While Microsoft has been extremely vocal about how effective the Xbox Series X’s backwards compatibility is, Sony has been a little bit more mixed with its messaging.
First it only promised that the “top 100 PS4 titles” would be playable at launch, but later added that it believed “the overwhelming majority of the 4,000+ PS4 titles will be playable on PS5”. Now that’s got the best boost possible, with Sony revealing that almost every game the company has tested works flawlessly.
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In an interview with the Washington Post, PlayStation boss Jim Ryan revealed that of the thousands of games tested for backwards compatibility, “99 percent” can be played on the new hardware. That’s a big relief, considering the rumor is that Sony will let people try whatever game they want on the console, rather than whitelisting compatible games manually.
But while this is undoubtedly good news, there are a few potential holes. For starters, we now know that the backwards compatibility will only extend to one generation. In other words, no PS1, PS2 or PS3 compatibility is promised, although select titles will still likely be streamable via Sony’s PlayStation Now service.
On top of which, the thorny issue of ownership is also a known unknown. With the regular PS5, it’s pretty clear how backwards compatibility works: just put the PS4 disk in the drive and start playing, but what about the cheaper disk-free version? Will owners of PS4 games have to pay for digital versions, or will Sony provide some mechanism for their ownership to be transferred? It’s doubtful, but remains a possibility – especially as Microsoft has been quite so bullish with its Xbox Smart Delivery system, which promises a solution for disk and non disk-based owners to play games between console generations.
In fact, the Xbox Series X has an almost flawless offering for backwards compatibility, supporting not just Xbox One games, but a handful of 360 and original Xbox titles, many of which are available free of charge via the excellent Games Pass service. We say “almost flawless” because there’s no way for players to play the handful of Xbox One titles that required a Kinect sensor to play. But given the total number of games with any kind of Kinect support was under 50, that’s not exactly a huge loss.
Of course, in the greater scheme of things, backwards compatibility is a niche enthusiasm, and just isn’t that important to most people. If it were, the Wii U would have done a whole lot better. With that in mind, we should be pretty happy that both Microsoft and Sony are spending quite so much time ensuring it works well in time for both consoles’ November launch dates.
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Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.