The Xbox’s local multiplayer lineup was anchored by Halo, which took much of the spotlight and generally crowded out most other contenders. That said, it had the horsepower advantage over its peers and a very PC-like architecture, so it thrived by hosting the best version of most of the era’s multiplatform games.
A good multiplayer game has to have at least one of these four aspects, and the more it has, the better:
Party-friendly: This one’s easy to pick up for newcomers and enjoy the first time even against stiff competition. It’s also good for spectators.
Deep: Multiplayer games tend to be rather evanescent. These games have more meat on their bones, and stand up to multiple sessions or lots of consecutive hours of play on content variety alone.
Competitive: These are the games you play against your friends, build up skills and keep on challenging each other as you go. They’re addictive because of the rivalries they create.
Cooperative: There’s something about working together with friends that can really make an experience special. These do it, and they do it well.
Games can have smaller bits of these elements, and for those, I’m giving them these minibadges. I didn’t forget about these parts of these games, but they may not define the core experience.
Anyway, onto the list:
Let’s go ahead and get this one out of the way, shall we? Yes, Halo 2 is the Xbox’s everything, and it’s not just solid for its time: as the last Halo game before online play completed its surge to dominance, it holds up very well for couch play. Bungie made the improvements it needed to after its freshman console effort, and it shows.
Star Wars: Battlefront II
Sure, the Battlefront games were on everything, but the Xbox versions exclusively sported four-player split-screen. It doesn’t have quite the chaos of a full online PC match, but a four-person cooperative run through the game’s campaign makes for an enjoyable, popcorn-play evening.
TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
The last TimeSplitters game was more rushed than the classic second entry, but Free Radical did manage to find some time to tweak and expand upon the multiplayer options. It’s great to just sit back with a few buddies and take on a team of bots, but if you want cutthroat GoldenEye-style matches, that’s available too. Oh, and the personality! No match is complete without a monkey or two.
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge
Do you like your combat best up in the clouds? The dogfights of Crimson Skies use the engine’s tight flying controls to its advantage; it’s compelling in split-screen play. It may not look the part, but it’s the local play centerpiece successor to Star Fox 64.
One more first-person shooter on this list? Well yes, this is the Xbox we’re talking about. Unreal Championship is the purest form; red and blue, captured flags and kill counts. And when you’re heading back to games past, this simplicity is put in its best context.
X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse
Raven was at its best making fun action-RPGs instead of Call of Duty map packs (though probably less profitable). While the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games were mechanically better, the X-Men Legends games had a more tightly-designed cast and a more coherent narrative.
Want more? The Xbox is also home to some games that are great on lots of platforms, like Tetris Worlds, NFL Street 2, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy and Def Jam: Fight for NY.