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The Essentials: Xbox One backwards compatibility games

Our top picks from the Xbox classics library

Xbox One may end up coming a distant third this console generation, but it still has a lot to boast about over its rivals.

And one of those boasts is backwards compatibility: neither Switch nor PS4 let users play their predecessors’ games, leaving millions of Wii U, Wii and PS1/2/3 libraries gathering dust. That isn’t the case with Xbox One, which can play an ever-growing selection of Xbox 360 and original Xbox games.

There are hundreds of games in this list and counting, so if you’re looking to delve into the archives it may be quite daunting to choose what to play. That’s where we come in: here are our 15 top picks for backwards compatible games on the Xbox One.

Note: there are some big names (like the Assassin’s Creed games, the Arkham games and Dark Souls) that are backwards compatible but aren’t on our list. That’s because these games have ‘proper’ current-gen remasters, meaning you can already play them on Xbox One or PS4 in any form. To be on this list, a game has to (at the time of writing) be impossible to play in any form without backwards compatibility.

Alan Wake

Alan Wake backwards compatible

Remedy Entertainment’s survival horror game about a famous author who soon discovers he’s trapped in the events of his latest novel is a brilliantly scripted, atmospheric adventure.

Its central mechanic revolves around darkness: the game’s enemies are shrouded in an evil shadow and you have to weaken them with your torchlight before you’re able to take them down with your standard weaponry. This makes for a tense affair where you can’t just go in all guns blazing: you have to make use of the light sources available to you instead.

It’s also got a clever episode-based structure designed to make it feel like a thriller TV show, complete with ‘Previously On…’ moments that recap recent events.

Bayonetta

Bayonetta backwards compatible

There are few games as stylish, as sexy, as downright satisfying as Platinum Games’ Bayonetta, an outstanding action adventure starring a supremely confident witch.

Its fast-paced combat mechanics make for beautifully flowing action, along with some truly spectacular set-pieces that will still have your jaw dropping despite it being a last-gen title.

Long-time gamers will also spot a bunch of subtle and not-so-subtle references to a whole host of games, from Out Run and Resident Evil to After Burner and Sonic the Hedgehog. In short, there are few games that are so eccentric, and yet Bayonetta pulls it off perfectly.

[Related: Read our Platinum Games Interview including the latest on Bayonetta 3]

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Black Ops backwards compatible

Much like other game series with annual instalments, if you’re looking to buy an older Call of Duty game it’ll need to be for the single-player campaign, because the multiplayer will be deader than acid wash jeans.

With that in mind, your best bet for some backwards compatible duty calls would be Black Ops, because of all the single-player campaigns from the last-gen era it’s the best of the bunch.

It takes players to the likes of Cuba, Vietnam and Hong Kong, ably supported by voice acting from the likes of Sam Worthington, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman and Ice Cube. When it comes to solo COD, there isn’t much better.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate HD

Castlevania backwards compatible

The two Castlevania: Lords of Shadow games were impressive third-person action-adventure games, but it was their handheld spin-off that offered the most authentic experience.

Originally released on the 3DS in 2013, Mirror of Fate is a brilliant side-scrolling adventure, more in the classic Metroidvania spirit, which has you playing as four different characters – Gabriel, Trevor, Simon and Alucard – throughout different periods of time.

As luck would have it, the game was originally developed in HD and downscaled to the 3DS, so it was no real surprise when it was ported to the 360 later that same year. Naturally, given its massive increase in resolution over the handheld version, it’s the definitive way to play an underrated Castlevania adventure.

Crackdown

Crackdown backwards compatible

The third game may have recently been released, but the original Crackdown still probably holds the crown as the most downright enjoyable entry in the series.

Collecting orbs and using your superhero powers to bring justice to the crime-torn Pacific City is a blast, but there’s also fun to be had in simply running around the city itself, using your obscenely high jumps to clamber your way up even the tallest buildings (can you reach the fabled top of the Agency Tower?)

Best of all, not only is the original Crackdown compatible with the Xbox One, it’s also been enhanced for the Xbox One X, meaning anyone with that particular model can now enjoy the game’s crisp cel-shaded look in native 4K resolution.

Dead Space

Dead Space backwards compatible

It’s hard to believe that Visceral Games’ fantastic space-themed survival horror game is now more than a decade old. What isn’t hard to believe, though, is that it still has the power to shock after all these years.

Playing as ship engineer Isaac Clarke, you have to fight your way through the USG Ishimura, which has been plagued by a mysterious alien infestation that’s killed your fellow crew members and reanimated their corpses into hideous monsters.

It’s what you’d get if Alien and The Thing had a hideous mutant baby, and that baby then screamed hideously and tried to your face off on a regular basis. Only in video game form. And it’s great.

Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II

Dragon Age backwards compatible

Bioware’s star may have lost its shine in recent years, but Dragon Age: Origins and its sequel Dragon Age II come from the studio’s golden era, its releases lodged right in between those of the first two Mass Effect games.

