Recently we have seen the next generation of gaming consoles hit the virtual high streets and land in a number of lockdown living rooms across the world, those being Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Series S and Sony’s PS5. It is part of the ongoing fan battles of mine is better than yours. Growing up I saw the Sinclair vs Commodore (and a good few other home computers in the 1980’s. This sat alongside the Betamax and VHS battles for watching movies on tape and recording the three TV channels output. This evolved into the Sega and Nintendo console battles personified by Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario respectively. Things move on but everything old is new again.

Backwards in coming forwards?

The Xbox and PS5 console launches have been somewhat unique in that unlike earlier generations they are really geared up to be able to play all the games of the previous generation. I pre-ordered an Xbox Series X, which thankfully arrived the day after launch day. I quickly plugged it in, connected to the network, and transferred my login to it. On sparking up for the first time I was met with the same interface and elements of my previous Xbox. This is a little like buying the next smartphone from the same provider, it all looks the same. It might be faster, quieter and have fantastic potential, but it is a bit of a “meh” moment. The removable USB drive that helped expand the older Xbox plugged into the Series X and I was instantly able to play one of the not yet upgraded games.

I had available to me a vast array of other games to download too that I already owned or were on the Game pass subscription service going all the way back to the 15-year-old Xbox 360, released December 2005! This is actually great news, backwards compatibility used to be a nice to have, now it is essential. Many games live for a lot longer with ongoing online features, updates and community activity. There are still exclusives across the platforms, there is a bumper crop of AAA games as well as independents hitting the solid state drives, we are in a golden, or maybe platinum era of gaming.

Shiny stuff

A good few of the more recent games on Xbox released before the new console were offering upgrades and optimizations to take advantage of what the console upgrade could bring. A lot of this is in performance, load times and above all visual effects such as higher resolution and the shiny cleverness of real-time ray tracing. Of course, for the best of this you need the high-end TV displays and good audio systems. We have a 3-year-old relatively high-end Samsung TV but it is not geared up to run at 120 frames per second as that was not really dreamed or at least there was no kit generating at that speed. It does do the High Dynamic Range HDR (More colours and depth) so it’s still shiny and lovely. Of course all this new content and speed arrives as even bigger downloads consuming more of the precious broadband resources.

Some games are hitting 130Gb and heading up from that. Both the PS5 and Xbox Series X has around 800Gb free for games on the internal drives. That is not a problem for gamers that engage in “finishing” games, whatever that means but you can’t hold too many games to jump between if you are a bit of a gaming magpie. Until we get ultra-fast broadband this will remain a tricky problem and force choice on which game to pick for the main console. Of course, if bandwidth gets really fast and has low latency it in turn could mean using Cloud gaming and not having to download the 130Gb locally anyway. We will just have to wait and see.

Up front cost

Every console release has led to a conversation on pricing, money is tight, but the console prices are not the real cost to consider. New high-end blockbuster games are hitting £70-£100, so it does not take very many new games in a year to potentially exceed the base cost of either new £400-£500 console. Of course the move to all you can eat subscriptions start to help mitigate that and Microsoft’s Game pass is certainly something that attracted me as a gamer, especially with the cross-over to PC games in the library with the right subscription level. This subscription approach has developed from the DVD killing video streaming services, but of course now we have Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, Britbox et al. Some games companies are striving to have their own all you can eat subs so its just going get to worse for the consumer in choosing what to spend where.

Is it all worth it?

New consoles, more better looking very playable entertaining experiences pushing the art form and the story telling even further. Yes it is! The ever-expanding genres for games and the multiple ways we can engage with the content, with one another globally is a technology powered evolutionary step. Gaming has seen a massive take up during COVID-19 and even the start of research pointing out gamers are happier, rather than vilifying it as an evil pastime. That of course is another binary debate between gamers and non-gamers as to which is the best, just like the console battles themselves through the ages. The answer is everyone should just enjoy what they get the benefit from.