The Xbox Series S Is A Killer Emulator Box

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The Xbox Series S Is A Killer Emulator Box
Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku Australia)

Microsoft might not have intended for the Xbox Series S and X to be killer devices for, say, playing PlayStation 2 games. But holy shit can they do it real well.

Some enterprising users have discovered that the next-gen Xbox consoles are actually really good at running older games. But how, you might ask?

The answer is developer mode. There’s a Dev Mode Activation app on the Microsoft Store, which you’ll have to pay a one-time fee of $20 for. This lets you swap your Xbox One or Xbox Series consoles into dev mode and vice versa, which is helpful because you can’t play retail games while in dev mode.

Once that’s sorted, you can start finding emulators that will run with the new Xbox consoles. Fortunately, RetroArch has a UWP-compatible app that you’ll be able to install on the Xbox Series S or X — although actually getting it installed is a little more complicated than just plugging in, say, a USB stick.

There’s a really good explainer on how to get that setup here. And there’s a few caveats to note, like the fact that these emulators are running under backward compatibility. Nobody has had the time to optimise these for the new Xboxes; it’s a little bit of a miracle that they run at all.

But holy shit do they run well already. There’s some stutters and issues in certain games — Rogue Squadron 2 is a pain in the arse for small portions of the game — but it’s deeply impressive. Just think about the value argument of the Xbox Series S now: not only do you get a good Xbox Game Pass device, but also one of the best, uh, PS2 emulators in the same console?

There’s still some obvious drawbacks and some compatibility issues with different games. Goldeneye 007 through Mupen64Plus, for instance, has some audio stutter and occasional hitching. It’s still entirely playable, however, and other platforms play really well. PS1 games through PCSX play just fine, and so do PS2 games. The video above shows Timesplitters 2 running beautifully, along with God of War, and Ace Combat 4.

Shadow of the Colossus has a few performance issues here and there, but hey! You can play Shadow of the Colossus pretty damn well on an Xbox. And even things like the fog in stuff like Silent Hill 2 — that’s great too. The frame rate is nice and smooth, and being able to have one of Sony’s most iconic horror experiences on an Xbox is wild.

Now all of this can be done on an Xbox Series X as well — you just flip the console into developer mode as outlined above. And in any games that use a ton of post-processing, there might be a bit of improvement for the Xbox Series X. But for the most part, emulated retro games should run the same on both consoles.

Or to put it another way: Xbox’s $499 Xbox Series S just became a hell of a lot more valuable for the price. And since you can still buy an Xbox Series S in Australia, that just made the Xbox Series S a much more tantalising Christmas gift — if you don’t mind putting in the work, that is.

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