Welcome to the final part of our journey through Metacritic’s twenty top-rated Xbox 360 games. If we’ve not been acquainted yet, please do catch up with part one and part two and then join us back here as we look at the final seven games. Will they be the shining emeralds that everyone has made them out to be, or will they just be some pitiful jet painted green?
7. Halo 3 (94)
The series the defines Xbox, the game that is played online millions of hours a week and the futuristic Spartan who doesn’t need the other 299 to back him up; there’s no way you cannot know Halo. The third iteration in the series may have the weakest single-player campaign of the three games, but it more than makes up for it with a fantastic all-around package. New features include a ‘Theatre’ mode to watch-back clips of your single-player/multiplayer/co-op experiences, ‘Forge’ mode, which allows you to manipulate the attributes of multiplayer maps, and online co-op for up to four players — a first for the series. Halo 3 is continuously updated and will be for two more years according to developer Bungie. There’s no reason to not jump on the Halo 3 bandwagon, especially with the game at budget price.
What we said: “Halo 3 is great value for money. Featuring single player, co-op, online co-op, multiplayer, a replay mode and, numerous editing features — this is the definitive Halo experience, despite the weak campaign story.” 9.0 out of 10.
Deserves top twenty status and score? Of course. If anything, it should be higher on the list. It’s still as relevant as the day it was released. Not many games can lay that claim. An essential purchase for every 360 owner.
6. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (94)
Being a massive Call of Duty fan since the series started, Modern Warfare really opened my eyes. Familiar stories and set pieces were to be had, but in the very different arena of modern technology. Modern Warfare captured Call of Duty’s style successfully, despite this transition. But it’s the multiplayer that still has many people enamored. Having to play games to obtain experience to unlock new gear makes matches ultra competitive and even inspires some bravado from players just in the name of getting 10 more experience points. With Modern Warfare 2 on its way, although with the loss of the CoD tagline, we can’t wait.
What we said: “No load times, amazing cut scenes, and a genuinely engaging story make COD4 a textbook example of quality presentation. It’s so polished, you just might go blind from playing it.” 9.9 out of 10.
Deserves top twenty status and score? Yes. Another essential game for this generation, Modern Warfare overtook Halo 3 at one point as the most popular game on Xbox Live. A feat like that should be enough encouragement for you to move out of cover and buy the game if you haven’t already. But who hasn’t?
5. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (94)
The fourth game in the Elder Scrolls series became the most popular partly due to it releasing as gamers were becoming fed up with the 360 launch titles. But that’s certainly not to take anything away from it. The opening moments of Oblivion are intriguing. After Patrick Stewart introduces you, and fighting dungeon rats starts to wane, you make your way out of the dark sewers to the fantastic sight of the lush continent of Tamriel… before being attacked by a bandit. It’s glorious. Oblivion is the right mix of RPG and action: immersive, deep, and satisfying.
What we said: “Absolutely worthy of its Game of the Year title.” 9.1 out of 10
Deserves top twenty status and score? Yes. Oblivion is still the best RPG on the system and will continue to be unless Final Fantasy XIII or Dragon Age: Origins can dethrone it.
4. Gears of War (94)
The 360’s original organ grinder. Gears of War caused an incredible stir when it was released. It arrived a year before Halo 3 and was the big daddy of Xbox Live for some time. Its sequel has not been as critically successful or as well-played as the first in the series, but one must ask if this has to do with its post-Halo 3 release. Gears of War is a great game — especially in co-op. The multiplayer does not inspire me in the slightest, but I did enjoy a few games. Gears of War differs from its sequel in that the story is a lot more introspective. Yes, they’re fighting a war against the Locust but it’s all centred around Delta Squad. For some reason, it suits the GoW world quite well, however, so does the epic scale of war as seen in GoW2. Either way, it’s a unique and involving experience.
What we said: We got so caught up in chainsawing each other, that no one was left to write a review? Or perhaps we didn’t exist then… yeah, that one.
Deserves top twenty status and score? Yes, it does. While there may be a blockbuster sequel out there, it’s not the same game. It may look the same, but the gears are grinding differently. There’s space for both games on the top twenty.
3. The Orange Box (96)
What a fantastic package. You’ve got Half-Life 2 (updated graphically from the Xbox version), Half-Life 2: Episodes 1 & 2 and Team Fortress 2. Oh, how can we forget Portal? All of the included games are blockbusters. The Half-Life 2 saga is a rollercoaster ride that leaves more questions than answers, Team Fortress 2 is an absolute riot to play online, and Portal is one of the most talked about games this generation. The Orange Box is an essential purchase on the 360, especially with it at budget price right now.
What we said: “In an era where publishers nickle-and-dime the consumer at every turn, this is one package that actually overdelivers in every respect. You absolutely must buy this incredible bundle of high quality content.” 9.5 out of 10.
Deserves top twenty status and score? A resounding yes. The Orange Box was budget value at the time of release. You would be crazy to pass up a game like this unless you already have multiple games featured in the package or you just don’t like FPS games. Or you have no heart.
