Perhaps Microsoft’s biggest announcement at E3 was the surprise unveiling of Xbox One backwards-compatibility for Xbox 360 games. Since that announcement, we’ve learned that Microsoft accomplished this feat with complete emulation of the Xbox 360 operating system and hardware on the newer, more powerful console. This means that nearly all Xbox 360 games will be technically able to run on the Xbox One, with Xbox 360 game developers only needing to sign a new licensing agreement for Microsoft to distribute the titles on a different platform than that covered by the original contracts.
But emulation is a tricky thing, and many users wonder about the quality of Xbox One-emulated 360 games. While the backwards-compatibility feature won’t be available to the broader public until later this year, select Xbox 360 games are already available for testing by members of the Xbox One Preview Program, and some of these users have provided us with a first look at how Xbox 360 games will perform on the Xbox One.
YouTuber Mecha-Potato-Alex posted a side-by-side comparison (embedded at the top of this article) of the opening of Mass Effect, one of the few games available to testers. Interestingly, there are some small lighting differences (backgrounds appear slightly darker on the Xbox One, while characters remain properly lit), but overall the game not only runs well, according to the tester, but actually runs better than on the Xbox 360, with sequences known to stutter on the last-generation console playing smoothly on the Xbox One.
With the relatively complex Mass Effect seeing no major issues, it should be no surprise that simpler games, like the popular Hexic HD, also seem to perform well, as revealed by YouTuber DCI Gaming. Demonstrations of other games on the Preview Program’s testing list are also available.
There are still several months to go before Xbox One backwards-compatibility launches to the public, but the initial results certainly look promising for those with large Xbox 360 game collections. And thanks to Microsoft’s emulation of the complete Xbox 360 platform, it seems likely that we’ll see hundreds of Xbox 360 games made available for the Xbox One, with only licensing issues standing in the way of certain games.
The only potential downside to this new feature is support for the first-generation Kinect sensor. As Xbox head Phil Spencer told Giant Bomb‘s Jeff Gerstmann, the technical requirements of translating game commands from the first-generation Kinect to the Xbox One’s second-generation Kinect were too much to surmount, disqualifying games that rely on the motion and voice sensor from Xbox One compatibility. Considering the less-than-stellar Xbox 360 Kinect library, however, it’s unlikely that most Xbox 360 fans will be too disappointed with this limitation.