I’ll tell you what looks good on Series X: Geometry Wars. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 specifically, but they’re all bang, aren’t they? Chuck that bad boy on a huge fancy screen with huge fancy headphones and you’re gone. Other things that look great while we’re at it: Arkham Knight and its noticeably soaked gothic neon deco version of Gotham; Sunset Overdrives Eye Blowing Orange; Dirt 5 dirt; Halo 5’s silly lasers; and Gears 5, which, despite every effort to force you into the traditionally dirty, gray-brown interior, still expands into a mega-lively landscape ̵
I have no idea what improvements these games may have had. That is the domain of Digital Foundry and I am not allowed to approach it. I think most of them run at a higher frame rate than current generation consoles, most benefit from HDR through the automatic magic or human craft of the X Series, and all of them appear somewhere on the gamut between 1080p and 4K, being me And my mortal eyes start to lose track But honestly I didn’t look it up – and honestly I won’t bother about it because for me that’s not the point. The point is, I played them all for the first time this week – because apart from Dirt, they’re all on Game Pass – and they all look, play, and just feel better here than anywhere else.
As you will quickly see with the X Series, this will also be more or less the entire pitch of Microsoft.
This isn’t a particularly new idea – we’ve all heard how Microsoft’s Next Generation Vision is really about Game Pass, and how Bethesda is really about Game Pass, and how Game Pass is really about Game Pass that. What feels new to me is how much the Series X as a hardware part also adapts to this vision. Maybe it’s because there is literally nothing entirely new to play on, but my experience with the console over the past few days has felt like an experience of the potential of Game Pass – not just for good business or being a good player. friendly add-on, but to really change how we think about games.
One of the reasons for this is that the Series X is the least console-feel console I’ve ever had, as everything on it actively tries to avoid your attention instead of guiding it. It’s whisper quiet – in the middle of the game, when the TV is muted, I really couldn’t hear it. It never got hot or even a little warm. And as much as the overall mood of Necron Obelisk can evoke a slight sense of impending doom when viewed too long, I’m a fan of sheer brutalism. Brutalism is all the rage, kids, and that means this console may actually fit into a grown-up human apartment. It won’t get anywhere near most dedicated media units, just play against some bougie houseplants and you’re insta-ready. The point is, soon enough you will completely forget it’s there.
This is how it is to be used. Xbox invented many proprietary names for things like Quick Resume ™ and Xbox Velocity Architecture ™ and Xbox Smart Delivery ™ to stand alongside the already existing jargon like Auto HDR, VRR, FreeSync, HDMI 2.1 and the rest, but the purpose of all of them is easy to get out of the way. In plain English, the console is super fast, which means you can boot, load, and play games in seconds, switching between them as you please. This is the X Series at its best and at its greatest impact: getting in and out of your library is very different from how it currently feels on any other console or PC, and suddenly the experience changes to process a backlog. I can play Arkham Knight for half an hour for the first time, choose decently, but I crave a challenge. So switch to Sekiro and head back to Geometry Wars for a few rounds to cool off, or pass the pad on to my kid if I had one I could go straight back to where they were in Minecraft without mine Lose space. It’s hard to sell without sounding like you’re actively trying to sell it, but it’s a small change that feels really transformative. It opens the door in an intuitive interface (like most people, I don’t have an Xbox One, but on the identical Series X interface, I quickly found settings and instantly easy to understand features), and the result is staggering the barriers to gaming what you already own.
But reservations. Custom, whippet-fast SSDs can’t download your games faster than your internet allows – or give you plenty of room for the games you own. I’ve downloaded about 35 games (most of the hand-me-downs from Digital Foundry) that vary greatly in age and size, consuming all of the internal memory and about half of the expansion card provided. What you get is sort of a half-step towards the real endgame, from streaming games with real immediacy: you can unpack your storage with a moderate library of real variety, wait for expansion card price drops and use traditional external storage intelligently, by putting it in your back catalog. However, none of this matches the actual freedom you get when stepping in and out of streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Netflix. But it’s close. Close enough to feel like a real and big change.
There’s a tiny hint of excitement too, in places. VRR, for example, caused a kind of input-refreshing black screen flicker when the console was set to 120 Hz, which made games really unplayable, but was fine in the dashboard menus and everywhere else – probably something that could be achieved by updating or changing Settings or fixed inputs or whatever, I’d had the time. Auto HDR, self-describing, is another ingenious mechanism that the console uses to get out of the way and make old games new again – Geometry Wars is another good example of the rejuvenation – but it does cause white text to blow out like dialogue in some games and gets so carried away in others, like GTA 4, that it has been turned off completely.
But these are pretty tiny problems really. Indeed, “problems” is arguably too strong a word by itself. They are arguments that arise partly because I am actively looking for them. When I step back they show me that the X Series is a really powerful console that just needs the right conditions to really perform. It takes a flashy TV panel with the brightness required for true HDR, with HDMI 2.1 for the truly transformative graphics, and with variable refresh rate for smoothness. It needs a flashy headset or sound system to get the most out of the audio. And it takes all the custom-made and therefore expensive fixtures for everything to work properly – just like a Formula 1 car, to use a somewhat tired analogy, the right tires and the right flappy bits and the fun steering wheels that are bursting out, if you want to go really fast. And ideally, the person on the hot seat needs to know a little more about what they’re doing than they usually do when it really is buzzing.
When you have all of that and you don’t mind thinking just a little more than usual about a plug and play thing like a console, what a joy it is to use. And however sincerely forward-thinking your vision is, one step away from forcing you forward – from the idea that you have to need a new console to play their exclusive games on the idea you may have want First, to make your old games better, to recreate your huge and dusty pile of shame, and to actually be on display in your home. This is a console that, like the PS5, comes out about six to eighteen months earlier than their real-life tentpole games, but a couple of days with the Series X tell me it doesn’t really need it. It’s the console itself that I actually want.