Xbox at 20: our favorite memories, games and moments

Xbox at 20
(Image credit: Future/Microsoft)

Xbox is celebrating its 20th anniversary - where did the time go? It feels like only yesterday that the chunky home console caught our attention, offering an edgy alternative to PlayStation and a new gaming mascot in the form of the mysterious Master Chief.

But, alas, it has been 20 years since the original Xbox, and its iconic flagship series Halo, launched. And plenty has happened with Team Green since then. The Xbox 360 showed that Microsoft could more than hold its own against Sony, players battled the Red Ring of Death, the Xbox One’s “always online” functionality caused a stir and Xbox Game Pass changed how we play games. 

It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride for Microsoft and Xbox, and the milestone has got the TechRadar team thinking about our favorite Xbox memories, games and moments over the last 20 years. So, without further ado, here are TechRadar’s favorite Xbox memories.

My naughty console


(Image credit: Sam Bianchini/Shutterstock)

Vic Hood - Gaming Editor

This will not paint me in a good light so I am adding a disclaimer first and foremost that bootlegging games or chipping consoles is wrong. That being said, back in the early noughties, I was desperate for an Xbox. My cousins had one pretty soon after release and, while I had a GameBoy and PlayStation at home, the first Xbox console was a very tempting proposition. Games like Halo, Kung Fu Chaos and Cel Damage appeared to offer a more mature alternative to my collection of bootleg Disney PlayStation games (though Hercules was fantastic). What’s more, these were co-op games, ones I could play with my cousins and friends - no more passing the controller.

I got my Xbox as a birthday/Christmas present one year and was over the moon, but didn’t have much in the way of games to actually play. My dad, however, had a solution: “I know a guy”. After disappearing with my console for what seemed like a decade in child years, during one of our weekend visits, he took me to the bungalow of a man I had never seen before. The bungalow was strewn with gadgets, wires and monitors, and oddly dark, the kind of geeky stereotype that you didn’t think was actually real. After getting teary over a rubber chicken - he recently lost his dog - we returned to dad’s house with the console sitting on my lap like a newborn. It looked the same, so what had this sweaty wizard actually done with it?

What he had done was something that - I now know - was revolutionized my gaming experience (though illegally). We plugged in the console back home and I was greeted with a different interface than my normal Xbox offered: the startup screen was gone, the background was dynamic, there was music playing on the start screen and, as I navigated the complicated new screen to ‘games’, I found my library was full - a child’s dream. It may be standard now, but back then I didn’t know games could exist digitally. I spent the entire weekend trying everything on offer: Ninja Gaiden, Jet Set Radio Future, Bloodrayne (secretly) and even the Playboy Mansion game (also secretly). It’s also the first time I stumbled upon the best game I had ever played at the time: Fable. It felt like a gem that only I knew about, though this bubble was popped a few years later. I played an array of games, that my parents otherwise couldn’t have afforded, thanks to that wizard in the bungalow. Wherever you are now sir, I hope you’re having a lovely day.

Of course, as I said before, we do not support or condone the illegal or malicious practice of bootlegging games or chipping consoles. Don't do it, kids.

The start of something special

Halo's Master Chief with an assault rifle

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Adam Vjestica - Senior Gaming Writer

Whether you're a fan of the original Xbox or not, there are at least three things that Microsoft's first foray into the console helped define: online play, first-person shooters, and asymmetrical analog sticks on a controller. For that, we should all be grateful. 

If it weren't for Xbox Live, online gaming on consoles wouldn't be half as good as it is today. It took Sony an entire generation to narrow the gap on Microsoft's online service, and even now, Xbox is still the industry leader when it comes to online play. If Microsoft hadn't committed to Xbox Live as early as it did, innovations like voice chat, game invites, and party chat on a console might never have come to pass.

And then there's Halo. While Microsoft certainly has a lot to thank Master Chief for (Xbox wouldn't be here today if it weren't for Spartan 117's success), Bungie's Halo Combat: Evolved set the blueprint for every FPS that was to follow. Call of Duty, Battlefield, Killzone, you name it – all of those games have Halo to thank for paving the way.

And finally, it's time to pay respect to the divisive Xbox Duke controller. Love it or loathe it, Microsoft's massive controller got one thing right – asymmetrical analog sticks. Asymmetrical analog sticks are more of a game-changer than some might think. There's a reason why the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller and so many other pads opt for the same setup that Microsoft chose all those years ago. Seriously, it's time to give the Duke its dues. 

So the original Xbox was, undoubtedly, crucial to the gaming industry as a whole. But it also gave me, and plenty of others, countless memories to cherish. Playing Halo with my friends using the console's LAN ports to hook up multiple Xbox consoles was one of the best weekends I've ever had. Listening to Motorhead in Project Gotham Racing 2, courtesy of the CDs I'd burned onto the Xbox's internal hard drive, was also an incredible forward-thinking feature that no other console could replicate. It also had some incredible exclusives like Ninja Gaiden Black, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Dead or Alive 3 to name but a few. 

