The Xbox was Microsoft’s freshman console; its entry point into the console industry. Launched back in November 2001, the XBOX was mainly known for its brute hardware force (and Halo). Its specs far surpassed those of the PlayStation 2, and even Nintendo’s GameCube own technical numbers.
The console was also known for some of the best PC ports (Doom 3, KOTOR), and some incredible looking exclusive software (Jade Empire, Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive 3). Despite its low sales (when compared to the PlayStation 2’s historic success), the system had a few million plus unit sellers that helped to push the console past Nintendo’s GameCube while helping to establish the console’s brand.
5. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (2002) – Sales Numbers: 2,400,000
If there was ever a poster to how powerful the Xbox was in relation to the more popular PlayStation 2 back in both console’s early days, it was Splinter Cell. The game was ported to both the GC and the PS2, but the Xbox version looked a generation ahead of its two counterparts.
It wasn’t close. The lighting work, character models, and texture work were vastly superior on the Xbox version of the game, and it was a stunning display of ‘next gen’ graphics at the time courtesy of the Unreal Engine 2 (and the Xbox hardware).
Apart from its stunning graphics, many considered Splinter Cell superior to Metal Gear Solid in terms of its stealth mechanics, and more realistic gameplay. Holding a 93 Metacritic score on Xbox, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell was certainly one the best games of that generation, and a strong technical showcase for Microsoft’s powerhouse of a machine.
4. Grand Theft Auto Double Pack (2003) – Sales Numbers: 2,490,000
Grand Theft Auto III releasing on the PS2 two years earlier (2001) certainly aided the fortunes of Sony’s system. GTA was the popular cultural phenom of the 2000s. Xbox Gamers would have to wait a little over two years before they received both, GTAIII and it’s sequel GTA: Vice City in a single package.
Xbox owners weren’t shafted; these versions took advantage of the Xbox hardware and delivered smoother performance, better character models, and improved reflections. If you owned both consoles, and hadn’t played these GTA games there was no better console to play them on than on Xbox.
The numbers here are not that impressive (when stacked against how many copies these games sold on the PS2), but given the Xbox’s small install base of users (just 24 million in comparison to 150 million PS2s sold) the numbers were pretty impressive and they showcased the power of the GTA brand.
3. Fable (2004) – Sales Numbers: 3,000,000
Despite the fact that the game did not live up to creator Peter Molyneaux’s boasts, Fable was still a competent Role-Playing Game. There were better RPGs on the system (Morrowind, KOTOR, Jade Empire), but Fable’s pretty visuals and promise of an ever changing world earned it top sales honors (for an RPG on the system).
Fable holds an 85 Metacritic rating, which is good. The critics had it right, Fable was a good game. It had plenty of side quests, and humor to keep gamers glued to their TV sets for hours on end.
However, gamers expecting some of the bigger promises (from Molyneaux) to make it into the game were likely left disappointed. In terms of world exploration, I found Fable to be far more restrictive than the 6 year old (at the time) Ocarina of Time, and a far less magical experience, overall.
That said, its “good/evil” system, the ability to purchase properties, and the option to marry a love interest made it an interesting RPG with a somewhat pedestrian fantasy plot. However, its sales success cannot be disputed. Molyneaux claim–and promises–certainly aided the game to sell far more copies than far superior titles available on Microsoft’s system.
2. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) – Sales Numbers: 5,000,000
A lot of things can be questioned in life, but one thing that can’t be questioned is Halo’s relevance to the Xbox brand, and how amazing of a game it was at Xbox’s launch in 2001. Single-handedly, Halo sold Xbox units, and provided a killer app for Microsoft’s freshman system right out of the gates.
There was no first person shooter that could stand up to Halo’s sense of scale, visuals, and epic sized battles. Its multiplayer modes made it the preferred game to play at home with friends. While multiplayer in Halo was incredible, the game itself, as a single player experience, was amazing.
Halo was the first, and best reason to own an Xbox, and it sold accordingly.
1. Halo 2 (2004) – Sales Numbers: 8,460,000
Halo 2 was a cultural phenomena. Within 3 years, Bungie delivered a masterful sequel with vastly improved visuals, and a surprising twist to the single player campaign. However, what Halo 2 is most fondly remembered for delivering the ultimate Xbox Live killer app.
The game quickly became Xbox Live’s most successful (played) game for the Xbox (500 million games played by 2006), and it wouldn’t be dethroned from being the most popular game on the service until Gears of War on the Xbox 360.
While many complained about the cliffhanger ending (it only made fans crave for Halo 3 more), and the ‘short’ campaign, the game still received rave reviews attaining a 95 Metacritic score from professional critics.
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