Microsoft make a big deal about their “backwards compatibility” with previous generations of Xbox hardware, but in actual fact it’s not backwards compatibility at all. True backwards compatibility means that you can put a disc from a previous generation in and it just works, whereas Microsoft’s implementation sees you using an original disc as a key to unlock a recompiled new version of the game that you can download to your hard drive.
Consequently, any games released through this programme have to effectively be treated as new releases — which means the renewal of licenses, copyright and all manner of other such shenanigans. And, regrettably, that means some games will never, ever be seen as part of the backwards compatibility programme, simply because the companies involved likely don’t see the worth in either revamping their old software, or in renewing potentially expensive licenses.
With this in mind, it’s well worth adding an original Xbox to your console collection if you don’t have one already. Because there’s a bunch of great exclusives on there that you can’t play anywhere else! So let’s run down 10 of the best, and I’ll see you down the local CEX with an armful of triple-A trade-ins.
Crazy Taxi 3
Arguably the definitive version of Sega’s Dreamcast-era arcade classic, Crazy Taxi 3 offers the original West Coast city from Crazy Taxi, the Small Apple map from Crazy Taxi 2, and the all-new Glitter Oasis map based on Las Vegas.
If you’ve never played Crazy Taxi, it’s a simple concept: driving a cab around a small open-world map, it’s your job to pick up passengers and deliver them to their destinations within both the overall game time limit and their level of patience with you.
You can earn bonus tips on your fares by performing stunts as you drive, and there are a variety of special techniques you can use, making this a tricky game to master — yet one that is easy to pick up and play for quick, fun sessions.
An oft-forgotten hack-and-slash action-adventure RPG from Koei, Crimson Sea is a great game that fans of the Warriors series will likely get along with due to a number of similar mechanics.
Taking on the role of private detective Sho, it’s your job to explore the star system of Theophilus and discover the mysteries of the Muton threat — along with what the Intelligence Agency of the Galaxy are really up to.
Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate
Yes, there are newer Dead or Alive games out there with more characters, more stages, more ways to play and dear lord more DLC, but Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate is the absolute best version of one of the best games in the series as a whole.
On the off-chance you’re unfamiliar, Dead or Alive is a series of fighting games that shot to notoriety for two main reasons: big, jiggly boobs on its 3D female characters, and its immensely satisfying counter hold system, whereby correctly timed grabs can turn opponents’ moves against them.
Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate comes in a double-pack with a remastered version of the original Dead or Alive for Xbox. While the first game isn’t quite as refined as its successor, it’s still a fun time for one or two players — plus it’s interesting to see where the series got started.
Dungeons & Dragons Heroes
This action RPG developed by Brenda “Wizardry 8” Romero is a ton of fun for between one and four players simultaneously. Taking on the role of one of several character classes from Dungeons & Dragons’ third edition ruleset, the game unfolds as a satisfying hack-and-slash adventure across a variety of locales.
Like Black Isle’s Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, which this game is often compared to, the emphasis is less on relentless loot-whoring than it is in titles like Diablo; instead, it’s about skilful use of your abilities and, if playing in multiplayer, cooperation with your allies.
Midtown Madness 3
Developed by DICE — yes, the same DICE who went on to make the seemingly interminable Battlefield series — Midtown Madness 3 is a gloriously chaotic open-world racer with a variety of different ways to play, a huge selection of cars to play around with and the sort of comedy French accents you’re probably not allowed to do any more.
Unfolding across two impressively large open world maps based on Paris and Washington, Midtown Madness 3 allows you to work as an undercover cop in a variety of different professions as well as take part in some more conventional races — or just cruise through the city at your leisure and attempt to track down the numerous hidden collectibles.
It’s a shame the online multiplayer modes don’t work any more, as this was a ton of fun with others. There’s still a split-screen mode for couch competitiveness, though!
OutRun 2 was a revelation on its original release: an arcade game sequel that played just like its predecessor, but with graphics that made it unmistakably “next-gen”.
OutRun 2 is a beautifully presented “vanishing point” racer that takes you on a rollercoaster ride across a variety of different stages as you make your way to one of several different destinations. Or you can try your hand at the “Heart Attack” mode, where your in-game girlfriend challenges you to pull off a series of increasingly unreasonable requests while still reaching the finish line!
OutRun 2 did get a downloadable rerelease on Xbox 360 at one point, but due to the expiry of Sega’s license with Ferrari, it is no longer available. Nab an original Xbox and a copy of OutRun 2 and you can enjoy it whenever you want!
Project Gotham Racing
Bizarre Creations’ legendary series of racers got its start on… well, the Dreamcast, if we’re perfectly honest, but the Xbox is where it really hit its stride. Both of the first two Project Gotham Racing games are eminently worth playing today, with the first offering slick 60fps action and the second trading some frame rate for greater graphical detail and a wider range of cities to race in.
The Project Gotham Racing games were always noteworthy for including challenges other than just races. Sometimes you’ll be trying to set a “hot lap”; at others you’ll be trying to earn the most “Kudos” by chaining reckless but skilful moves together as you progress around the course.
Whatever you’re up to in either of these games, you’ll be having a great time with their solid blend of lightweight sim-style handling and a more arcade-style structure.
GoldenEye established the concept of multiplayer first-person shooters on consoles, but TimeSplitters 2 perfected it. Yes, you can get TimeSplitters 2 on PlayStation 2 and GameCube as well, but it’s a perfect fit for the Xbox’s four controller ports and comfortable controller layout.
TimeSplitters 2 offers a wealth of playable content for both solo players and multiplayer parties. In single-player, you can take on the GoldenEye-style story mode across a variety of levels that span a range of different time periods or a series of ridiculously comedic one-off challenges, while in multiplayer you can set up custom games with friends and/or bots to your exact specifications.
You can even design your own maps and then play them with your friends. TimeSplitters 2 really is the absolute pinnacle of arcade-style first-person shooter action on consoles.
This platform adventure from Beep Industries and Microsoft is packed with personality and good humour, and is full of interesting mechanics and level design. As the name suggests, you play a voodoo doll, and much of the game revolves around finding increasingly creative ways to hurt him so that he can, in turn, hurt the enemies around him.
Voodoo Vince actually got a remastered version for Xbox One and PC a few years back — likely why this isn’t on the backwards-compatibility list — but if you want a copy to put on your shelf, the original Xbox version is the way to go.
This sci-fi combat flight sim from the studio who would go on to develop Spec Ops: The Line is a real highlight of the Xbox library — and yet, it’s also a game that doesn’t tend to get a lot of attention these days.
Taking on the role of wisecracking bounty hunter Magnus Tide, it’s your job to work your way through a series of missions in your high-tech fighter craft, blasting enemies and uncovering mysteries along the way.
The game is absolutely chock-full of early 2000s cheese in its witty script, and is a ton of fun to play. Quite a looker for the time period, too.