If you'd have told us 10 years and one day ago that Microsoft would be dominating the world of gaming, we'd have called you a damnable liar and punched a hole in the top of your bowler hat. But the company best known for interminably dull things like Microsoft Office and Outlook managed to pull it out the bag with the Xbox console, released in 2001 and followed up in 2005 with the even more brilliant Xbox 360.
What propelled Xbox to the forefront of the interactive entertainment world? Massive piles of money, of course! And games, lots of great, exclusive games. Here, in no particular order, are our 10 favourite Xbox exclusives ever.
Fable 2 (Xbox 360)
Who'd have thought pottering about a colonial-era fantasy land and setting people on fire would be so much fun? We did, because that sounds like the most fun it's possible to have. And fun by the barrelful was a feature of Fable 2 -- the strongest game in the series to date, Fable 2 gave you freedom to develop your character, letting you choose to be male or female and good or evil.
The game is constantly throwing moral choices your way, but once we found out that being evil made your character grow horns, it was fireballs here, fireballs there, fireballs everywhere. Other treats include a refreshingly flexible approach to character sexuality and the best dog in video games ever.
Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
Released in 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved was the game that made the original Xbox a success. Introducing Master Chief, the Clint Eastwood-inspired green-suited faceless hero of the franchise, players were let loose on a gorgeously rendered hoop-shaped space world, with the express purpose of eliminating the Covenant alien threat.
Halo fans will be keen to point out the story isn't that simple -- indeed it's massively complicated -- but Halo deserves praise for simplifying the shooter genre in terms of gameplay, and making it fun to leap around frantically, running and gunning as you fought increasingly huge hordes of otherworldly foes. It had longevity too, thanks to different difficulty settings that significantly altered gameplay.
The first Halo was so popular that Microsoft has decided to make it again, releasing the remastered Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary for the Xbox 360, in a cynical money-spinning exercise that nevertheless has us excited about returning to the game we fell in love with a decade ago.
Forza 4: Motorsport (Xbox 360)
Everyone likes fast cars, but driving them in real life can be terrifying, not to mention expensive. You're much better off racing virtual cars we reckon, and virtual cars don't come any more beautifully realised than the roster of motors in the superb Forza series.
A game for racing connoisseurs, Forza 4 offers a refined motoring experience that's a million miles away from smashing your opponent with a red shell in Mario Kart, but feels no less rewarding.
Okay, it's slightly less rewarding, but if you're more of a casual gaming fan there's something for you here as well, because Forza 4 works with Kinect, Microsoft's motion-tracking peripheral, so you can ditch the controller if you fancy.
Crackdown (Xbox 360)
Grand Theft Auto is all well and good, but it's a shame it's not set in the future, with biologically enhanced characters leaping across rooftops and tackling crime using oversized weaponry.
Ambitious and great fun to play, Crackdown's success was party due to Microsoft Game Studios bundling the game with Halo 3 multiplayer beta access codes. Your job is to police Pacific City, taking down crimelords and harvesting the experience orbs that drop from defeated foes. Clambering to the top of the highest building and jumping off delivers a giddy thrill, as does hopping into your friends' game using Xbox Live.
The sequel Crackdown 2 sadly wasn't quite as good, but the original game remains one of the Xbox's most dearly treasured gems.
Ninja Gaiden (Xbox)
Resurrecting a franchise last spotted in the nineties, Ninja Gaiden is a hack-and-slash adventure that has you blasting through waves of enemies with an assortment of weaponry, including flails, shuriken, swords and staves, helpfully relieving your unlucky foes of their blood. And heads.
This is another game where you'll quickly stop following the story, focusing more on the bloody business of battle -- blocking where required and raining down punishment the rest of the time.
Ninja Gaiden is infamous for being incredibly hard. With a difficulty curve that looks more like a sheer brick wall, casual gamers might be put off by the amount of practice and finger dexterity needed to succeed. But if you're able to battle through the whole game, your reward will be a warm inner glow, and the prospect of tearing through the similarly excellent Ninja Gaiden 2 for the Xbox 360.
Not all the best games come in boxes, y'know. Trials HD is a downloadable title on Xbox Live Arcade, a place where indie developers can give their game a fair shout.
Trials HD is arguably the best XBLA title out there, and involves ramping a motorbike through side-scrolling levels, controlling the bike's speed and direction to ensure your brave rider is able to stay in the saddle.
Trials HD is utterly addictive, and will have you coming back again and again to beat your best times, but another reason it's made it onto the list is that the Live Arcade is one of the best things about the Xbox 360, and deserves a proper mention. Games industry take note -- some of the coolest games of the last few years have been indie titles popping up on XBLA, iOS or Android.
Knights of the Old Republic
You can't help but love Star Wars (try as you might). And Xbox owners were treated to BioWare's magnificent slice of lightsaber-swinging action ahead of anyone else when Knights of the Old Republic came out in July 2003.
The story takes place 4,000 years before the Galactic Empire rises to power, making it even longer ago than a long, long time ago. Combat is divided into rounds, and the game will figure out whether or not you're more Jedi or Sith by tracking your conversational habits, and responses to other characters in the game, changing your appearance more subtly than Fable.
A truly great slice of entertainment, Knights of the Old Republic is a must for RPG and Star Wars fans alike.
Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
The first Halo game may have kick-started the Xbox revolution, but it was the release of 2007's Halo 3 that cemented Microsoft's place at the forefront of gaming.
While the game itself was incredible fun, and really pushed the Xbox 360 in terms of what was graphically possible at the time, Halo 3 was amazing value for money because its multiplayer mode kept gamers going for months after they'd ploughed through the single-player campaign.
Microsoft went nuts with the marketing for Halo 3, and it paid off -- more than 1 million people played Halo 3 online during the game's first day on sale.
Dance Central 2 (Xbox 360)
If you're a hardcore gaming nut, you're probably already scrolling furiously toward the comments section, to let us know exactly what you think of us including a dancing game in this roundup. But it would be churlish to ignore Kinect, Microsoft's casual-friendly, camera-laden sensor bar, and Dance Central 2 is probably the best Kinect game out there.
Dead easy to play, hitting the dance floor involves little more than trying to follow the virtual onscreen dancer. But the game will have you twisting around like a maniac to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance before long, and issuing the smack talk to your fellow dancer in two-player mode is a rare pleasure.
Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360)
Second to Halo, the Gears of War series is the Xbox's biggest exclusive franchise by a country mile, and rightly so -- this third-person action adventure series has been a blast since the first game landed.
Gears of War 3 is the latest (and some would say the best) of the Gears games, proving once more that nothing beats the feeling of taking your chainsaw bayonet to an alien's face, or hiding bravely behind a waist-high wall while your co-op buddies do all the hard work.
Great competitive and co-op multiplayer modes are the icing on a gory cake. If you're a fan of from-cover shooters and enjoy peering at the shoulders of impossibly muscular men, Gears of War 3 is essential.