With the PS5 finally being revealed alongside some heavy hitting titles like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Horizon Forbidden West it’s pretty obvious that Sony is counting on its first-party PS5 exclusives to shock and awe. This has been par for the course since the PS3 days, it appears that the company isn’t as interested in backwards compatibility or outlining its plans for it like Microsoft has with backwards compatibility for Xbox Series X across Xbox One, Xbox 360, and original Xbox games. Neither is it as interested in helping gamers transition between generations to the extent Microsoft is with Smart Delivery.
Smart Delivery for Xbox Series X and Xbox One consoles is a feature that lets you play the best version of the game on your Xbox One or Xbox Series X. For example, if you buy Yakuza: Like a Dragon for Xbox One, when you upgrade to the Xbox Series X, you get an enhanced version of the game at no extra cost.
At the same time, Sony is leaving such details up to publishers. A glaring example of this is EA’s handling of FIFA 21 and Madden 21. Buying either game on disc for the PS4 grants you access to the PS5 version but if you purchase the PS5 Digital Edition console you’ll need to have bought the game digitally on PS4 to begin with. It doesn’t help matters that this crucial detail is buried on EA’s own site. You’d think that given Sony’s close working relationship with EA it would result in a program that’s presented in a consumer-friendly manner, but that’s far from the case.
Although Sony has said a “majority” of PS4 games will work on the PS5 taking advantage of its “boosted frequency” to possibly result in “more stable frame rates and potentially higher resolutions”. This kind of messaging does little to assuage concerns that backwards compatibility is a priority or if it’s even enough of a priority to deserve proper clarification.
Would this mean that some early PS4 games like say, Killzone Shadow Fall would work on the PS5 just as they would on the PS4 without any added benefits? Would some PS4 games take advantage of the PS5’s next-generation hardware with a resolution and frame rate bump? How about the likes of Final Fantasy XIV and The Division 2? Would such games show up on the PS5 sporting brand new tech and how would developers tackle DLC differences between users to ensure every player is on even footing for the new generation with cross-platform play?
Fact of the matter is, Sony’s silence on the nuts and bolts of PS5 backwards compatibility is deafening. Granted, the focus is to bring new experiences with new hardware, but at the same time technological advances allow us to carry our games over, a feature that’s crucial in the first couple of years of a console’s life until the big exclusives show up. Sony’s track record with the PS4 is proof of this. The PS4 never really hit its stride until 2016, so if you bought the console during its 2013 launch there were few exclusive experiences to be invested in.
Wouldn’t it have been great for you to have carried over some of the PS3’s classics like Resistance, Killzone 2, and Gran Turismo 6 to the PS4 while waiting for the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War to show up? Sony has the opportunity to make the wait for its biggest and best on the PS5 a bit more palpable all while giving those on the fence with huge PS4 game libraries a reason to jump in. Instead we’re left with vagaries aplenty.
Comparatively, Xbox One owners can rest easy knowing everything from this generation along with select Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles plus those in the Smart Delivery programme will work on Xbox Series X. In fact, Microsoft is talking up not just Smart Delivery but what to expect from its backwards compatibility efforts for titles that aren’t supported by it.
“We’re also looking at areas where in select titles we can actually double the frame rate without actually breaking the way the game actually plays and then we have things at the platform level like auto HDR support where we can actually retroactively apply HDR to games that were written well before HDR was even created,” explained Xbox Series X Director of Program Management Jason Ronald. “So even games like Geometry Wars or even Fusion Frenzy from the original Xbox that’s almost 20 years old, seeing those games running in HDR – it really brings a fresh perspective to those games.“
Throw in an upcoming July event that will showcase Microsoft’s first-party prowess beyond Halo Infinite and it’s pretty obvious that Microsoft is serious about its intentions this time around. Now if it would extend its renewed focus to markets beyond the US and next-generation would get really interesting.
As it stands however, it’s heartening to see at least one company do right by its audience to the point where it puts the competition to shame for backwards compatibility.