Retrograde, Retrogame, and now just Retro. Games have come a long way from its humble beginnings as a computer program to waste some time, to a multi-billion dollar industry that has helped shape the world of digital media at we know it today. We see new attempts every year with new concepts, new ideas and new ways to draw people into this massive medium, but it’s important to step back and evaluate what’s going on in such a huge and diverse industry. Today we’re looking at the launch of a new generation. The PS5 and the Xbox Series X are just around the corner, but have either of them learnt from their past mistakes?

I previously spoke about how bad the Xbox One launch was, and the console would spend its early years being reworked into a console that Microsoft could sell. It was a troubled launch, with a dated design, unwanted hardware choices, it’s heavy price and a lack of exclusive games that trailed behind what the PS4 had to offer. However while it had a troubled launch, the console would slowly work it’s way into a pretty enticing console, especially it’s later S and X renditions. These changes would carry over the next gen of consoles – The Series X and S, but how much of an impact would this be? What did Xbox do to make the Xbox One (and it’s next gen renditions) the console to buy over the PS5?

Back to E3 2015 and Xbox are doing their show and its business as usual with new games such as Halo 5, Cuphead and Forza Motorsport 6. Games that were going to be fun, but not system sellers. But Microsoft then announced that the Xbox One would be bringing backwards compatibility to the console, with the ability to play Xbox 360 titles. This is a big deal. The 360 was a massively successful console for Microsoft and was no doubt a great feature for Xbox One players. We also saw an ‘Xbox Elite’ controller which was a high quality controller for the Xbox One, showing their dedication to premium hardware. The following year in 2016 Xbox announced the Xbox One S, a much smaller, better looking and less power hungry version of the Xbox One. It did drop the built in TV and Kinect functionality, but considering these were actual problems with the first Xbox One renditions, it was a welcome addition, with many adding that the S should’ve been the console they released in the first place. We were also given the ‘Play Anywhere’ program which allowed gamers to buy one version of a game that they could then play on Windows 10 computers and their Xbox One, even continuing where they left off before with a cross save feature. E3 2017 and Xbox drop a big boy on us with the Xbox One X, the most powerful console at the time, surpassing the PS4 and the PS4 Pro, which would let games be played in native 4K. The One X would suffer the same lack of exclusives it’s era of Xbox had, but it was a powerful update to the Xbox line and showed Microsoft commitment to making high end powerful consoles after the underwhelming power of the original Xbox One. We also got an extension of their backwards compatibility program, allowing you to play original Xbox titles from all the way back in 2001. A huge announcement that year was the Game Pass program, a subscription based service that would give you access to stream or download hundreds of titles, some of them being AAA games from day one. So you could pay £40 for one new game, or £7 a month for hundreds of other games including brand new ones the day they’re released. These sort of updates would continue over the later years of Xbox Ones lifespan with announcements such as the purchase of new studios, Game Pass being expanded to PC with an ‘all in one’ Game Pass Ultimate which included Xbox Live and Game Pass for a cheaper price, and a streaming service known as ‘Project Xcloud’ which would be released around the same time as the Xbox Series X.

There’s only about 42 Xbox titles, but with nearly 577 Xbox 360 titles, there’s a lot more to play

What we saw over the later years was a huge emphasis on it’s services for the Xbox community. None of these would be the massive game changer they needed, but it showed how much they were willing to do to make the Xbox a viable platform, and all these ideas and concepts would be launched with the Series X. Which is another talking point in how well Microsoft has promoted the Series X and what it has to offer.

The Series X was teased at E3 2019 with sneak peaks and lots of numbers regarding it’s power and we all expected to see it at E3 the following year. But we got caught off guard with the announcement happening at the start of the Game Awards in December later that year. It had beaten Sony to the punch and set the bar for what was expected next gen. Microsoft were much more open about the Series X compared to Sony, who revealed the hardware for the PS5 later that year. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic we didn’t get a proper E3 show but we did get some virtual events that showed off some of the Xbox Series X games and capabilities, and like before it was done before Sony had shown us anything about the PS5. Later in the year, on September 8th 2020, Microsoft dropped another console on us. The Xbox Series S, a smaller but less powerful version of the Series X, but would only cost £249 which was absolutely insane. They also announced the price of the regular Series X with it being £449.99 and offered finance options bundling in Game Pass for around £20 a month for the Series S, and about £30 for the Series X. The Series S alone was unbeatable value for money and was no doubt going to be cheaper than whatever Sony was offering. The most recent development is Microsofts acquisition of Zenimax, who own Bethesda, who in turn own huge franchises such as Elder Scrolls, Fallout, DOOM, Wolfenstein and Dishonored meaning that any of these massive games could become Xbox exclusives and huge console sellers if they chose to do so.

