Earlier this month, Microsoft celebrated the Xbox's 15th year anniversary. There have been a lot of highs and lows through the life of the Xbox brand. I have personally enjoyed the Xbox brand and it's ecosystem since the original console release. To celebrate the anniversary of the Xbox, I thought I would take a brief look over the history of Xbox and it's biggest franchise.
On November 15th, 2001, Microsoft released the Xbox console upon the masses. Not everyone was sure if we needed another competitor in the console market but Microsoft aimed to show why it deserved to be there. Their competition, mainly Sony, was luring developers from their Windows platform and Microsoft felt the desire to retaliate with its own console. While the sight of the big black and green box invokes a lot of good memories of nostalgia, we mostly remember the games. Plugging in four controllers to duke it out against friends and family or going through amazing journeys that took players to the furthest reaches of space and beyond. With this week marking the fifteenth anniversary of the Xbox brand, I thought I would take a look back and see express why it has been my console of choice since it’s first iteration.
The launch night of the original Xbox was filled with electricity as eager enthusiast gamers stood in lines for hours. The launch line up consisted of a few heavy hitters such as Halo, Dead or Alive 3 and Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee as well as the typical popular sports franchises like Madden NFL 2002. Word spread quickly that Halo was THE game to get the console alone for. People expressed their joy of the finally decent controls of a FPS game on console. On top of that, the game had an interesting narrative with colorful characters that went through foreign environments with ambient wonder. The player found himself controlling the super soldier known as Master Chief. While fleeing from a looming threat, the Chief fights against numerous hostiles and grotesque monstrosities while exploring the mysteries of the alien installation known as Halo. While people may have come for the campaign, the majority stayed for white knuckled multiplayer. Halo had a strong staying power thanks to the ability of up to sixteen players available through LAN. There was something for everyone with multiple modes that ranged from team deathmatch to capture the flag. The oddest one, but one of my favorites, consists of a fight over a skull. Whoever holds the skull the longest wins the game but the beholder cannot use any weapons to fight back. The game was one of the first big games that showed off the potential of the console.
There were other games that released shortly after launch that added to the variety of the library. Jet Set Radio Future still stands today as a fan favorite thanks in part to the funky cel shaded style and head bobbing soundtrack that wouldn’t leave your head after playing. Fusion Frenzy was the first party game on the console that made use of all four controller ports. The game consisted of participating in whacky game show scenarios over a series of mini games. Crimson Skies: Road to Revenge was a highly praised flight combat game with an arcade like tone. You played as a leader of an air pirate gang, taking on numerous enemies that outnumbered or outsized you. There was also a large amount of third party support from all of the big game publishers such as EA Games, Ubisoft, Activision and others. Microsoft didn’t stop there at a great line up though. One year after the release of the Xbox, the ability for gamers to play with other Xbox owners around the world went Live.
Xbox Live was introduced to the world at E3 2002 before being launched later that year. It was the first console to boast the features of having a unified friends list, being able to download additional content for games and standardized voice chat. All these things we take for granted now on modern consoles but it was unheard of back then. There were multiple games that took advantage of the service such as Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Whacked!, Burnout Revenge and more. The biggest star among the games came around a couple years later….
Gamers around the world lined up outside of stores to get their hands on the highly anticipated sequel, Halo 2, on November 9th, 2004. The game seemed to be teased and promoted for what seemed like forever before finally releasing to critical acclaim. The game flew off store shelves and went on to be the best selling Xbox game with over 2.8 million copies sold. The game followed the continued conflict of humanity against the overbearing threat of the Covenant as the massive alien army discovers Earth. The human race is on the brink of destruction as they fight for the remaining planet that the Covenant hasn’t decimated. While the Master Chief is fighting, we get the chance to control a fallen soldier among the ranks of the alien cult. The Arbiter shows the other side of the conflict as he begins to question why the Covenant is following this “great journey” to activate the power of the Halo rings. There are a few twists and turns along the way but everyone seems to agree that the game ends as a disappointment. While Halo 2’s campaign saw highs and lows, the multiplayer went on to be legendary. The game used the full power of Xbox Live in order to showcase the strengths of the service. Quick and easy matchmaking, the ease of inviting friends, in game clans and the ability to play split screen while going online at the same time kept Halo 2 the most played game on Xbox Live for over two years with five hundred million games played. The game racked up over seven hundred and ten million hours played alone in multiplayer. The game served as a great swan song for the original Xbox as the soon to be announced little brother was just around the corner.
I first received my Xbox a year after release. I had a PS2 already and enjoyed playing on it quite a bit. However, the system didn’t natively support more than two players at a time out of the box. So my brother and I would have to take turns playing with our dad. I remember being surprised after coming home from school one day with the console. The games that were presented to us were Shrek and Halo. Yeah, pretty much games on the opposite sides of the spectrum gameplay and quality wise. Thankfully we received the bundle with Jet Set Radio Future (which is still one of my favorite games to this day). I dumped countless hours playing split screen games with my friends and family on the Xbox. The main stays seemed to be Mortal Kombat: Deception, Whacked!, Kung Fuck Chaos, NFL Street 2, Halo and Halo 2. I look back to the fifteen year old console with many fond memories. Seeing the nuclear boot up screen alone just throws me back to when I was a kid. Microsoft cemented themselves in the gaming market and my life all those years back. Here's to fifteen more years.