There’s endless rumour and speculation about the lengths to which Sony’s upcoming console, the PS5, will be backwards compatible with previous PlayStation consoles. Though this will be put to rest this week – hopefully – with the PS5 event scheduled for June 4th, we already have a very clear idea as to where their closest competitor – at least in terms of consoles still pushing forward in the tech arms race – will sit in terms of the same issue, given that Xbox Series X will offer the same backwards-compatibility-with-enhancements that can already be experienced on the Xbox One X.
I’ve looked at the issue before, broadly, with an article covering Remakes and Remasters. What I find fairly astonishing – and what pushed me into writing this new article – are the takes from gamers saying that they don’t care for backwards compatibility at all, and that they’re only investing in next gen hardware to play next gen games. While seemingly sensible in principle, this actually strikes me as incredibly odd.
I had always wanted to get into the Assassin’s Creed games, but struggled to complete the first one because it was, frankly, not a good game. It was revolutionary in terms of the third person parkour style abilities and cinematic combat that it offered, but the overall world, dull protagonist and general lack of variety in missions (not to mention an awfully drawn out final section with some truly crap game design elements) really brought it down. I was, however, determined to finish it once and for all. Picking it up for a quid at CeX, I was astonished to find that it had been enhanced for Xbox One X, with frame rate and resolution enhancements that really improved the overall look and feel of the game (sorry to say it couldn’t help the dull mechanics and repetitiveness of the game overall, however).
Without this backwards compatibility, how would I have gone back to experience the game again? Dig out and hook up my Xbox 360? Purchase a ‘remastered’ version at a higher price (not that this exists, of course, in the case of Assassin’s Creed)?
Though in the past buying a new console would often mean a significant generational and technological leap over what your previous console could do, that’s no longer the case. Aside from the general size of game worlds and perhaps a few advancements in terms of AI, there’s little that couldn’t be achieved on the previous generation of consoles from a game mechanic point of view. There’s this notion that the next generation will suddenly bring experiences that wouldn’t be possible on the current gen – I genuinely can’t see that ever being the case to be honest – which means that having backwards compatibility or cross gen games will somehow hold back the next generation games from truly blossoming to their full potential. Again, I don’t see that this is realistic at the current level of technology.
One of the joys of owning a gaming-capable PC is that your entire library is visually updated and improved when you upgrade your hardware. It’s something that has been the case for many, many years, now that digital libraries such as Steam are the norm. I find it incredibly naive of console players to think that providing this in any way holds back or cheapens upgraded hardware.
There’s also the cost factor. How many games will consumers be able to afford when they buy their shiny new consoles? One or two, I’d guess. So why not have your digital or even physical games available for play on your new machine as soon as you buy it? Why is that a bad thing?
Your current gen games – and even older gen titles – aren’t suddenly going to become worse games overnight, just because the new consoles arrive. That game you were addicted to last week, before you bought your new console? Wouldn’t you want to just continue playing it – potentially in enhanced form – on your new machine?
We already know that Xbox Series X isn’t reinventing the wheel when it comes to peripherals either, with all current gen controllers being compatible with the next gen too. It strikes me as a very consumer friendly move; long has the ever increasing cost of extra controllers been something I’ve hated investing in, time after time, when buying a new machine. Now, it seems, I won’t have to worry about it when transitioning between Xbox generations.
I hope that Sony really do have similar, consumer friendly approaches in place for their new console. Until it’s confirmed of course, this is all speculation. However, it’d be good to see players recognising that not providing these features – whether or not they’ll use them extensively themselves – is not a good thing at all. How many of those same players who claim they don’t want backwards compatibility went out and bought remasters of games such as The Last of Us, when backwards compatibility could have negated the need for them to purchase the game again? Food for thought, at least.
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