Both games are brilliant fantasy RPGs inspired by the works of Tolkien and George R. R. Martin, and are set in a fantastically detailed worlds with hundreds of characters and a wide variety of different branching storylines that – in true Bioware style – change the plot depending on the choices you make.

If you somehow manage to find the time to make your way through both games then you’ll also be happy to find that the third game, the equally excellent Dragon Age: Inquisition, is also available on Xbox One, making Microsoft’s system the only current gen way to play the whole trilogy.

Fable Trilogy

Fable backwards compatible

Lionhead’s trio of action RPGs are perhaps as well-known for all the things designer Peter Molyneux falsely promised would be in them, than what they actually do contain.

That’s doing the games a disservice, though: each was a cracking adventure filled with side-quests, copious character interaction and a dry sense of humour.

The original game – only playable through backwards compatibility in its remade Fable Anniversary form – has aged worse than its successors, even though it does support improved resolution on Xbox One X. Fable II and Fable III, though, remain hugely entertaining to this day.

Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout backwards compatible

Fallout 3 was the first in the series to be developed by Bethesda, and puts you in a post-apocalyptic Washington DC as you leave the safety of Vault 101 in search for your missing father.

New Vegas, meanwhile, is set four years later and (as the title suggests) is this time set in Nevada. It has you playing as a courier trying to hunt down the person who shot you in the head and left you for dead at the start of the game.

Both games are brilliant open-world action RPGs that should keep you busy for an extremely long time.

Gears Of War ‘quadrilogy’

Gears of War backwards compatible

Each of these titles used to be considered graphical powerhouses in their day and while they may be mostly showing their age a little now, they’re all still great action games with plenty of meatheaded heroics to put a smile on your face.

Well, we say they’re showing their age, but it’s worth noting that Gears 2, 3 and Judgment have all been blessed with ‘Xbox One X enhanced’ status, meaning they run at native 4K resolution on an Xbox One X and still look ruddy good as a result.

Grand Theft Auto IV

GTA backwards compatible

Even though Grand Theft Auto V is now considered the definitive entry in Rockstar’s iconic series, we still have a soft spot in our hearts for the studio’s last-gen effort.

Not only is the main game itself available to play on Xbox One, its two brilliant DLC episodes – The Lost & Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony – are also backwards compatible, meaning a whole host of Liberty City goodness awaits.

After all, GTA Online is all well and good, but there’s something nostalgically special about your cousin phoning you for the umpteenth time asking you if you want to go bowling.

Mass Effect trilogy

Mass Effect backwards compatible

Sometimes it isn’t the destination that matters, it’s the journey you took to get there: and the first three Mass Effect games are one hell of a journey.

Combined, they comprise the adventures of Commander Shepard and the rest of the crew of the SSV Normandy as they try to save the universe from the threat of the evil Reapers, who are planning a galactic invasion.Each title feels slightly different – especially when it comes to combat – and your favourite will depend on your personal play style. One thing they all share, though, is a gripping storyline with a fantastic cast of weird and wonderful supporting characters.

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead backwards compatible

Of all the backwards compatible games on Xbox One, we’d guess that Red Dead Redemption is among those that have been played most, mainly due to gamers catching up on the plot before its sequel launched in 2018.

John Marston may have been reduced to a bit part in Red Dead Redemption 2, but in its predecessor he’s front and centre, as he heads out to take on his former gang members in order to rescue his wife and child.

Once you’re done with the main game, you may want to check out Undead Nightmare, its brilliant zombie-themed DLC story which is also backwards compatible.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Sonic backwards compatible

Mario Kart may continue to be the kart racing champion, but this offering from Sega and Sumo Digital is no slouch either: it’s probably the best non-Mario example of the genre.

It features 25 drivers spanning the length and breadth of Sega’s history: from well-loved names like Sonic and cameos like Wreck-It Ralph to older faces like Alex Kidd, BD Joe from Crazy Taxi and even a playable Dreamcast controller.

Its courses are fantastic too. Morphing and evolving after each lap, you’ll be driving, flying and sailing your way through locations from the likes of After Burner, Panzer Dragoon, Golden Axe and House of the Dead.

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords

KoTOR backwards compatible

Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility doesn’t just extend to 360 games: there are also a slowly growing handful of original Xbox titles supported too.

Of these, the best of the bunch so far is KOTOR II, a prequel to the entire Star Wars saga (like its predecessor, it takes place 4000 years before Episode I). The Sith have nearly wiped out all the Jedi – yes, again – so it’s up to an exiled Jedi Knight to gather the remaining Jedi and get them to fight back.

There aren’t many truly brilliant Star Wars games out there, and though this 15-year-old RPG clearly doesn’t look as good as the more recent offerings by EA and the like, it’s a lot more entertaining.

[Related: Jedi Fallen Order writer critiques The Last Jedi]