What are the best Xbox 360 games to own forever?

July 25, 2013

The Best to Own Forever series isn’t about what’s great right now. It’s about what will be great in 10 years, even though there will be better-looking games and later sequels, and what will keep you pulling that dusty old console out of the closet every once in a while. This time, we pick the best of the heavily third-party-driven Xbox 360 library.

Geometry Wars 2

The original Geometry Wars defined Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade service as something more than just an easy way to play old arcade games. Geometry Wars 2 expands on the formula with plenty of new modes and options, but, most importantly of all, it maintains the same addictive gameplay found in the original. While the first will always be remembered as a classic, the sequel will be the game you will always go back to, thanks to its cooperative and competitive modes that expand on the formula and its addictive, score-chasing nature. Very few new games capture the feeling of an arcade title better than this. – Andrew Passafiume

Mass Effect 2

The entire Mass Effect trilogy is a must for everyone. That said, Mass Effect 2 might be the crown jewel of the series. It streamlined the inventory issues from the first, and improved the fighting to a level on par with many third-person shooters. Of course, what makes Mass Effect so great is the story, the characters and the personal investment that you get out of choosing how Shepard will react and interact with others. Not only can ME2 work as a standalone title if it must, but it also serves to connect you to the new and returning squadmates at a much deeper level than the first Mass Effect– Shawn Vermette


Red Dead Redemption

Just because Rockstar’s biggest franchise is about huge cities, pimps, prostitutes, drugs, violence, murder, driving, traffic and the mob doesn’t mean it can’t branch out. Red Dead Redemption isn’t flawless, but it’s close to a masterpiece. Punctuated by a phenomenal, tragic end sequence, the game is filled with gorgeous sunsets, realistic horse travel, an insanely detailed environment and, true to Rockstar nature, a ton of stuff to do. Don’t want to continue the main story? No problem! Go play some cards and gamble. Don’t feel like doing anything in particular? Go riding around the landscape and soak in the authentic Wild West setting. It’s impossible to talk about how great Red Dead is without mentioning the song “Far Away.” It’s almost a crime that the song is played only once during the entire game (and it’s possible to accidentally cut it short), but it’s something magical. A folk song of yearning, it has the sound and feel of a long-lost gem. – Henry Skey

Rock Band 3

Music games were one of the biggest trends during the first half of the generation, and the Xbox 360 really launched the home console into the world of digital distribution. One of the main benefactors of this was Harmonix, which had the near-Herculean task of balancing negotiations with both game and music publishers to achieve an impressive library of Rock Band-enabled music. Rock Band 3 is the most refined iteration of the formula, and it provided what was likely the best the genre could offer in both instrument hardware and music library. While the age-old formula of ever-increasing difficulty offers a decent solo challenge, the game truly comes into its own with a whole group playing together. If you’ve got space to keep the instruments, Rock Band 3 will be a game worth returning to for years to come. – Jeff deSolla

Shadow Complex

Metroid is one of Nintendo’s best series, and while the 3D games are fine, I relish each new opportunity to take Samus Aran through a labyrinthine complex, collect new weapons and armors and take out giant bosses. That isn’t normally available on the 360, and Chair filled the void with Shadow Complex. With a likeable main character, great sense of progression and accomplishment (even in failure thanks to persistent character level), a lengthy main campaign and a fun set of challenge rooms, Shadow Complex scratches the Metroidvania itch wonderfully. Seeing a genre that we all expect to be sprite-based lovingly modeled in the Unreal Engine is a visual treat as well. – Justin Last


Dance Central 3

There was a nice handful of games reloaded during the life of the 360 that claimed to flesh out the “perfect” Kinect experience. Many of them fell short, but one always stood out. Harmonix, already riding the critical acclaim of Rock Band, presented us with Dance Central to fill the void for people who loved to dance. Taking full advantage of the Kinect’s advanced tracking capabilities, it set high-energy choreography to well-known tracks. Dance Central 3 gave us a diverse song list spanning over 40 years, and fixed several of the tracking issues the previous games had giving us a tighter and more realistic experience. There was also a story mode included, as well as a way to challenge your friends’ scores with the entire library of songs three games deep. – Eric Albuen

