Even if you're excited about Xbox One's backwards compatibility, you might want to hold off on disconnecting your Xbox 360 and trading in all of your last-gen games just yet.
Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry has conducted performance tests on some of the Xbox 360 games currently available for play on the Xbox One, including Gears of War, Halo: Reach, Mass Effect, and Assassin's Creed 2. Simpler games in terms of complexity of graphics have predictably translated well through the emulation software. When the games are technically demanding, however, performance can flounder.
The Xbox One backwards-compatibility program, announced at E3 2015, functions by emulating the Xbox 360 operating system on top of the Xbox One’s operating system. You don’t use game discs when you play Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. Instead, you are granted access to digital versions of backwards-compatible Xbox 360 games, for download and play on your Xbox One (Microsoft can read your Xbox Live profile to see whether you owned the games, or not).
Backwards-compatibility and the first wave of Xbox 360 games offered through the program were made available for all Xbox One users on Nov 12, 2015, which gave Digital Foundry plenty of time to investigate how well the service is performing.
The results are a little all over the place. Of all the AAA games that Digital Foundry tested, only the original Gears of War—one of the most venerable Xbox 360 games—and Assassin’s Creed 2 were deemed playable without negative caveat.
Gears of War 2, however, suffered from slowdown and Gears of War: Judgment, the last original Gears release and likely the most technically demanding game in the franchise, sounds like a mess on the Xbox One’s emulator software. Ditto for Halo: Reach, which was the second-to-last game in the Halo franchise on the Xbox 360.
Side-scrollers like Braid and Shadow Complex, and the indie game N+, either work fine or actually perform better on the Xbox One than on the Xbox 360.
Microsoft's Major Nelson today announced another round of backwards-compatible Xbox 360 game releases. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is the highest-profile AAA title on the list, and is also currently free for download on Xbox One. Skullgirls might grab the attention of indie game fans.
Emulation always runs the risk of being a mixed bag. Even DOS emulators can’t guarantee perfect performance, and early PC-era games can be downright simple compared to modern titles. In the end, it’s not necessarily about the complexity of the software, but the challenge of running a virtual operating system on top of another operating system while also running the game.
So if you’re thinking about getting rid of your Xbox 360 console and depending on your Xbox One for your seventh-generation Xbox gaming needs, think about the games you most want to be able to play in the future and how demanding they are. If indie games are your jam, ditching the Xbox 360 might be a safe bet. If you’re a AAA kind of gamer, however, hold on to your old hardware, for now.