The Elder Scrolls VI might be exclusive to Xbox Series X, no doubt selling a few Series X/S consoles

The developments of the Xbox One in its later years will no doubt carry over to the Series X, making it something to definitely worth considering if you want a next gen console. But of course there is the other option – The PS5. As I said earlier the PS5 is owing much of it’s sales potential down to it’s reputation. The PS4 was wildly successful, but mostly because the Xbox One made bad choices in it’s early days. Microsoft have done a lot to make the Xbox One, and therefore the Series X a more desirable option, so let’s compare what Sony have done over the last few years to setup the PS5 as the console to buy, compared to the Xbox Series X.

The first is backwards compatibility. A few years ago backwards compatibility wasn’t the rare sight it is today. The Wii could play Gamecube games, the Xbox 360 could play Xbox games, and all PS3s were compatible with PS1 games, while only the earlier models could play PS1 and PS2 games. With the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One, neither of them had the option to play older games, locking you into the current gen and only later offering older titles through their digital store, or as remasters. However the Xbox One added the ability to play both Xbox 360 and Xbox original games later down the line, meaning that when the Series X is launched it will have the ability to play older discs from Xbox One, Xbox 360 and the original Xbox giving you access to Xboxs entire catalogue of games spanning nearly 20 years. The PS4 never added the ability to play older discs, and the PS5 is mostly following suit. The PS5 will be able to play most PS4s titles, but nothing from any previous generation. This gets even more frustrating when the powerful PS5 could easily emulate previous generations of PS1, PS2 and possible PS3 but we’re not given the option, despite it being a huge system seller if introduced.
Microsofts ‘play anywhere program’ allows you to buy one game and play it on both your PC and Xbox. Now PS5 obviously doesn’t have the PC option, so it does feel a bit unfair to compare the two, but it is something that Microsoft can offer, that Sony cannot. This also related to Microsofts ‘smart delivery’ program, meaning if you purchase a game for the Xbox One, you will get a free upgrade and be able to play the Xbox Series X version of the game. Sony are also offering the same service for many of its games although it doesn’t seem as uniform. ‘Smart delivery’ is just a buzzword, but it speaks to the customers as it makes it clear that you can play it on both the Xbox One and Series X even putting it on their box art, while Sonys advertising isn’t as clear about what games you’ll be able to do this with.

Smart Delivery will give you the most optimised version of the game, no matter what console you’re on

The Game Pass program is perhaps one of the most important aspects when it comes to next gen gaming. Game Pass ultimate is £10.99 a month, giving you access to hundreds of games to play or download, some of them being AAA brand new day one releases such as Forza Horizon 4 and Sea of Thieves in the past, but have also confirmed that games such as Fable, Halo Infinite, Forza Motorsport and HellBlade 2 will all be on Game Pass the day they are released. Game Pass Ultimate also gives you access to Xbox Live, combining the 2 services into one subsidised payment. This is contrast to Sonys offering of PS Now, and PS Plus. PS Plus is your standard online multiplayer and PS Now is their game streaming / download platform. Both of these are separate services which you could argue saves money for those who just want PS Plus, and not pay for PS Now. But many people I’ve spoke to said they’d happily pay a bit extra on top of their PS Plus if it meant having access to PS Now, doing a cheaper all in price like Game Pass. On the other hand though it might be best that Sony not offer this as PS Nows content is heavily lacking. PS Now offers about 650 games, compared to Game Passes 200 or so, sounds like a no brainer as PS Now has more games right? Wrong. PS Nows collection isn’t awful, but is nothing compared to what Game Pass has on offer with a large collection of PS Now games being old PS2/ PS3 games or generic third party games you’d never really play in the first place. Starting 2020 Sony did improve what PS Now is offering and this year we’ve seen games such as Uncharted 4, God of War, Watch Dogs 2, Tomb Raider and the other day we got Days Gone, which I’m looking forward to playing. But at this point Days Gone is 18 months old, and anyone who was desperate to play it has no doubt bought it and finished it by now. In fact most of PS Nows better games are well over a year old, and some of them are only on there for a period of time, usually about 3 months or so, which is another kicker for what PS Now has. Game Pass on the other hand has already confirmed games such as HALO Infinite, Forza Motorsport and Fable that will all be on Games Pass the day they are launched. Brand new games for a subsidised price, or games over a year old that includes 2 different subscriptions I know what I’d rather have.
The final service worth talking about is their Remote Play services. Playstation has had Remote Play since way back in 2014, but you rarely hear about it as Sony have never gone out their way to promote the service. Although originally it was only on their Xperia brand of phones and the PS Vita it has since come to all Android and iOS devices, aswell as getting a Windows and Mac version too. But even then, you never hear about it, and only Sonys Xperia phones can connect using a cellular connection whilst all other phones need to be connected to wifi. There’s obviously no need to do this, Sony just wants you to buy their phones over everyone else. The service is pretty solid and works, but has restrictions, such as the aforementioned wifi only, and you can only play PS4 PS Now titles, so no luck playing Oblivion on your Galaxy S10. Even then you need to be connected to your PS4 to use PS Now, as there’s no standalone app for PS Now for mobile devices, although a PC version does exist. Oddly PS Now did exist for the Vita for a bit, but was discontinued. Compare this to Xboxs cloud service and it makes Remote Play look archaic and dated. I can’t test their remote play to console as I don’t own an Xbox, but I can tell you about GamePass for Android even though I don’t own an Xbox and I think that’s huge. You can play Xboxs greatest titles without even owning the console. What’s more It’s available on all devices, wifi or 4G and can pair with any controller, even the Dualshock 4. As previously stated the line up of games on Gamepass is much better than what PS Now offers too, so I can sit in bed and play Forza Horizon 4, on my phone using my Dualshock 4, when I don’t even own an Xbox – that’s customer service at it best, and a massive contrast to the Xbox back in 2013.

