After years of two different services serving different purposes, Sony has finally merged PlayStation Now and PlayStation Plus into a single three-step service. While subscription plans, as always, are evolving and growing, this move is obviously a trick to compete with Xbox’s hugely successful Game Pass. PlayStation Plus Premium, the highest of the three levels, has gotten off to a decent start, especially for PlayStation-only gamers, but being decent is a little harder to sell when the Xbox alternative has had such a long time to build to its legendary status.
PlayStation Plus Extra, the middle row, is the one most reminiscent of Game Pass and where it’s easiest to compare the two. It has a selection of downloadable PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 games running the spectrum from absolute first-party bangers like Return, The last guardian, god of warand Spider-Man: Miles Morales to a handful of excellent third-party games like Guardians of the Galaxy, Mortal Kombat 11, Celesteand Red Dead Redemption 2 to, well, a bunch of the remaining rotten shovel clothes that clogged the bottom of PlayStation Now’s catalog.
For those who have missed out on some of Sony’s first-class series, it’s undeniably great to have such easy access to some of the best games of recent generations. It even has Sony’s undercelebrated gems like Patapon remasters and Gravity Rush games that are good titles in themselves, but which also show how the company’s focus has shifted from these more niche experiences. It’s not a bad balance, though the amount of shit is at times overwhelming and is an unfortunate retention from the foundation it was built on. While that PlayStation Now dirt can be ignored, the middle ground is more important and where most of the value is and is a key spot where that streaming service has stumbled.
The gap between genre-defining experiences and the OpenCritics Hall of Shame is large, and where most games fall. Many people have played god of war, especially those who sign up for the first month of this overhauled PlayStation Plus service, and almost everyone will ignore the worst games. While people like to praise the Xbox for releasing its biggest games on the service, many are likely to get more regular use of Game Pass through the newer games they’ve heard good things about, the titles they want to try first, or the ones that is worth playing, but not at full price. Therefore, it has been great that many Annapurna titles hit the service, as the publisher usually publishes interesting releases that may not be worth buying right away.
PlayStation Plus Extra has a decent selection of games that fall into this camp, e.g. The artful escape, Tells lies, Last stop, Maneater, and more and those who are exclusively within the PlayStation ecosystem are likely to find a good amount of games to play to justify their subscription. The new PlayStation Plus has enhanced it with this range of games, and this is where Sony should continue to focus its efforts. Game Pass has taken over here, as the Xbox often preemptively captures these kinds of titles and has them at launch. The same luxury can not currently apply to PlayStation Plus, as this is its first month, so hopefully Sony realizes this in the future and plans for the future.
The flip side of this kind of game is a decent gesture in that direction, but Sony has not yet announced many games like this coming in the future. From now on, Sony has only revealed that The savage launched on the service in July. A game, no matter how sweet it may seem, is hard to compare with advantage to the utterly ridiculous amount of upcoming titles that Xbox has announced will come to Game Pass over the next 12 months. Having a back catalog of good older games has value, but possessing a rush of indie titles and interludes to look forward to is the best result, and again shows the high bar that Xbox was able to set after many years of experience.
PlayStation Plus does not have to completely mimic Game Pass to be a good service or excessive priority to look ahead as Sony can succeed and also differentiate by looking back. There are simply more PlayStation systems to pull on, and Sony has tried to take advantage of this with a selection of PS1, PS2, PSP and PS3 games available at the Premium level.
However, one of its most unique selling points has been launched in an inconsistent state. Nothing points to this inconsistency more than the original PlayStation games. Adding saved modes, the ability to rewind surprisingly much, and a whole lot of filters and image formats (even a silly option that shows them in their small, original resolution) are thoughtful and necessary when re-publishing games that are so old. They work intuitively and make some of these archaic games easier to go back to. Trophies are also an excellent modern touch which provides new incentives to check out these old titles for both nostalgic veterans and newcomers.
However, not all retro releases have trophies for one reason or another. In fact, many of them do not. None of the third-party games and not even Sony’s do Jumping Flash have these unlockable rewards. This lack of standardization is confusing and makes those without trophies a little harder than selling. It does not bode well that Sony does not require trophies, as the scattershot approach is likely to result in them being overshadowed and probably only in a small fraction of the games. Trophies can be the small motivation to get users to play games they might otherwise have missed, or the difference in choosing this service over emulation.
The PlayStation 2 games are weirder as none of them are new. All PS2 games on the Services are only PS2 games for PS4 that have been on PlayStation Store for years. They are technically PS4 games, so it is peculiar to Sony to say that they are PS2 games, and it seems that the company is using modern ports to cover its range of weak offers that have already been available. . It’s still great to include them, but these have no new features as they are PS2 games in a PS4 package. That means they have trophies and run well, which is a great standard to have for all future releases, but there are no rewind or save modes like the PS1 games. It’s crucial to expand this library and expand what was already there, given how many spectacular PS2 games there are and how many never came to PS4.
PlayStation 3 games are a problem as they are only available via streaming. On a fast connection, they look surprisingly good and are relatively responsive, showing how far the technology has come. It even has some of the better PS3 exclusive ones Notorious and Resistance 3.
However, that’s just not the best option, especially considering how many Xbox 360 games run on the Xbox Series X | S. Playing these old games on old hardware that tends to hardware-driven slowdown regardless of the Internet connection when same-generation games on the competing console run locally and better than ever is not a good position to be in. Sony has started a game preservation team and is reportedly investigating PS3 emulation on PS5, which are good deals if it wants to strengthen its PS5 library and PlayStation Plus offerings. What’s here is functional but lacking, not ideal and limiting as so many great PS3 games are not available. Streaming is fine as an option, but not when it’s the only option, especially when it’s limited and does not support DualSense on PC or the Share button on any system.
Sony’s approach to its handhelds this first month would be easy to skip, but the fact that it’s not worth mentioning is worth mentioning. It currently has only one PSP game, Echo chrome, and it’s bizarre because it’s a PSP port for a PS3 game (it also happens to be on the service). The PSP had an amazing library of its own original titles that were not ports, so it’s a peculiar forgetfulness not to have a single notable one at launch (although one is reportedly coming soon). Implementing a more robust PSP catalog and one day implementing Vita games would be the best way to take advantage of Sony’s long-dead bet on the handheld space. And while that may still happen, this first month does not give the best indication that Sony will move in that direction with the PlayStation Plus.
The new PlayStation Plus has been launched in a solid state, but it is currently lacking in some areas compared to Game Pass, which has had many years to find itself and achieve its greatness. The time gap makes it an unfavorable comparison, yet an inevitable one, but it is not a death knell for Sony’s new service. PlayStation Plus was originally launched in a tough state in 2010. It only offered discounts, exclusive demos, an occasional range of games and a strange digital magazine called Qore. Sony killed the Qore, but expanded each of these pillars, adding more features like cloud saving and Share Play over the years. This story means that it is possible for Sony to do the same with this iteration of PlayStation Plus, and it starts in a much better place this time.