There’s a lot of cool stuff going on under the hood with the Xbox One X. Sure, the liquid cooling, eliminating the need for a power brick, is great. The 4K resolution, HDR colors, and frame rate boosts for various Xbox One X titles is awesome. But there’s something else at play with the Xbox One X, something that makes the Xbox “ecosystem” a thing you can talk about and be satisfied with, much like what was going on with the PlayStation 3 and Vita a while back.
Microsoft didn’t spend much time talking about this before the Xbox One X came out, but the extra power afforded to the system doesn’t just apply to Xbox One games. In fact, if you go to your Games and Apps section on your system and set the filter to “Xbox One Enhanced,” you may notice some of your Xbox 360 library pop up on the list. This happened for me on day one when I found Gears of War 3, and just 3, sitting there taunting me, daring me to challenge it hanging out with its contemporaries.
Sure enough, boot up Gears of War 3 and it looks amazing. It’s razor-sharp in a way I never expected a Xbox 360 game to ever be. It makes all the weird colors and details specific to that game stand out even more against its predecessors, and the frame rate never drops below 30. It’s no 60, but it still feels as responsive as it’ll get, and the not crystal clear visuals move with the fluidity of a stable refresh rate. It’s the best Gears of War 3 has ever looked.
So, I decided I needed to look further into this. Indeed, while the actual game code is not messed with at all, the emulation technology Microsoft uses to power its backwards compatibility has deliberate enhancements for certain games. The list, right now, includes Mirror’s Edge, Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Assassin’s Creed. Each of these games runs with a level of stability and clarity not possible on the original 360 hardware. And you don’t have to pay a dime extra.
But that’s not all. According to Digital Foundry, who really breaks the specifics down in a way I’ll never be able to on its YouTube channel, the console’s power also translates to the O.G. Xbox library as well. While the regular Xbox One can run these games at just under 1080, the Xbox One X goes way over, making these ancient, 480p-ass video games look like they’re running on top of the line PCs circa 2003 or whatever. That rules.
This, to me, is the biggest incentive right now for adding content to my Xbox One X. I don’t have a 4K TV, and I don’t care that much about frame rate, as long as it’s stable and not dropping constantly. But having old games, games that are cool to have but not awesome to play now (generally because they’re hideous and fuzzy), look significantly better? That’s reason enough to plop down 5-10 bucks and try something out that I never got around to playing before. While it’s unfortunate that this digital library will suffer due to a lack of licensing or even functional developers able to bring some of these enhancements, there’s no doubt the number of Xbox One X-enhanced 360 games will grow over time, and that’s an exciting prospect in and of itself.