, but I’m going to put Guitar Hero II on this list.
David: I think it’s a good point, Sam, that Rock Band as an idea still holds up. But there are just too many peripherals, too much happening on screen at once. I had a blast playing Rock Band, but Guitar Hero II was special. When I think that generation, I think Guitar Hero over Rock Band. I remember “Trogdor,” going to friends’ houses with spare guitars, playing it in arcades (even today!)… I think it’s a shame that the whole genre of peripheral-heavy music games has gone by the wayside. I understand why, but at the time there was nothing else like it. We had people playing Guitar Hero at middle school dances; someone even gave me shit about breaking a sweat playing the game so intensely.
Amanda: From a gaming standpoint, how many rhythm games can exist now because of the standard Guitar Hero set? Just the idea of multiple buttons on screen corresponding to different notes, that changed everything for those kinds of games. Like, even Night in the Woods has rhythm game components similar to Guitar Hero. And culturally, I distinctly remember some dude at a party just crushing at Guitar Hero and thinking he was AWESOME. What a special thing that is, for games to be a big component of parties.
Sam: Also, didn’t the 360 version of Guitar Hero II have the X-shaped guitar? The lightning bolt? I always thought that was super cool, since all the metal bands I liked had a guy with one of those. I remember when I was in middle school, I would also think, “If I had a spare $5,000, I would buy a guitar like that.” And while Guitar Hero II wasn’t my favorite in that series, that’s definitely when the franchise was reaching its peak in terms of cultural importance.
Honorable Mentions: Street Fighter IV, The Walking Dead: Season 1, NBA 2K12, Batman: Arkham Asylum, FIFA 10
Anyway, this list of games we have here, along with all the great memories we have of this system, support why we believe the Xbox 360 is worthy of induction in the Punished Hall of Fame.
Think we missed a few games on our top 15 list (including Dark Souls)? Let us know in the comments!
FINAL TOP 15 LIST:
- Mass Effect 2
- Fallout 3
- Halo 3
- Gears of War 2
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
- Castle Crashers
- Forza Horizon
- Grand Theft Auto IV
- Red Dead Redemption
- Mass Effect 3
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- Portal 2
- Guitar Hero II