The perfect way to try some games before you invest in a home console

These services will all carry over to the Xbox Series X and S and are huge things to consider if you’re in the market for a next gen console. What’s sweetens the deal even more is the Series X is the more powerful console when comparing it to the PS5, and for the same price, and if you don’t feel like dropping such a chunk of money of the Series X, there’s always the Series S, which is such good value for money when combined with GamePass. On a more personal note I think the Series X is much better looking console, extremely simple, but still stands out with it’s bold striking aesthetic. It only continues to get better for Xbox when you take into account the huge purchases of game studios Microsoft has undertaken over the last few years, which it’s most recent purchase of Zenimax/ Bethesda which could prove to be huge for the gaming industry if they choose to make future Elder Scrolls or Fallout games exclusive Xbox titles.

Big monolith brick, or smooth speaker looking slab?

So to summarise real quick. Xbox offers full backwards compatibility with all previous consoles, PS5 only offers PS4 backwards compatibility. ‘Play Anywhere’ offers you the same game on PC for free if you bought it for Xbox, Sony does not – even though some of its exclusives (Horizon Zero Dawn) are coming to PC. ‘Smart Delivery’ gives you access to the same game you bought on Xbox One on the Series X at no extra cost giving you the best experience for each console, Sony are also offering a similar program but have left it to developers over what they can carry over. GamePass gives you access to hundreds of games including first party titles the day they are launched and for a subsidised price, Sony has PS Now which gives you access to hundreds of mostly third party games with first party titles coming a year or so later and doesn’t offer an all in one price. Xcloud with GamePass gives me access to the GamePass line up of games without owning an xbox and is available on all devices with all devices getting the same update. Remote Play only allows me to access my own PS4 and will only connect using wifi unless I’m using a Sony phone, and even then I can only play my installed games, or PS4 games on PS Now. The Xbox will be more powerful than the PS5 but they cost the same price (£449.99). The Xbox Series X is a much better looking console compared to the PS5. The cheaper Xbox Series S , while not as powerful as the PS5 digital costs £249.99, while the PS5 digital costs £359.99 and is much bigger.

Which leads us back to where we started – exclusives, the lifeblood of console generation we live in. Sony has a great track record of exclusives and the PS5 is scheduled to launch with Demons Souls and Spider Man: Miles Morales, although the latter will also be on PS4. We also know we’ve got another God of War on the way which I very excited about as God of War was on my favourite games of the last decade. However aside from that we can only speculate what the PS5 will offer over the years. The same can be said for Xbox, but they’re in a much stronger place they were in the last generation as they have bought up a fare number of studios and have games coming as Halo Infinite, which arguably made Xbox who they are today, and other games such as Forza Motorsport and a new Fable game. As I said before, the accusation of Zenimax/ Bethesda will perhaps be biggest exclusive marketing tool we’ll see this generation with some of the gaming worlds biggest names possibly becoming Xbox exclusives.

God of War Ragnarök will no doubt be detrimental to the PS5s success

But the story of the next generation console war is yet to be told. As took the classic lesson of “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” and have taken a massively different strategy with their Xbox Series S/X, opting for more customer services, quality of life improvements and a solid gaming experiences without the gimmicks of their former consoles. Sony on the other hand are sticking to what they know, top quality games on a console that built purely for gaming. It was massively successful for the PS4, but the Xbox One was already failing out the gate, and isn’t making the same mistakes this time. It’s difficult to say what the outcome of this console war will be, but in any case it’s a great time to be invested in video games. We’ve got a great year ahead of us with some fantastic consoles and immersive games coming out and I can’t wait to see what else we’ll get blown away by over the coming years.