The New Xbox One Experience marks the biggest upgrade ever for Microsoft’s flagship console, bringing Windows 10 performance and an elegant new user interface to Xbox One. But one of the features I’m looking forward to most is backwards compatibility with Xbox 360. Here’s a first peek.
Note: You can learn more about the other new features in the New Xbox One Experience—which will ship for free to all Xbox One consoles on November 12—in my article, New Xbox One Experience Preview.
It’s free. Xbox One Backwards Compatibility—as Microsoft calls it—is free, and comes as part of the New Xbox One Experience that will ship as an uber system update in about two weeks.
It starts with a very limited selection of games. Microsoft says that over 100 Xbox 360 games will be playable on the Xbox One at launch. Today, there are only a few dozen, and most of them are pretty terrible. A few exceptions: Borderlands, Gears of War, and the game I’ve tested, Kameo.
Developers determine which games are available. It’s up to the game developers (well, really the game publishers) to determine which Xbox 360 games are made available on Xbox One. So some games may never make it over, even though they would work just fine.
If you own it, you can play it. If you do own an Xbox 360 game that is made available on Xbox One, you’re good to go. Digital titles can be found in Games, Ready to Install, and disc-based games can be played by inserting the disc (and/or installing to the HDD as before, though you will still need the disc in the drive to play).
It really is an Xbox 360 inside your Xbox One. Microsoft is using the Hyper-V virtualization technologies from Windows 10 to provide a virtual version of the Xbox 360 console that spins up each time you run an Xbox 360 title. What this means to you is that Xbox 360 games will look and work exactly as before, and utilize the Xbox 360-style Xbox Guide, notification pop-ups and other UIs. This is very different from how Microsoft handled original Xbox compatibility on Xbox 360, and it means that new games can be onboarded faster, and that they will run better too.
Everything works. Your achievements carry forward, your cloud-based saved games, game add-ons, multiplayer capabilities, matchmaking, whatever. Just as on a real Xbox 360. And yes, that means you could play an Xbox 360 game in multiplayer against other people who are on real Xbox 360 consoles.
You get Xbox One features too. When playing an Xbox 360 title, you can still take advantage of new Xbox One features, like Game DVR and screenshots, and Windows 10 streaming.
You can mix and match. If you save your games to the cloud, you can move back and forth between an Xbox 360 and an Xbox One and progress through a game.
There will be exclusives. Some game publishers will provide older Xbox 360 games for free when you buy a new Xbox One game. For example, if you purchase Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on Xbox One, you get the entire catalog of Xbox 360 Gears games at no additional cost. That is an amazing value, and those are all pretty great games. There are similar deals with Fallout 4, Rainbow Six Siege, and Just Cause 3, too. And more on the way.
All future Games with Gold games will be compatible. As you know, I highlight the free games that Microsoft gives away each month through its Games for Gold promotion. Going forward, all Xbox 360 games in this promotion will be compatible with Xbox One. So Xbox One owners with Xbox Live Gold will be getting a minimum of four free games each month. Amazing.
So what’s it really like?
To test this feature, I scanned the currently-paltry selection of available Xbox 360 games and settled on Kameo, which is available for purchase digitally for just $10. I made the purchase from the Xbox web site and then opened up the console, expecting to find it in the Games view in My Games & Apps. But I had to scroll over to Ready To Install, off screen, to find it. New purchases aren’t highlighted in any meaningful way.
The online install experience was slower than expected, but it’s possible that Halo 5 downloads were clogging the Internets.
Once the game was installed, I had more waiting to get through. The initial game boot-up was a bit slow. (I assume the game promo image is there to show you something while the VM fires up.) And then there was a lengthy “Getting your Xbox 360 info…” screen.
After that annoyance, it was like going back in time, and the game looked, played, and behaved just as I’d remembered.
And as promised, there were Xbox 360 UIs all over the place: The saved game screen, notifications and Xbox Guide were right out of the past, though you can still double-tap the Xbox button to bring up the new Guide too.
And what the heck, Kameo is still a really solid game, too.
A few notes.
First, you can’t use an Xbox 360 controller, which I think would be a nice addition. The guys on the Xbox team actually laughed when I suggested this, but … we’ve purchased a lot of controllers over the years. It’d be a nice touch, if only for the transition period to the new console. (No Xbox 360 peripherals work with Xbox One.)
The Xbox One, unlike Xbox 360, really multitasks, but you can only have one major application/game in memory at the same time. So it’s possible to close one game by opening another, a situation native Xbox One games can handle elegantly. Not so Xbox 360 games: So be sure to save the game more frequently, if possible. Otherwise you may lose progress.
Obviously, this is a killer addition to Xbox One, though the availability of truly excellent games is what will put it over the top. I can’t to see what’s available on November 12 and going forward.