If you thought you had to pick between PC and console gaming and spent countless hours pondering over whether to buy yourself a console just because of some exclusive releases, don’t sweat it! In this day and age, everything is possible (excluding teleportation, mind reading, and living without water and oxygen, but I believe we’ll get there eventually), which includes playing console exclusives on PC…somewhat. You’ll need quite a fresh configuration if you want to run Xbox games, as emulating them takes a huge toll on your PC, especially the GPU, in this case.
Microsoft’s gaming console is one of the last to receive the emulator treatment, but despite that, it’s got a decent palette of (semi-stable) emulators to choose from. Even though none of them has come even remotely near to having a full scope of emulated games, they can all offer a decent gaming experience for when you’re just itching to play that Gears of War 3 or Red Dead Redemption and you don’t own an Xbox 360 (or a PlayStation 3, in the case of Rockstar’s hit release). We’ll list some of the more complete ones or ones with a bigger game pool.
We’ve already written about Xenia here and here, but it wouldn’t hurt to revise a little bit. Xenia is recognized as the best Xbox emulator for Windows all around, being the only one that has managed to run a full game. It is an open-source emulator regularly being updated by developers, and apart from her actual software, they are also working on resolving various individual issues some games have; it is completely free to use, as well, but that is the case with all emulators.
As mentioned in the introduction, Xbox emulators require a fairly strong configuration and Xenia is definitely no exception – it is only supported on Windows 8, 8.1, and 10, requires GPU that supports Vulcan, Xinput-compatible controllers, as well as support for Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX), such as Sandy Bridge or Haswell for Intel or Zen and Excavator-based processors from AMD, and all that just to run games on 30 fps average.
Xenia has the biggest pool of completely playable games – the list can be found in its GitHub directory, with tags that tell if the game is just in its main menu stadium, playable to some degree, or able to be played through from start to finish with no game-breaking issues, as well as showing if there are any other issues. It can also use several types of files, such as ISO, XCP, and XEX. It’s easy to set up and use, as users only need to download the .zip file from the official website, extract it and run as administrator, and lastly, download any desired games.
The idea of this software (that’s also a work-in-progress emulator for Sega Chihiro, Sega’s Xbox ‘knock-off’) was to take the Xbox game files and convert them into Windows executables (.exe files), which can then be run on computers. However, since the original project was quite old, it only supported Windows editions 2000, 2002, and XP, and only 32-bit systems, at that, while the new Cxbx-Reloaded works on newer versions, from Windows 7 on, and 64-systems. Unlike its predecessor, though, it naturally requires more resources to run, but it also offers a lot more – devs are working on emulating the console’s render system (vertex shaders and pixel renders) to the Shader Model 2.X version, and also moving to Direct3D 9, which would eliminate much of the rendering issues, such as models T-posing, missing animations, etc.
Having started its journey in 2002 as Cxbx, which had been discontinued in 2009, it could safely be said Cxbx-Reloaded is thriving right now. Its developer team has been working on updates regularly, releasing monthly progress reports, the last of which was the September one, released on the 20th of October, 2020. Although it seems it hasn’t made much progress since August, with the number of playable games remaining at 102 (which still accounts for about 10% of Xbox’ total game library) and the total number growing by a mere 4, looking six months back, it has still grown quite a lot – 13 more completely playable games and 75 totals! Keyboard and mouse support was also added in the latest patch; I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what they’ve got in store for the upcoming October progress report!
Although there are probably some emulators that perform better, such as Delphi-based Dxbx, it’s only usable on 32-bit systems, which renders it useless for most people with relatively modern PCs. XQEMU is still in rather early phases of development, currently, its major issues are laggy graphics and low fps, as well as sound being absent pretty much everywhere, but it does support almost 300 games, which is a pretty impressive feat for such a young project.
The requirements are pretty minimal, and that sets it apart from other emulators that require strong configurations – the only prerequisite to use XQEMU is to have a graphics card driver that supports OpenGL3.3 (or later), which includes the majority of modernish PCs and laptops.
This somewhat goes without saying, but since it emulates the complete Xbox hardware (and it also doesn’t condone piracy), it is required from users to own actual original copies of any games or software they wish to emulate. The hard disk drive image can be created in three different ways: either by getting a free, copyright-free premade one, connecting your own console to the PC and extracting whatever you need, or building your own image from scratch using XboxHDM; the instructions are available on its GitHub directory.
Although it seems Xbox emulating hasn’t received as much love as some other consoles, there are still some noteworthy projects being developed right under our noses, and if buying an Xbox isn’t an option, turning to emulators is the go-to solution; as we’ve seen here, some of these emulators offer a pretty authentic gaming experience.