The best reason to buy a next-gen PlayStation or Xbox console this holiday is to play games for the current generation of consoles

Ben Gilbert
·5 min read
Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5
Microsoft's Xbox Series X, left, and Sony's PlayStation 5, right. Microsoft/Sony
  • The PlayStation 5 and next-gen Xbox consoles are scheduled to arrive in just a few weeks, though neither has a stellar lineup of launch exclusives.

  • That doesn't mean there's nothing to play. With robust backwards compatibility on all the new consoles, this year's biggest games for the PS4 and Xbox One will run on next-gen hardware, right out of the box.

  • Critically, both Sony and Microsoft's new consoles have features that automatically make games from previous console generations look and perform better.

  • If you're thinking about buying a new console this holiday, one of the best reasons is to play games like "Cyberpunk 2077" that aren't even intended for the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles (at launch, anyway).

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The biggest game of 2020, "Cyberpunk 2077," isn't headed to the PlayStation 5 or next-gen Xbox consoles when it launches in December. 

Instead, it's scheduled to launch for the older Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, for the PC, and for Google's Stadia streaming service.

A version of the game with improved visuals that takes "full advantage of the next-gen hardware" will launch at some point in the future, the game's developer confirmed in September. In fact, anyone who owns "Cyberpunk 2077" for a current-gen console will get the upgrade to the next-gen versions for free, once available.

Still, when the game arrives on December 10, it will run on the next-gen PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S and Series X consoles. Moreover, it will benefit from running on new hardware with faster load times and higher frame rates. 

In short: Even though "Cyberpunk 2077" isn't made for next-gen consoles, they're still the best way to play the game on a home console this holiday season.

That situation, most clearly demonstrated by "Cyberpunk 2077," is core to the argument for buying a new game console this year.

Cyberpunk 2077 Keanu Reeves
Keanu Reeves is one of the main characters in "Cyberpunk 2077." Microsoft

Historically speaking, video game console launches are notoriously light on big exclusives. But with the upcoming Xbox and PlayStation consoles, exclusives are lighter than ever. 

Look no further than the next major "Spider-Man" game for evidence.

Ask people pre-ordering a PlayStation 5 which game they're most excited for, and it's likely they'll talk about "Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales." It is indeed a major launch game that can be played on the PlayStation 5 on November 12 when the console launches. It's also available that very same day for PlayStation 4. 

That same situation applies to major multiplatform games like "Assassin's Creed Valhalla," "NBA 2K21," and "Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War," which will launch on the current generation of game consoles as well as next-gen. 

The one exception, a gorgeous remake of PlayStation 3 game "Demon's Souls," will only arrive on the PlayStation 5. For some dedicated fans, this is reason enough to buy a PS5 this holiday season. 

In the case of the Xbox Series S and Series X, there are no such gorgeous remasters or exclusive superhero games. With "Halo Infinite" delayed into 2021, Microsoft lost its one big exclusive launch game — a game that was also slated to launch on Xbox One and PC.

Without major games that can only be played on next-gen hardware, both Microsoft and Sony are leaning on backwards compatibility to bolster their launch libraries. You could play the new "Spider-Man" on PS4, but it'll look and run better on PS5. You could play "Assassin's Creed Valhalla" on Xbox One, but it'll look and run better on Xbox Series X.

Microsoft even has a marketing term for this concept: "Smart Delivery," which means that the Xbox knows which version of a game to download for whichever version of Xbox you're using. There is no such name on the PlayStation 5, but a variety of developers are offering free next-gen upgrades to games that go beyond the default gains made by playing older games on newer hardware.

Backwards compatibility has been foundational to Microsoft's messaging with Xbox for several years now, and it's continuing with the Xbox Series S and Series X: The new Xbox consoles are compatible with games going all the way back to the original Xbox, and your digital library directly transfers over. Though the functionality is a bit more limited with the PlayStation 5, the new console will play the vast majority of PlayStation 4 games and your digital library moves forward as well.

In both cases, the new consoles load previous generation games faster than ever, and — at very least — improve frame rates, which makes games look smoother in action. 

For people looking at buying a next-gen Xbox or PlayStation this holiday, there is one good reason: It's the best way to play games that you could otherwise play on a game console you likely already own.

Got a tip? Contact Business Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@businessinsider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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