Microsoft isn't in a great spot with the Xbox with its first-party lineup, but the Xbox One backwards compatibility program that has been keeping players interested doesn't get enough credit. The Xbox One has been consistently beat by the PlayStation 4 with regards to console sales, and the Nintendo Switch is catching up. Yet, there's one element of the Xbox One that no other console in this generation has: backwards compatibility. The Xbox One's ability to play dozens of games from Microsoft's extensive library is overlooked far too often.
Before Xbox announced their backwards compatibility program in 2015, the concept didn't exist in the current console generation, even though it was a substantial part of last generation hardware. While PlayStation 4 does have PlayStation Now - a streaming service that gives players access to older games - Xbox is still leading the charge, especially when it comes to physical copies since PS Now requires a rather hefty internet connection to work and there can still be lag involved. Not even Nintendo, which has long embraced backwards compatibility, has enabled the function on the Nintendo Switch. The Xbox might be falling behind in certain areas, but in the arena of backwards compatibility, it's succeeding... by a sizable margin.
The backwards compatible games aren't just throwaway titles or previous Microsoft exclusives; there's a huge variety of games. The only way to play the entire Mass Effect trilogy on the current console generation is on Xbox One. Likewise the entire Gears of War and Halo sagas are available, not only in remastered forms but also for those who still own the original games. Xbox One's backwards compatibility makes things incredibly easy. All it takes to play games like Fallout and Red Dead Redemption is having the Xbox 360 disc or having the game already tied to an Xbox One account. And the backwards compatibility program doesn't stop at the Xbox 360 generation either.
The Xbox One backwards compatibility program stretches all the way back to the original Xbox. Last year, 13 original Xbox games were announced to be playable with Xbox One. Then, even more games joined the list earlier this week. The number of original Xbox titles playable on Xbox One has increased to 32 titles, with more to come at a later date. Again these are games that people actually want to play like Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, both Star Wars: Battlefront games, Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
What's even greater about the Xbox One's backwards compatibility isn't just its existence. These old games have even been improved. Original Xbox and Xbox 360 titles run noticeably better in their native form on the Xbox One. Original Xbox games on Xbox One don't look like they actually were but how gamers remember them. The frame rate is slightly better, the textures are more crisp, and colors are more vibrant. And that's not all.
Certain games have been enhanced for the Xbox One X. Red Dead Redemption now runs in native 4K - and it looks absolutely spectacular. While many games are noticeably old, these face lifts almost make some of them appear new...ish. Plus, it's a great alternative for developers who aren't looking to remaster their old properties for the current generation.
On an unrelated note to backwards compatibility, but still being unique and beneficial to Xbox One, is Microsoft's Play Anywhere program. Play Anywhere allows users to buy one digital copy of an Xbox game and play it on either PC or console, with the save being shared across both platforms. Of course, Play Anywhere doesn't work for every game, but there's still a substantial list, including third-party titles such as Shadow of War and Resident Evil 7. Sure the Xbox One still lacks exclusives and first-party games, and that's something that Xbox's Phil Spencer is looking to change, but that doesn't mean Microsoft doesn't deserve credit where credit is due.