2. Bioshock (96)
The underwater world of Rapture enthralled and enchanted gamers everywhere. From its initial trailers to its release, Bioshock headed many gamers’ wish lists. It did not disappoint. A curious story had us all intrigued while the action provided different outcomes throughout. But the story took a fascinating twist while the action became a bit more predictable. Though Bioshock’s main problem was that once you completed it, the justification behind a return to Rapture was near enough null. While multiplayer probably wouldn’t suit the game, the lack of replayability was a problem. Yes, there were different endings and other ways to tackle Little Sisters in your second playthrough — but it was hardly fulfilling. Let’s hope Bioshock 2 can rectify these things.
What we said: “Bioshock is really something special. But its lack of replay value does hurt it a bit.” 9.5 out of 10
Deserves top twenty status and score? Yes and no. Yes, it deserves to be high on the list… but not the second best game on the platform and not worth a 96. Bioshock is AAA through-and-through, yet its lack of replayability stung. And once the hype settled, we were left with a superb game — but not an infallible game.
1. Grand Theft Auto IV (98)
And we come to the end of the road. It’s time to cast our minds back to that first playthrough on the streets of this generation’s Liberty City. Niko’s story was one full of hope, despair, familiarity, carnage, pain, regret, and revenge. It had everything to keep us interested, and that it did do. GTAIV’s story was not of rags to riches or gang peon to crime boss as featured in previous GTA games — Niko was there to stay alive. The gameplay was also a lot more user-friendly and the inclusion of the brilliant multiplayer was a treat. Fighting against players to perform tasks on the streets of Liberty City or chasing down a bunch of crooks while playing as a cop made for memorable gaming. My personal favorite was watching on from my car as 15 other players in their cars in front of me tried to negotiate the tight, first corner in a race; absolute bedlam. It’s GTA, but a lot more realistic. Long live GTAIV and here’s to the next!
What we said: “Believe it or not, Rockstar has done it again, and further enhanced their ability to create a compelling world that allows you to do anything, but still manages to get you to lay off the distracting random mayhem and follow an enthralling narrative.” 9.5 out of 10.
Deserves its top twenty status and score? Yes. GTAIV is one of the best games this generation has produced. It still features explosions, mass murdering, and sweet cars, but this time around it puts more thought into when you should get to experience these things. Bravo Rockstar, you got it spot-on.
So, that’s it. We’ve managed to weed four games out of the top 20. So what would take their place? Well, after some deliberation on my behalf — here’s what I think:
Left 4 Dead – How can this not be in the top twenty? The majority of us love this game. And while it has very little in the way of content, it has very high replayability. With a big update on the way for the game, which will be free, there’s not a better time to buy Left 4 Dead.
Burnout Paradise – The exhilarating Burnout series crash landed with its first proper next-gen game in the form of Paradise. The new free-roam/drive concept was introduced and left you in control of what you’d approach first, rather than being lead down a slightly linear route. A slew of updates continue to keep the game fresh, with bikes being added at the tail-end of last year. A worthy purchase.
Fable II – One of the best RPGs to hit the platform. Fable II is Lionhead, yet again, pushing the envelope on what games can achieve… and what they shouldn’t really try to achieve. Peter Molyneux toned down his usual hype machine, but he still said a little too much. That’s not taking anything away from what the game does, though. It captures the dynamics of social interaction and integrates them seamlessly with action, adventure, and story. Lovely.
Dead Space – With EA trying to push innovation, they happily went along with Dead Space — the story of engineer Isaac Clarke as he arrives on a ship full of aliens and monsters. The poor bloke was only there to fix the communication system. Tcch, typical. But the game isn’t so typical. Gameplay is altered by zero-g boots which allow you to shift a wall into a walkway. Guns are hard to come by, and every corridor walk is un-nerving. The game came under criticism for its lack of scares, but that shouldn’t take away from what Dead Space achieves — uniqueness through duplicating everything good about the action genre. Of course, if your view of it is Resident Evil: In Space, then so be it.
So, this is what I would do to the top 20 list:
1. Grand Theft Auto IV
2. Halo 3
3. The Orange Box
4. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
5. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
6. Gears of War
8. Gears of War 2
9. Street Fighter IV
10. Fallout 3
11. Left 4 Dead
13. Mass Effect
14. Rock Band 2
15. Fable II
16. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
17. Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
18. Dead Space
19. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2
20. Burnout Paradise
In conclusion, it’s clear that Metacritic’s list is not a million miles off of what could be the top twenty. And it’s worth remembering that it’s primarily what top reviewers say, that goes. Left 4 Dead and Fable II were quality blockbuster releases and deserve their place in the top twenty. And what’s there instead? Portal 1.5. It’s not right. While Metacritic does balance these scores, it’s reviewers who need to look closely at their scores in relation to the hype. The majority of the games in the list do not deserve the score attributed to them. Many of them should not be averaging above 90. It’s not just a throwaway number anymore; it’s probably more important than the text these days. And with advertising pressure increasing, the gaming press must not fall foul of our duty. Pretty soon, there will be 10s all around, and only then will we notice what is happening; that we are advertising’s lapdog and our bite is pathetic in comparison to our bark.