When I house-sat for my parents a couple of weeks ago, dread set in. I had brought my PlayStation 5 in hopes of catching up with Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, a game up until that point I had only sunk a few hours into.
I am extremely fortunate to own two PS5s – one that is permanently hooked up to my living room TV, and another that is connected to a streaming setup in my makeshift home office. It was the latter of the two that came with me to Pennsylvania.
But when I booted up Rift Apart, one of the PlayStation’s many incredible missteps reared its ugly head – cloud saves. On the PS5, your game saves are automatically uploaded to the cloud, but they aren’t automatically downloaded when you start up the corresponding game on another device. You have to go into the PlayStation’s settings and manually download them. The catch? The moment you do, the entire process becomes manual and automatic uploads for that specific game are no longer turned on.
When I realized that the PS5 I had traveled with did not have my most recent save of the game, I went into settings – only to find I had never uploaded it from my other console, which was now hundreds of miles away.
On the other hand, the Xbox Series S I had also brought with me seamlessly synced my progress in Sea of Thieves, a game I had last played on my Xbox Series X which remained back in Brooklyn.
Microsoft has started turning the wheels on some ambitious plans for its future. It’s gobbled up a ton of developers, more than doubling the amount of studios under its belt. It’s taken a slow and steady approach to cloud gaming, recently upgrading the resolution on its streaming service to 1080p and running titles on Series X hardware. It’s also, seemingly, interested in releasing more frequent hardware upgrades, offering the All-Access subscription plan, akin to the iPhone model – pay a certain amount every month, and you’ll just be cycled into getting a new Xbox forever.
It’s incredibly zealous, but it is the foundation Xbox is laying in the present with quality of life features that makes me confident in those plans. When Microsoft announced a key selling point to its next-gen consoles was Smart Delivery – where your games would download the appropriate version whether you were playing on an original Xbox One or the many times more powerful Series X – myself and others in my gaming circles scratched our heads. Surely this was how any new console was going to handle cross generation titles, no?
It turns out it wasn’t.
On PlayStation 5, you have to specifically select which version of the game you wish to download, something that wasn’t clear at launch and lead to many players installing the wrong editions of games. Sony has attempted to make things a little clearer in system updates, but it’s still far too easy to install a PS4 game when you want the improved PS5 version.
But of course, if you want to upgrade a game from the previous generation to the next, you’re likely going to want to also carry over any progress you’ve made up until that point. Unlike Xbox’s seamless cloud saves that automatically transition you, PlayStation requires games to include a “push save to PS5” feature that players must activate manually, that converts the PS4 save into a file that is compatible with the PlayStation 5 version of the title.
That means, if you don’t have a PlayStation 4 with the game already pre-installed still available, you must first download the PS4 version to your PS5, sync the PS4 cloud save to the game, convert it manually to a PS5 save, delete the PS4 version, and then download the PS5 edition.
Exhausted? Yeah. Me too.
Sony seems to be resting on its laurels this generation, a move it previously attempted with the disastrous launch of the PS3 after the unstoppable PS2. The company is content on letting its, admittedly excellent, portfolio of IP do the heavily lifting this generation like it did with PS4. Its main innovations are provided by its new DualSense controller — which features haptic feedback and tension triggers.
But all the incredible single-player games and fancy hardware tricks in the world can’t make up for the fact that the PS5 is blundering on the basics, something it will need to rectify if it wants to succeed in the long game. I don’t know if Xbox’s cloud gaming utopia and first-party acquisitions are going to pan out, but it’s starting this generation on much better footing to make good on those plans.
So thanks, Microsoft — and best of luck. Just don’t get us started on Nintendo.