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Happy Birthday Xbox 360: Part 2

We hit 2008 in style as we continue our retrospective over the first five years of the Xbox 360 life-cycle, as well as looking at the best, worst and the long forgotten titles on the console up to present day.

Stop! if you haven't read Part 1 of our retrospective on the Xbox 360's first five years in existence, head there first. Done? Good. Here we continue our journey as we rev our Lancers while covering 2008 to present day.

2008: The Odd Couples

'08's Finest

Gears of War 2 (Microsoft)
Fallout 3 (2K Games)
Dead Space (EA)

Most underrated title: Mirror's Edge (EA)

Titles released that you probably forgot about already: Legendary (Atari), Turning Point: Fall of Victory (Codemasters) (both developed by Spark Unlimited)

Likihood of Alan Wake or Splinter Cell: Conviction hitting this year: 44% and dropping rapidly.

2008 proved to the year were a single tap on a shoulder can cause an entire industry to reel in shock. We see merger announcements and the taste the bitterness of studio closures, the Xbox 360 Dashboard gets an overhaul, and Epic's Cliffy B now wanting everyone to refer him to Cliff Bleszinki.

It was Square-Enix's Yoichi Wada tapping Microsoft's Don Mattrick on the shoulder that provided one the year's best moments after appearing to present the various titles that were hitting Xbox 360 soon, Wada headed off stage, only to reappear moments later to break Mattrick's wrap-up speech and announce he had "one more title" to show. Cue the trailer for Final Fantasy XIII and quite a few stunned faces.

The series jumping ship from PlayStation exclusivity after a decade might have been the biggest surprise, but it wasn't to be the only one. Namco Bandai's Tekken was also due to jump ship with its newest main entry into the franchise going multiformat for the first time in the series history.

Both announcements made up somewhat for Sony's eleventh hour dealings with Atari to alter the European launch of the Ghostbusters videogame to a system exclusive.

The year proved rife with company dealings. Blizzard merged with Activision and shed numerous titles in the process, most notably Tim Schafer's return to the console fold with Brutal Legend, which ultimately led to a tug of war between its old publisher and new owner EA over profits and development costs the following year. 2008 also saw the announcement that Ensemble Studios would close just as it let its final project, Halo Wars out into the retail wild. More positive was the emergence of a new studio, ex-Capcom Clover Studios staff reforming as Platinum Games in a four-game deal with Sega.

It was a better year as well for Xbox Live. Microsoft announced at E3 customers had spent over one billion on Xbox Live content, although kept quite on whether it'd met the ten million subscribers it was gunning for since last E3, and that future Fallout 3 DLC would come first to Xbox 360. The service had its first interactive quiz show greenlit - 1 Vs 100 proving to be an interesting but short-lived experiment, only lasting one season.

Criterion became the poster boy for post-launch DLC in 2008, releasing a mammoth amount of content throughout the year and into the next for its sandbox racer Burnout Paradise, throwing new modes, as well as motorcycles into the series for the first time.

We also see a whole heap of fantastic XBLA titles. Braid, Castle Crashers, Geometery Wars 2: Retro Evolved gobbled up Microsoft Points, with Capcom cementing the shift back towards retro-flair by releasing Mega Man 9 - the first proper sequel to the long-running series which emulated the 80s look and feel, right down to the screen flicker.

But while XBLA celebrated gaming's glorious past, the Xbox 360 Dashboard was embracing a new-look future with the New Xbox Experience, a nod to the new audience that the industry has picked up over the last few years. Bye go the Blades and in come Channels, Avatars and an overall cleaner, brighter look to the system's internal browser. Some love it, others hate it.

Causing an equally split reaction are a series of franchise-changing directions. After splitting from the Guitar Hero brand, Harmonix come back to the scene with Rock Band. Ubsioft treads the cel-shaded route with Prince of Persia, while Capcom introduce a new face into its Devil May Cry franchise as the smooth-faced Nero faces off against the seemingly-now villainous Dante. Bungie follow suit with a TGS trailer showcasing an offshoot Halo 3 game entitled Recon that dumps the Master Chief in favour of a nameless O.D.S.T.

2008 also brought with its two distinct oddities. First was the release of Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe, a titanic crossover between gaming's bloodiest combatants and the family-friendly comic caped crusaders. It prove a far cry from the frivolity of the Marvel Vs Capcom series, but equally wasn't as terrible as it could have been. Second? Burt Reynolds advertising You're In the Movies.

In other news, Sonic picked himself up once more and staggered towards another release, this time with Sonic Unleashed, and proved he was at least getting it half-right at last. The same couldn't be said for the Max Payne movie, which was the equivalent of Hollywood stopping stabbing us in the eye, only to start kicking us in the balls instead.

Oh, and Too Human finally released. Although everyone quickly realised that was more a curse than a blessing.

2009: Bigger than the Beatles

‘09's Finest

Batman: Arkham Asylum (Square-Enix)
Assassin's Creed II (Ubisoft)
Trials HD (RedLynx)

Most Underrated title: Borderlands (2K Games)

Title released that you've already forgotten about: Damnation (Codemasters)

Sam Fisher's beard ratio: 3%

How do you outdo last year's titanic tap on the shoulder? Why, you repeat the trick, throw in an appearance by The Beatles (well, the ones still alive that is) and world famous director™ Steven Spielberg to give the thumbs up to your new motion-sensing technology.