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance

Years ago, RPG was the last genre one would think of when it came to superhero games. Thanks to Raven, it is now one of the first. The X-Men Legends games were must-haves on the PS2 generation, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is the same here. It had a huge cast, depth that was inherently tied to fanservice in the form of alternate costumes with unique skill sets and a plot so goofy comics fans couldn’t help but appreciate it. The 360 version ran a little more smoothly than the PS3 version, and also had unique character DLC. Said DLC has vanished from the market thanks to dumb rights issues, but a Gold edition exists with it all on disc. – Lucas White

Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise

Rare wasn’t always let off the leash in the 360 era, and spent most of its time making avatar accessories. When it was, though, it could deliver. Viva Pinata was its most original new creation, and it set the stage for many things. It was a casual farming sim before the social game explosion, and it even branched out into other media. Even with all that, it was a great Rare game. It was visually stunning with its focus on textures. It had charming writing and music. And hey, it was just fun. Even Rare admits that Trouble in Paradise is more of a definitive version of the original than a true sequel, but two development cycles put into one cohesive idea make it that much better. – Graham Russell


Lost Odyssey

Early on in the 360’s life cycle, Microsoft made a big push for the Japanese market. As we all know, that push didn’t really go anywhere, but it did give us a few great exclusives. Lost Odyssey took a slightly different approach in mechanics than other JRPGs, but that’s not where it shines. It takes a story that is itself not much different than we’ve seen before, and makes it more meaningful and impactful due to the way it is told. Kaim is an immortal, but he’s lost his memories over time. As you progress through the game, you’ll discover a variety of written vignettes that tell the story of Kaim’s history. The story is crafted in such a way that you can’t help but feel attached to Kaim, as you learn more about who he is and what he’s done. This deeper connection sets the tone for an industrial fantasy game that will always be worth experiencing. – Shawn Vermette


There are a good number of shooters that will be looked back upon fondly from this console generation. Vanquish is one such game, but unlike other, similar titles for the system, it exceeds at being a purely entertaining, non-stop thrill ride. Its dumb story and awful writing won’t win you over, but what Vanquish lacks in memorable storytelling it more than makes up for in terms of its pure mechanics. The mobility of your character, the many ways in which you can dispatch your enemies and the wide variety of enemy types thrown at you make Vanquish an absolute blast from start to finish. – Andrew Passafiume


Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

What works so well with Enslaved is the relationship between Monkey and Trip. The voice acting, facial movements and character development ensure that you’ll be playing this one to the very end. I’ve never heard a more beautiful end credits tune, which comes right after a very classic sci-fi ending that features Serkis himself (no digitization or voice acting, it’s actually him) speaking directly to the main characters. Terrific? Unique? Strange? You bet. The luscious post-apocalyptic world and aggressive feel this an underrated classic. – Henry Skey

Halo 3: ODST

Halo is about different things to different people, and Halo 3: ODST has something for everybody. The campaign, which supports up to four players cooperatively, is the tightest narrative of the series, and thanks to the frequent flashbacks set piece battles can be set up without always needing to slog through small encounters before getting to the meat and potatoes of the mission. ODST features some of the best voice work of the series as well. By the end of the campaign you care about Buck, Mickey, Dutch, Romeo and Dare, which is more than I can say for any of the supporting cast of another Halo game. ODSTs are regular humans, and while Spartans are neat, the squad of ODSTs is more relatable, and their banter and struggles hit much closer to home. ODST was also the introduction of Firefight. It may be Bungie’s answer to Gears of War’s Horde mode, but it works, and the ODST variant is great. And for those out there wanting adversarial multiplayer, ODST comes with Halo 3 multiplayer which, despite its age, still boasts an active online community. – Justin Last