Xbox Game Pass has ushered in the ability to play retro titles without the need for bygone consoles or janky emulators on PC – it’s an utter treat. I can boot up Crackdown, Fable 2, or Banjo-Kazooie, get lost in the nostalgia and forget that my teen years have just come to their fateful end – but with PlayStation, I had to fork out and get myself a PS2 and PS3. Why? Their approach to the golden oldies is, at best, a bronze one.
PS Now is basically the Game Pass equivalent – it’s a service you pay for that gives you a huge library of PlayStation games. Sure, I’ve had a bit of fun with it, as you can download titles for the PS4 and PS5, but go back a generation or two and it’s all about streaming, while Game Pass emulates the 360 with no hiccups or hitches. Game Pass does sport its own ‘Cloud’ service, but there are options. PlayStation’s streaming-only approach, even with a solid internet connection that’s wired with no Netflix on and downloads paused? Lag. Horrendous lag. And there’s no alternative.
That’s the crux of PS Now – it’s a service that’s abhorrently disappointing, so much so that after a couple of hours trying to play through Sly Cooper, I said “fuck this,” and went to my local CeX to grab a PlayStation 2, and then got the third one on my birthday a month later from my nan. Luckily I’d only opted in for the PS Now trial, so no cash was lost on that front, but I still felt like I’d been ripped off. There’s a decent line-up of downloadable content which makes it a worthy endeavour if you’re only after recent games, but the further back you go, the worse it gets. Even some of the later PS3 titles that still feel up-to-date with the PS4 era are streamed too, while Xbox Game Pass just launched Oblivion and Fallout: New Vegas on its emulator. I tried Fallout 3 for contrast on PS Now and couldn’t for the life of me get into it – it was blurry, choppy, filled with input lag, and borderline unplayable. Game Pass? It’s smooth as butter.
So, what’s the solution? You can do what I did and take up precious space and have a headache with HDMI cables, swap boxes, and controllers, or… Sony could change its approach. There are two ways it can go about doing so – two ways it needs to in order to have any semblance of a chance at competing with Game Pass, the vastly superior service.
The first is to opt for an emulator of the PlayStation 3, taking Xbox’s approach. Sure, maybe the hardware wasn’t there for the PS4, but it has to be now with new-gen tech. What this would mean is that booting up a PS3 title would put you into a PS3 with its UI, overlay, home menu, et cetera, just as Xbox does with the 360. Then, for PS2 games, you have your library of HD ports just sat there ogling from the digital shelf. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal in 1080p on a PS5? Sign me up. My PS3’s fan is so loud that you can hear it from outside my window, so I’d much rather be able to ditch the relic altogether.
Maybe that’s not feasible with how the PS3 operates. I’m not a developer – my knowledge of emulators stops at playing Pokemon Blue on the train rides to uni on my phone. The second approach then is the ol’ port ’em approach – Jak & Daxter’s trilogy is available on PS4 for download. You buy it like any other game, and voila.
It might take more work, but how much more enticing would PS Now be if you were able to download and play a wealth of beloved PS3 classics? As it stands, you’d need some Singapore-level internet – Google it (I did), it’s number one. Nothing kills a platformer like input lag times ten, and nothing stifles an FPS like pulling the trigger only for the enemy to stutter out the way and the bullet to fire off too late.
If you want some up-to-date games for cheap, then sure, PS Now a decent solution, but if you so much as touch the PS2 and PS3 catalogue, you’re gonna struggle. The worst of it is, if you exclusively play PS Now on PC, all you can do is stream, and that obviously gives Game Pass’s PC library a huge leg up. At least I can play those when my internet is down on a stormy day, snuggled up with a hot cup of coffee, slaughtering demons like it’s nobody’s business.
And why stop there? Alright, let’s say in a hypothetical world, PlayStation learns from Game Pass with its streaming model and decides to make it optional, having either an emulator or straight ports – hurray! It’s worthwhile now, but there are a few other things it can take from Xbox’s model. Day one releases, delayed launches of bigger titles, more in-house exclusives, better categorizing and search features, and chief among them, bundles.
As it stands, there is no point getting Xbox Live – not really. You can, sure, but you’re wasting your money when the Game Pass Ultimate bundle is only $14.99, bringing with it EA Play and Live. PlayStation could do something a touch similar, throwing in PS+ as an added benefit. This way, more people would be on the service, and Sony would have more reason to play around with it, updating it, bettering it even. This, topped with more deals with more publishers and developers, bringing more content, alongside the push to make streaming optional, and PS Now suddenly looks like a service I’d happily splash out on. Perhaps, at long last, I’d actually play the multiplayer Ratchet & Clanks… multiplayer.
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James Troughton is a writer at TheGamer. He’s worked at the Nintendo-based site Switchaboo and newspaper TheCourierOnline and can be found on Twitter @JDTroughton.
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