And that's exactly what Microsoft did at this year's E3 conference, with Hideo Kojima sneaking on stage to deliver the Mattrick tap and announce Metal Gear Solid was coming to Xbox 360 (extra points for the game's full, epic title "Metal Gear Solid: Rising :Lighting Bolt Action".) Before that though Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr stepped on stage to wax lyrical about The Beatles: Rock Band, and Project Natal was given its first positive review by none other than Steven Spielberg.

Funny thing is, that isn't what people remember. Microsoft managed to turn talk away from the party style mini-games of Natal's first showcase, and make what first comes to mind when remembering 09's E3 is Peter Molyneux's demonstration of something called Milo & Kate. At the very least it makes massive leaps over what we understand about virtual pet simulators, and at the most makes massive promises over the power under Natal's hood.

But we couldn't have an impressive technology showcase without balancing it out with a duff one. Step forward Tony Hawk, spokesperson for an entire sport and culture, who has to demo his franchise's newest addition, the RiDE board. Looked promising, turned out to be a misfire. Sorry Tony.

Still, you could write an entire retrospective of 2009 on the games alone. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 swallowed everything in its path, Batman: Arkham Asylum showed you what could be done with a licence if handled right, Street Fighter IV reignited the two-decade old fighting spirit in a lot of gamers, Trials HD made a mockery of your supposedly awesome level time with integrated Friends List Leaderboards, Resident Evil 5 brought co-op play to the franchise and Eat Lead....oh right. Okay, so there still was some stinkers wedged between the boot heels of ‘09's titans.

Halo: O.D.S.T continued Crackdown's trend of supporting smaller releases by incorporating beta keys within the game. Crackdown had Halo 3, whilst O.D.S.T unlocked entry into next year's Halo: Reach's beta, the announcement of which proved Bungie really just couldn't let go.

Xbox 360 Dashboard continued to evolve, as the system interface gained Last.fm, Sky Player, Facebook and Twitter functionality. Coincidently those have been listed in descending order of use for most Xbox 360 owners. Sam Fisher finally makes a return after a run in with beard clippers, debuting a new look and face-breaking attitude. Alan Wake is suddenly left on the delayed release bench and realises he's got to pull hit shit together.

Midway draws its last breath and its guts sold off to the highest bidders. At least it doesn't leave a videogame adaptation as a final gift to the world. In fact, the year passes without a movie baring a videogame title of any description. Pause for celebration.

2010: Breaking the Mould

‘10's Finest

Halo: Reach (Microsoft)
Bayonetta (Sega)
Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar)

Most Underrated Title: Rock Band 3 (EA)

Title released that you've already forgotten about: Singularity (Activision)

And so we come full circle to the year's that's just drawing to a close, and while the announcements mightn't carry as big a bang as previous years, there's been excitement in the smaller details that have cropped up as the year's progressed.

Take the sure certs that have either been knocked off their rightful top spot or criminally disappeared without a trace. The year kicked off with leather-clad witches beating seven hells out of Heaven's legions with Platinum Games Bayonetta, which was itself soundly thrashed by THQ's quite decent Darksiders in the UK charts. Bizarre Creations come out with one of the finest arcade racers of this generation or any other, Blur. Yet come the tail end of the year news hits that Activision is looking to sell on the company.

Uncertain futures hit Harmonix too. Despite producing what might be the defining game of the company's history, Rock Band 3, the title also sells poorly and in the weeks that follow owner Viacom starts looking to shift the developer onto someone else. Better news for both than with Realtime Worlds, the Scottish-based developer who leapt from the critical-acclaim of Crackdown onto the unsteady platform of APB, which lead to the company closing its doors only recently.

Yet there is a flipside as well. Firstly, Rockstar manages to make the world and its mother give two nickels about a cowboy title, with Red Dead Redemption receiving critical acclaim that arguably outdid GTAIV and selling in excess of five million copies in the month after release.

2010 was the year of resurrections as well. It saw the testosterone-fulled Duke of FPS titles rise like a phoenix as the decade-long development of Duke Nukem Forever, which had finally been canned only last year, was restarted under Borderlands creator Gearbox Software.

Learning the zest of life once more was Lara Croft, whose developer Crystal Dynamics unearthed the long-lost Totem of acceptable gameplay, dusted it down, and installed it into an XBLA title that shone bright on Microsoft's Summer of Arcade crown.

It seems to be the year of miracles as well as a light was shone onto Remedy's Alan Wake to lead him from the development bench and onto the release pitch. Pity he runs like a creaky old man though.

Xbox Live's posted 25 million members now, and the Xbox 360 console goes through its biggest change yet, shrinking down to the Slim, which is debuted at this year's E3, though UK and Europe has to wait a bit to get their hands on one. Natal, now Kinect, gets pimped out at the conference as well, and who's release you might just remember hearing about only a few short weeks ago.

There's been plenty happening this year, from Bungie finally signing off its Halo franchise, to the announcement of Bioshock Infinite, to the bizarre case of Deadly Premonition, but all is still very much fresh in everyone's minds. (And we're staunchly ignoring the release of the Tekken movie as a collective).

If anything, that the Xbox 360 is still firing on all cylinders is a testament to how far Microsoft and the industry as a whole has come. Here's to the next five years ahead, and to the surprises that lie just around the corner.

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