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It’s been exactly 22 years since the original Xbox hit the scene and it changed the gaming landscape forever. Microsoft’s first foray into the console market wasn’t flawless, but the software giant made the right moves with a stellar US launch line-up and the most powerful hardware for the time. Join us for a walk down memory lane as we recount some of our most poignant memories with the system.
What made the original Xbox different from its competitors was the power under the hood. Armed with a custom 733 MHz Intel Pentium III CPU and a then-sizable 64MB of DDR SDRAM, the machine was capable of some impressive feats for the early 2000s. That’s especially true when you factor in that the build was essentially using the same components as home computers of the era, trouncing Nintendo’s GameCube and being far beyond what the popular PS2 could do.
Naturally, we can’t talk about OG Xbox hardware without giving the Duke controller its due. This behemoth gamepad was far bulkier than the dainty DualShock 2 or the distinctly different design of the Gamecube controller. I always loved it, and I still have my original pad all these years later. It was phased out with the launch of the Xbox in Europe and Japan which debuted the Xbox Controller S – a much more nimble pad.
All the extra power inside the Xbox meant that it was the best place for multi-platform releases, and third-party developers quickly adapted to what Microsoft’s rig could do. It wasn’t quite to the same level as the support for the PS2, however, if you wanted the best visual and gameplay experience for an enthusiast rig, you were leaning towards Team Green.
Xbox got it right from day one
There were a total of 19 games available during the original Xbox’s launch exactly 22 years ago today, chief among them being Halo: Combat Evolved, Project Gotham Racing, and Dead or Alive 3 just to scratch the surface. For some, Halo was the only title that they ever needed on the system, with the space-age shooter popularizing conventions such as open world environments and intelligent AI.
This was still during the age of LAN parties and local splitscreen, and it wouldn’t be until the sequel, Halo 2, dropped in 2004, that the franchise would explode to towering heights. This was an excellent year for the original Xbox overall, with landmark releases coming to the console such as Ninja Gaiden, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Burnout 3: Takedown, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Doom 3, Red Dead Revolver, and Fable. This was around the time that I would first become aware of the system, and I got my hands on it shortly after.
My sixth generation console experience began with the PS2, specifically the slim variant borrowed from my dad which served as my family’s main games machine. That was until sometime in 2005 where we would get an original Xbox for the house and it immediately changed everything. The added visual prowess of the console was noted right away as games in widescreen were supported on the living room TV and then upstairs on our old small-scale CRTs, but it was the game support that hit the hardest.
My first experiences with the original Xbox
Some of my earliest memories with the original Xbox involve playing through Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and being amazed at the lighting and sound. It was incredibly impressive, and while I was too young to fully understand what was going on, I was enamoured by the grittiness of the game. What I did understand more were the likes of Sonic Heroes, Crash Twinsanity, and Shadow the Hedgehog, colorful platformers which demanded twitch-like reflexes.
While the quality of these titles can be heavily debated, the core experience provided was enough for me back then. While nowadays the seemingly-endless repetition of Shadow the Hedgehog to reach the Final Story would put me off ever replaying it again, 18 years ago, I couldn’t put it down. Movie-licensed games were also par the course around this time, but none had its hooks in me quite like Spider-Man 2 did. I’d argue, it’s just as good if not better than Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 on PS5.
Based on the Sam Raimi-directed movie of the same name, this action title had incredible swinging mechanics, an engaging story, gripping action, and familiar actors from the film it was inspired by. As someone who grew up watching and loving this movie, being able to play it, and having it be a genuinely excellent game in its own right felt very special. It felt like a massive step up from playing through Spider-Man on the PS2, and sold the power of the Xbox to me and my siblings.
What made the Xbox different for our family was because these games were available to rent via mail instead of having to drive down to the local Blockbuster to play something new. We used services like Lovefilm to get new games in the post which we would play for a week, finish, and then exchange for a new title. Through this service, we played the likes of The Simpsons: Hit and Run, Destroy all Humans, WWE Smackdown vs Raw, Crash Tag Team Racing, Batman Begins, Burnout 3: Takedown, FIFA Street 2, and Sonic Mega Collection Plus this way.
That isn’t to say that there wasn’t the odd violent game, of course. Having grown up with Mortal Kombat Trilogy on the PS1, the added power of the Xbox made the likes of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance something fierce. We had played Mortal Kombat 4 on PS1, but this was something wholly different, and significantly better. The full range of 3D movement, the stunning combat arenas, and the different styles made it feel truly next-generation. I also loved Gun and The Warriors developed by Rockstar, despite being unaware of the source material at the time.
Revisiting the original Xbox
I may have been young during my time with the first Xbox but my love for the system never wavered as I became an adult with disposable income. Around six years ago I embarked on a quest to build up an extensive physical collection of games that I had rented as a kid, and the experiences that I missed out on during the time. I ended up collecting somewhere in the realm of 200 titles, all of which now are in storage.
This meant completing the set with Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas as well as getting a hold of similar open-world crime titles such as The Getaway, Mafia, and Driver 3. It was also where I gained a deep appreciation for Max Payne and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, with Remedy’s corridor shooters shining on the system. Of course, how can I mention so many Rockstar games without touching on Manhunt; they really don’t make them like this anymore.
It was also with this throwback that my appreciation for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Ninja Gaiden Black deepened. The former has some of the best writing that you’ll ever find from an RPG, and despite there being a KOTOR remake on the way, I urge everyone to give the original a spin on genuine hardware if you can. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t hit the same when played on PC. While nowadays there’s the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection on Xbox Game Pass, this revised copy of the original game included the definitive action experience with smart new tweaks over the first run.
The original Xbox was succeeded by the Xbox 360 and then the Xbox One, with the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S being the latest and greatest from Microsoft. While modern games have pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in virtual worlds with cutting edge graphics, there will always be something comforting about a simpler time with these more, comparatively, straightforward experiences. I’ll always cherish my time with the OG Xbox, and if you grew up around the same time, then maybe it means just as much to you as well.
For a more in-depth look back at the history of Microsoft’s consoles, we recommend checking out the list of Xbox console generations in order.