It’s time for the third our ‘Eighth Generation Gaming in Review’ series, and seeing as we recently looked at the best PlayStation 4 exclusives, of course there was only one way to go after that – the best Xbox One exclusives. It’s no secret that when it comes to console exclusives, the Xbox One has lagged miles behind its competition, so while we said the previous list was the hardest one to make in series, this one was almost as tricky, just in a different way.
In fact we’ve had to be pretty liberal with the term ‘exclusives’, so while many of the games on this list may also available for PC or even Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, the common thread here is that they all spent a substantial length of time as Xbox One console exclusives before coming to PS4 and Switch.
As before, we’ll be omitting remakes and remasters. So without further preamble, let’s get stuck in.
Forza Horizon 4 (2018)
After Halo and Gears of War, Forza has arguably become the Xbox's most well-known franchise. The Forza Motorsport series offers an excruciatingly detailed racing simulation for serious racers, but for those of us that don't know handbrake from a hand grenade, there's Forza Horizon.
Forza Horizon 4 provides a huge open map to free roam and a series of events that put your driving skills and wanton disregard for the law to the test – street races, stunt jumps, speeding challenges, races against classic trains, crossovers with the TV Show Top Gear – there's always something to keep wannabe racers entertained, be they seasoned competitors or hopeless amateurs.
This all takes place across the idyllic English countryside chosen to house this edition of the titular festival, so the surroundings are usually a treat to take in, whether you're admiring the lush scenery as you speed by or rolling through it after you careen off the road yet again.
ReCore: Definitive Edition (2017)
When ReCore originally launched on Xbox One in 2016, it was a broken, buggy, unfinished mess of a game. When it re-released in 2017 as ReCore: Definitive Edition – an attempt to make things right by giving players an improved version with fixes and content cut from the initial release - it was still buggy mess that might have contained content that had been hastily cut initially, but still felt like it could have been so much more.
It's a real disappointment because rushed development and glitches aside, this game was excellent – everything the developers did well, they did incredibly well. This frantic third person shooter with a unique mechanic where players were encouraged to match their bullet type to the colour of an enemy, all while commanding a robotic companion to assist in battle as needed was unlike anything else on the console and the frantic skirmishes felt exciting from start to finish.
The sizable open world map was a joy to traverse be it via protagonist Joule's jet boosters or by cruising through the desert on a miniature tank (think Shotzi Blackheart but less irritating) and the optional dungeons littered throughout the map offered just the right level of challenge - they all felt manageable, but in most cases, certainly not on the first try.
With more time in the oven and more support for the developers ideas, this could have been something groundbreaking for Microsoft, the start of a new original franchise; Microsoft's answer to Horizon: Zero Dawn. But that wasn't to be and what we have instead is a deeply flawed yet still incredibly enjoyable release that's unlikely to be immortalised as anything other than a failed experiment in Xbox's back catalogue.
Gears 5 (2019)
On its face, Gears 5 looked to be the start of a new era for the franchise formerly known as Gears of War: New name, new face on the box, new era. Then after a couple of hours of playing the game it became abundantly clear that these change are purely cosmetic. Gears 5 is the Gears of War we already knew and loved but polished and improved in every way that matters. And that's no bad thing - hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Kait Diaz may not be a Fenix, but her story still brings the gory, hectic cover shooting action we've all come to expect, with skyscraper-sized bosses to tear apart, hordes of enemies to cull and of course, a satellite-laser that hones in on rivals from space and turns them to mulch.
While the skiff sections offered a small dose of exploration absent in the series to this point, Gears 5 essentially kept what worked and improved on it in almost every way, and the result was the best entry in the series to date.
Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015)
If this entry looks a little dubious, let's put any concerns to bed here – Rise of the Tomb Raider was originally an Xbox One exclusive, releasing for the console in November 2015 and remained that way for almost a full year until the 20th anniversary edition saw release on PS4. In fact, this was a key title in the Xbox One's early lineup and quite the coup for Microsoft.
Not only does the legacy and popularity of the Tomb Raider franchise speak for itself but after the critically acclaimed Tomb Raider reboot in 2013, this was the most anticipated game in the franchise in a long time. Needless to say, it did not disappoint, Rise of the Tomb Raider is undoubtedly where the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy peaked (pun...kind of intended).
This is the game that cemented Lara's return to form and proved that her new adventures were not just just a facsimile of Sony's Uncharted series but an equal that could stand shoulder to shoulder with Nathan Drake's best outings and loudly told everyone who'd listen that the Tomb Raider still has a lot left in the tank.
In Cuphead, the people at Studio MDHR did something special – they looked at the slew of ultra-difficult games on the market, cut out every element that made these games an exercise in tedium, exaggerated the parts that made them rewarding and created an example of the sub-genre in its perfect form.
Gone were the mind-numbing treks over the same area mowing through worthless enemies to get another shot at the boss, gone were clunky controls and slow responses that left the player feeling robbed of a win. Instead, we got a series of lovingly crafted boss encounters where death was always the fault of the player and a lesson for next time, with the ability to jump straight back into the fight immediately after a loss, and when that hard fought victory finally arrived, it felt enormously gratifying.
Though Cuphead may now be available all major consoles, for a long time this was by far the most compelling reason to own an Xbox One.
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