Ironically, given it was in the PC gaming business long before it got into consoles, Microsoft has caught a lot of flack in recent years for leaving PC gaming behind.
While the likes of Blizzard and Valve continue to put out excellent PC games year after year, Microsoft’s support of the platform has felt like an afterthought, with PC ports of console games that have arrived late or not at all.
For the uninitiated, the initiative is a cross-buy scheme for Xbox and Windows which allows you to buy a game once and own it on both the Xbox One games console and Windows PC platform.
Microsoft positioned the scheme as bringing parity to the two pieces of hardware, which would receive simultaneous game releases and bring to an end the criticism that Microsoft has left the Windows platform to prioritise its own hardware.
But in my experience, the initiative, at least on PC, has not had a great start.
The Xbox One version of Forza Horizon 3, one of the initiative’s first games, has been well-received. Our own review called it “a petrol-head’s dream” and elsewhere its arcade thrills and sumptuous visuals have been a hit with critics.
Meanwhile the launch of its PC version was plagued with performance problems that make it more of a struggle to enjoy.
I downloaded the game on a machine equipped with a 4th generation i7 processor and a GTX 970 - a solid setup that, while not at the "overkill" end of gaming PC specs is still more than respectable. Yet my system struggled to maintain a solid 30 fps, and 60 fps (which is more or less a necessity for a fast-paced driving game like this) was almost impossible.
To its credit, Microsoft is working to rectify these performance issues with patches, but getting a working PC version of the game a couple of months after its Xbox release isn’t what Xbox Play Anywhere, which was supposed to mean equality between the two platforms, is all about.
Gears of Store
My problems did not end with Forza Horizon 3; issues with the Windows Store have prevented me from playing Gears of War 4 entirely.
In this case, the devil’s in the patches. After dealing with a monstrous 54GB download that took an entire weekend to squeeze down my puny 8Mb internet connection, I was told I needed to download a further patch.
At just a couple of megabytes, this patch should have been downloaded in a matter of minutes. But for whatever reason the store would generate an error every time I tried to download the necessary update.
The result was that I wasn’t able to play a single second of Gears of War 4.
It’s not just me - the official Gears forums are littered with people experiencing similar issues, with the Windows Store simply being unable to patch their game, and their game refusing to boot without a patch being installed.
If this situation sounds all too familiar then you might be remembering Microsoft’s previous attempt at a PC gaming platform, Games for Windows Live, which was roundly criticised at the time for leaving people unable to play games that they’d purchased.
I’m not going to claim that the current incarnation of the Windows Store is anywhere near as bad as GFW Live was, but the similarities are frustrating.
Instead of opting for a well-developed and trusted store like Steam or even Origin (which after years of attention from EA is no longer the mess it once was), Microsoft has chosen once again to create its own marketplace, and so far it doesn’t look up to the task.
Xbox Play Anywhere, sometime?
Xbox Play Anywhere has not had the best start in life. Two of its earliest games have received mishandled releases, one through PC performance issues and another through patching problems.
Both of these stumbles are understandable. Quality control on the PC platform, with its numerous different hardware configurations, is significantly more difficult than on consoles, and digital marketplaces are incredibly complex pieces of infrastructure.
That either game has received a release on PC at all is a step in the right direction for Microsoft. This is the first Forza game to appear on the PC, and past Gears of War games have hit the PC months, if not years, after their console releases.
But it’s clear that we’ve got a long way to go before the two platforms are treated as complete equals.
- Confused about Xbox Play Anywhere? Check out our full guide