The Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 have terrific video game catalogs, but in terms of gamer-first features, services, and accessories, no console beats the Microsoft Xbox One.
Sony’s PlayStation 4 dominates this console generation with more than 75 million units sold, and Nintendo’s Switch warms gamers’ hearts with its untouchable first-party lineup and home-and-away functionality. That leaves Microsoft’s Xbox One — the Jan Brady console — lost in the hype shuffle, at least according to the online discourse.
It’s unfortunate, really, as the Xbox One is the most consumer-friendly console released this gen, boasting numerous killer services and features that make it an intriguing system to own this holiday season. And it sets the new features, services, and accessories standard for the next console generation.
Now, before you angrily slide into the comments section to inform me of my console bias, allow me to make a very important statement: I do not own an Xbox One. I’ve played the console a lot at my friends’ places, but I’m a PC gamer at heart and constantly evangelize the benefits of that highly superior platform. So, this Microsoft take — which I don’t consider to be particularly hot — is mainly an objective one, despite the fact that I own Forza Horizon 4, courtesy of Xbox One’s best feature.
Xbox Play Anywhere
As a PC gamer, Xbox Play Anywhere is Xbox’s killer feature and served as the first sign that Microsoft planned to evolve the Xbox brand beyond hardware. The initiative, which debuted in 2016, lets you buy a game from either the Xbox Store or Microsoft Store and play it on an Xbox One or Windows 10 PC. So if you buy, say, Cuphead, that single purchase lets you play the run-and-gun action game on your platform of choice. Currently, there are more than 40 Play Anywhere games, with a good many of them being first-party or indie titles.
“But Microsoft doesn’t have exclusive games,” I imagine you saying in the whiniest internet voice that’s ever whined. Sure, Xbox doesn’t have PlayStation 4’s Spider-Man or Switch’s Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but there are extremely entertaining games, such as the excellent Killer Instinct, the almighty Forza Horizon series, and the aforementioned Cuphead. They’re all titles that I can now play on my powerful gaming desktop. And with Microsoft having purchased Ninja Theory, Obsidian, and other development studios, I expect even more excellent games to become a part of the Play Anywhere initiative.
In addition, Play Anywhere extends your game saves, achievements, Gamerscore, and DLC purchases across the platforms, so you can, well, play anywhere without losing a beat. As someone who despises the walled gardens that are consoles, I admire Microsoft’s moves to merge the PC and Xbox communities.
And on the topic of community, Microsoft also caters to it with a piece of marvelous new tech known as…
Xbox Adaptive Controller
The $99.99 Xbox Adaptive Controller is further proof that Microsoft’s focus on gamers is far more than lip service. This new game controller, available for Xbox One and Windows 10, is explicitly designed for gamers with disabilities.
Microsoft developed the unique and helpful controller in collaboration with several organizations, including AbleGamers, AbleNet, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Special Effect, and Warfighter Engaged. As a result, Xbox Adaptive Controller is a highly flexible device that offers multiple ports for use with a disabled gamer’s equipment. Each button-based input can be connected to a separate trigger best suited for a player’s physical capabilities. They can be large buttons, foot pedals, ribbon switches, proximity sensors, or any other device that can be easily activated.
Xbox Adaptive Controller speaks to an underserved community who’ve longed for a simpler way to interact with their favorite video games. In fact, Microsoft wants to bring the device to other platforms, too. Good on them.
Xbox Game Pass
Remember the good ol’ days of strolling down to Blockbuster and renting a grip of video games on the cheap? That experience is long gone, but Microsoft has brought it back in the form of Xbox Game Pass. For $9.99 per month, Xbox Game Pass gives you access to a library of more than 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 titles, including Halo Wars 2, Forza Horizon 4, Metal Slug 3, PUBG, and Rocket League. There’s even an Xbox Game Pass app for Android and iOS devices that, like the Steam mobile app, lets you download games to your console using your smartphone.
Of course, you lose access to those games once you cancel a Game Pass subscription, but should you keep it, the service proves a valuable, low-cost way to explore new games. In fact, Phil Spencer, Microsoft Gaming VP, confirmed that Game Pass actually increases game sales, since giving people a taste of gaming goodness on the cheap encourages them to play more titles. It’s a win-win service and one that’s headed to PC.
Neither Nintendo nor Sony have a direct Game Pass equivalent. Nintendo offers a handful of games with its $3.99 per month Switch Online service, but the library at the time of this writing is strictly NES games. Likewise, Sony’s $5-per-month PlayStation Plus offers a “free” rotating game catalog. To be fair, Nintendo Online and PlayStation Plus treat these games as bonuses that accompany their main feature: online multiplayer gaming.
EA’s Origin Access is the service that most closely resembles Xbox Game Pass, and may showcase Game Pass’ future evolution. Origin Access (starting at $4.99 per month) not only lets you explore close to 200 video games, but it also gives you early game access and 10 percent off your EA game purchases.
Xbox Backward Compatibility
The video game industry has as an awful reputation of not preserving its history, thanks to oddball and/or incompatible console architectures, lost assets, and other series of unfortunate events. But, oddly enough, this console generation has seen preservation become one of its defining traits with the likes of the $19.99-per-month PlayStation Now and Digital Eclipse’s various museum-like collections, such as Mega Man Legacy Collection and Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection.
Microsoft’s contribution to this movement is Xbox Backward Compatibility, which lets you play Xbox 360 and original Xbox games on an Xbox One console — free of charge. You can re-download classic digital titles, such as Limbo or Shank, but it also works with physical media. For disc-based titles that are a part of the Backward Compatibility game catalog, you simply pop your game into Xbox One and the console will begin downloading the game to your hard drive.
Even better, select Xbox 360 games are Xbox One X Enhanced, leveraging the additional power of the console for higher resolution and expanded color detail.
This classic game support should be commonplace in the video game industry. Too often, our favorite older titles are left stranded on their original consoles. Microsoft, with its Xbox Backward Compatibility tech, aims to unite its catalogs under one piece of hardware, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Make no mistake about it, Microsoft shot itself in the foot at the start of this console generation by releasing Xbox One with DRM that required a daily check-in and focusing on television and Kinect features. Though those missteps gave the haters plenty of ammo, Microsoft has course-corrected in a significant manner. 2018’s Xbox One is a different machine than 2013’s Xbox One, and that’s mainly due to Microsoft realizing what’s important: putting the customer first. That’s a lesson all console manufacturers should keep in mind, especially as the next-generation console planning happens behind the scenes.
Read more: “10 Games Every Xbox One Player Needs”
Originally published at www.pcmag.com.