I received an Xbox Series X last week and soon downloaded the obvious flashy games: some Forzas, Gears of Wars, Halos, and Calls of Duty. But the first game I downloaded onto my Xbox Series X was Crackdown, the 2007 open-world game in which you play as a superhero future-cop who can run faster than cars, jump over small buildings, and throw helpless enemies hundreds of feet into the air until gravity kicks in and they crash onto the pavement. Like RoboCop, it’s a damning critique of the police’s use of excessive force. Like with Marvel movies, it’s unclear how much of the social commentary is intentional.
The game was ahead of its time. Literally. On my Xbox 360, it ran like a 30-year-old Chrysler Imperial, especially when I launched the game’s Keys to the City mode, which allowed me to spawn piles of enemies, vehicles, and combustible barrels. The explosion of all this metal and human mess would appear on my CRT television in chaotic bursts of animation, the Xbox 360 trying its damndest to load all the visual chaos, huffing and puffing and nearly giving itself a hernia.
Despite the game’s technical limitations, I played Crackdown obsessively for a couple of years, only stepping away when Microsoft debuted the Xbox One. Crackdown was exclusively released on the Xbox 360, and so the game got mothballed along with the console.
In 2018, Crackdown lived again via the Xbox One backward compatibility updates, getting a visual boost. But for me, revisiting it and so many other Xbox and Xbox 360 classics on the Xbox Series X has been like seeing the game achieve its true potential.
These days, players assume that the vast majority of console games will eventually appear on PC. With few exceptions, Microsoft debuts its new games on both Xbox consoles and Windows on the same date. But in the original Xbox and Xbox 360 era, many of the best games never made the leap from consoles to computers, and so their original hardware has anchored them to the technical limitations of their time. Crackdown included.
In the middle of the Xbox One life cycle, Microsoft began to allow for greater backward compatibility with select Xbox and Xbox 360 games. The Xbox One X marked the first significant shift to replaying old games with the advantage of new console hardware: Microsoft optimized dozens of older games to take advantage of the improved computing power of the Xbox One X, bringing games like Crackdown and Red Dead Redemption into the age of 4K resolution.
Image: Realtime Worlds/Microsoft Game Studios via Polygon
If the Xbox One X was the rough draft of the potential of backward compatibility, then the Xbox Series X is the real thing. Playing Crackdown on the Xbox Series X is like playing the game as its creators had dreamt: Everything just works. Its frame rate never dips below 60 frames per second as I sprint down a highway, obliterating passing cars with volleys from my rocket launcher. More importantly, the game loads almost instantaneously.
The exhausting load times of other classic open-world games have all but disappeared on the Series X. The speed with which I can get into and out of the game with the console’s Quick Resume feature changes the way I play. With older open-world games, I lingered in them for hours on end, justifying the lengthy time it had taken just to get the game booted and a mission started. But now, I can (and do) swap back and forth between Crackdown and Hydro Thunder Hurricane, another Xbox 360-era gem.
I complete a race in Hurricane, then I take down a mob boss in Crackdown. Another race. Another mob boss. Crackdown — with all the technical boundaries removed — becomes an arcade game. And it rules.
Image: Vector Unit/Microsoft Game Studios
After bouncing between two beloved games, I revisit the cult classic minigame collection Fusion Frenzy. Each game-within-the-game loads instantly, and suddenly this local multiplayer game gets a new life as I zip from one game to the next, and the next, and the next, and the next.
Like a bunch of folks, I saw the Xbox Series X as less necessary for PC gamers, who can already play lots of classic games with the advantages of more powerful hardware. But I hadn’t considered the dozens of games locked into the Xbox ecosystem. For the first time, I’m able to revisit some of my favorite games from previous consoles and really take advantage of the modern hardware, not just with improved resolution but with dramatically reduced load times.
I’ve always loved the Xbox 360, but through the Xbox Series X, I have an even greater appreciation for games that were reaching beyond their grasp. Now the Xbox 360 era has the power to achieve its potential.
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