So the next time you point your finger and laugh at the original Xbox for not being as good as the PS2 was, take a moment to thank that big burly plastic box. Without the Xbox, the world of gaming would be a significantly poorer place in more ways than one. 

It’s just horrible 

Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Microsoft)

John McCann - Global Managing Editor

Too big. Too bulky. Too uncomfortable. And that was just the controller. The original Xbox left a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s one I’ve never been able to fully get out. I didn’t own the first Xbox, my experiences were via playing Halo on my mate’s console - and I still vividly remember the awful controls for the Warthog. Yuk. 

I’m your quintessential PlayStation fan though so, yes, my view is extremely biased, but I still believe Sony does things better than Microsoft. Let’s flash forward to the Xbox 360 - a console that owners literally had to wrap in towels, forcing it to overheat, to remove the red ring of death each month.

I did pick up a second-hand 360 (I know, such a risk taker) some seven years after it originally launched, and I was plagued by the same awkward, oversized controller and an interface that was anything but intuitive. The PS3 under my TV wasn’t getting usurped anytime soon, and the 360 was sold about a year later.

The One Series passed me by - the design was uninspired and my PlayStation roots meant I remained blinkered. I did, for a brief moment, almost buckle and buy one as the rest of the TechRadar team waxed lyrical about the fun they were having playing Sea of Thieves - but that was a wave which only lasted a month or so and I’m glad I didn’t take the plunge.

The Xbox Series X/S, however, is the most interested I’ve been in Xbox since the first one landed 20 years ago. Going head-to-head with the PS5, there was plenty to grab the attention during the months of leaks, teasers and reveals - but ultimately I’ve absolutely still stuck in my lane.

Xbox needs to do something seismic to lure me away from PlayStation, and in 20 years it’s yet to do that.

The unofficial Dreamcast 2

Jet Set Radio Future

(Image credit: Sega)

Rhys Wood - Staff Writer

One of my favorite things about the original Xbox is that it was, in many ways, the pseudo-successor to the Sega Dreamcast. Sega itself wholeheartedly supported Microsoft’s jolly green giant with unforgettable classics like Jet Set Radio Future, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Phantasy Star Online and more. Xbox was the place to be if you were a Sega fan, as it provided groundbreaking experiences on the console that you simply couldn’t find anywhere else.

Capcom was also incredibly keen on the Xbox, carrying on its own efforts that bore fruit on the Dreamcast. An excellent port of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 made it to the system, alongside legendary fighting games like Capcom vs. SNK 2 and Street Fighter 3: Third Strike. Just like the Dreamcast, the original Xbox was a fantastic hub for arcade perfect experiences.

But that’s the fanboy in me jumping out. Praise must also be given to the Xbox’s penchant for graphical fidelity. I remember witnessing games like Brute Force and Crimson Skies and just being blown away by the sheer visual quality on show.

You really can make a solid argument for the Xbox being the best console of its generation. It mixed superb first-party games with exceptional third-party support, offering experiences that you couldn’t get from the competition. It may not have had the sheer wealth of games available on the PS2, or Nintendo’s dedication to quality as seen on the GameCube, but the Xbox did its own thing and made a strong first impression that Microsoft has arguably yet to match.

A reluctant divorce

Xbox 360

(Image credit: emodpk/Shutterstock)

Axel Metz – Staff Writer 

I’m not going to claim that I know all that much about the original Xbox. Honestly, I just had to Google what it looked like. I did, however, spend many of my formative years whiling away the hours on my Xbox 360 – which was, objectively, the best console of the noughties. 

Sure, its hardware didn’t leave the PS3 in the dust – but the games, man, the games. Halo: Reach, Gears of War 3, Forza Motorsport 3… hell, even Crackdown 2 still holds a place in my heart. There are several other fond, though admittedly odd, memories I have about the 360, too. Like the way the rubber would slowly peel away from the sticks of its controller, the post-school day conversations that took place over the airwaves of Xbox Live, the really crap Xbox mic, or the fact that I had way more demos in my library than games, which meant I got to decapitate Sun Tzu as Alexander the Great in a trial version of Deadliest Warrior: Legends.

When 2013 rolled around, and the PS4 won the world over, it was with a heavy heart that I abandoned my once beloved Microsoft for Sony – like Romeo Montague falling in love with Juliet Capulet, I couldn’t suppress my desire for that superior system – but the Xbox 360 maintains pride of place in the mental annals of my adolescence. 

Happy birthday, Xbox – you messed up, but thanks for the memories.

The TechRadar hive mind. The Megazord. The Voltron. When our powers combine, we become 'TECHRADAR TEAM'. You'll usually see this author name when the entire team has collaborated on a project or an article, whether that's a run-down ranking of our favorite Marvel films, or a round-up of all the coolest things we've collectively seen at annual tech shows like CES and MWC. We are one.